In this episode, we travel a portion of the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway and stop at a few spots along the way. New Mexico Routes 38 and 522 join with a portion of US 64 to create the circle and connect the towns of Taos, Angel Fire, Eagle Nest, Red River, Questa, and Taos Ski Valley. We previously included Angel Fire and Taos in episodes 1 and 2.
The town of Red River is appropriately named after, you guessed it, the Red River. The short perennial river begins its journey high in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains at the top of Mount Wheeler. As the stream flows down the north slope of the mountain, springs add their water, and the river makes its way through the towns of Red River and Questa before turning south and merging with the Rio Grande.
Red River started its life like other towns in the western regions. After the US government forced the Jicarilla Apache and Utes, who called the place home for centuries, to move to reservations, miners rolled into the valley in the late 19th century with visions of gold and silver in their eyes. Established in 1895, Red River’s mining activities were roaring. But they peaked in 1897 and faced a speedy decline until 1905.
Fortunately, the town did not suffer the ghost-town fate of other mining towns. Enterprising residents recognized trout fishing as a draw for residents and travelers in lower elevations to escape the summer heat of the valleys. And so Red River’s economy switched from mining to recreation.
In December 1959, Red River Ski and Summer Area opened for the first time. Partially within public lands under a long-term special use permit with the Forest Service, the family who owns and operates the resort provides activities in both winter and summer.
Besides fishing and skiing, other events are held throughout the year to attract visitors and keep the town hopping. It’s amazing how a town of only 460 people manages to offer so many celebrations like the Songwriters Festival and Mardi Gras in February and the Memorial Motorcycle Rally over Memorial day. Car shows, art and wine festivals, music festivals, and Oktoberfest are other reasons to make the 36-mile trip from Taos or drive up from West Texas.
Cimarron Canyon State Park
Hiking trails, trout fishing, picnic areas, and campgrounds await travelers and visitors east on US 64 from Eagle Nest Lake. On our way to the Village of Cimarron through the 8-mile long narrow canyon, we stopped to gawk at the craggy cliffs at Palisades Sill. The cliffs are a scenic, historic site and worth a stop. Be sure to pay the $5.00 entrance fee if enjoying the sites. Every bit helps to protect our parks, and pay stations are nearby.
About 10 miles from the state park is the small Village of Cimarron, New Mexico, with a population of approximately 865, down 155 people over the past 10 years. Our main goal for driving to Cimarron was to try the restaurant at the St. James Hotel.
Our neighbors at Taos Canyon Stop RV Park told us they enjoyed a quiet lunch at the restaurant. We were not so lucky. The day of our visit was Wednesday, and the hotel and restaurant are closed on Tuesday and Wednesday.
With the door open, at least we could wander around the bottom floor and peek into a few rooms. In the hallway, we found photos and signs with historic information about the town, hotel, and people.
How cool would it be to stay in a room named after Bill Cody, Annie Oakley, or Doc Holliday? Or how about room 14, where R.H. Howard, A.K.A. Jesse James, reportedly preferred to lay his head while in Cimarron?
Aztec Grist Mill Museum
Down the road from the St. James Hotel, towering trees hid the Aztec Grist Mill Museum, and a locked gate barred my entry. Another pandemic victim. While taking photos of the stone building, a ranch hand happened by. While we talked, he ticked off all sorts of treasures sequestered inside the locked museum, whetting my appetite to take a peek.
Unfortunately, he didn’t have keys to let us in the locked door. I did learn the Aztec Grist Mill was built in 1864 to provide ground grains for the Maxwell Ranch and the Jicarilla Apache Indian Reservation.
Blu Dragonfly Brewing Company
We searched for somewhere to have lunch, and the only place we could find open was the Blu Dragonfly Brewing Company. Their sign said BBQ, which I read as pulled pork sandwich. Inside it was the Dog House Taproom, and the only thing on the menu was hot dogs.
The menu included a Plain Jane Pup, similar to the classic Nathan’s Famous; Man’s Best Friend, a classic coney with meat sauce, mustard, cheese and onions; and many other dogs in a bun with various toppings. Jon was happy to sit down with his dogs. Me, not so much. I was promised a pulled pork sandwich, so I wanted a pulled pork sandwich, although I did eat my plain hot dog. My craving for the sandwich, though, lasted for more than a week before we found a place that served what I wanted.
With most everything closed for the day and only a few people about, the village looked as if it was heading toward ghost town status.
I preferred the more promising future told by Burrito Banquet, Hikers Coffee & Co., and the colorful park and hope other enterprises come along soon to revive Cimarron.
We hope to make it back to the area some day so we can see and do more than we could during this trip. We missed out on hiking, riding the ski lift, visiting the Taos Pueblo, the D. H. Lawrence Ranch, and many other sites.
Next up: San Francisco de Asis Mission Church in Ranchos de Taos, the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, and the Earthship Biotecture site.