Eagle Nest, New Mexico – An Angler’s Paradise

Finally, the town was busted for illegal gambling in the late 1940’s when authorities took axes to the slot machines, busting them up and leaving them in pieces in the streets. It was said that Dave Mutz’s uncle, Joe Necas, rummaged in the dirt after the destruction of the machines and found enough change to buy himself a new pair of boots.

Reportedly, some of the slot machine owners heard about the bust before it happened and dumped their slot machines in the lake to avoid prosecution. Many people told us that on a clear day, you can still see signs of them at the foot of Eagle Nest dam in low water. Even after the bust, gambling continued in the back rooms of some of the businesses and slot machines were said to have been hidden in the bathrooms of many establishments.

Eagle Nest in its Early Days

Eagle Nest in its Early Days

In 1944, during the midst of World War II rationing of tires and gasoline, the Eagle Nest Lodge had few visitors and closing its doors. Bill Tyer, along with his wife Hazel, and new baby girl, Ann, returned home to Ardmore, Oklahoma. The magnificent Eagle Nest Lodge was then utilized by the Gant family as a resort for the next several decades until it was abandoned.

In the early 1950’s, Bob and Edith Sullivan purchased the Laguna Vista Lodge from the Wilson’s, leasing the restaurant to Walter Ragsdales, who operated it for several years*. In 1964, the “new” hotel was built next to the original hotel for additional guests. In 1971, Bert Clemens bought the Laguna Vista Lodge from the Sullivans and continues to operate it to this day.

In 1977 and 1978 the lake was closed due to low water levels, which caused severe economic problems for the area residents. Then in 1979 a near-record spring run-off allowed the lake to be reopened.

In 1980, the C.S. Cattle Co provided a 20 year lease of the lake to the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. During the summer, it became a training ground for rowing crews and continued as a welcome retreat to the many anglers. In winter, ice-boating and ice fishing were popular as the winter ice thickness often reached two and one-half to three feet.

However, several years prior to the lease expiration in 2000 the C.S. Cattle Company determined that they were not interested in renewing the lease and offered to sell the lake and several thousand acres of land to the State of New Mexico at a price of $20 million.

Eagle Nest channel to lake, Jesse L. Nusbaum, 1922

Eagle Nest channel to lake, Jesse L. Nusbaum, 1922

In response, the New Mexico Legislature allocated $15 million of $20 million towards the purchase of the lake and reviewed proposals for over six years, but in February, 2002 the entire plan was scrapped. Manny Aragon, a democrat from Albuquerque and Senate Majority Leader proposed major changes to New Mexico’s spending priorities and the Senate agreed. Aragon had proposed to spend $2.5 million to rehabilitate the dam at Eagle Nest in exchange for obtaining a long-term lease of the lake. But according to Kirk Davis, there was never an option for a lease and the deal was dead. The Senate eliminated financing to buy the lake and redirected the $15 million to various other water supply projects in the state.  Aragon said of the lake purchase “This is the most ludicrous investment of limited resources that one could think of in 2002.”

Finally, on May 24, 2002 the Legislature voted to purchase the lake and the residents breathed a collective sigh of relief. The state once again resumed the operations of the lake, this time under an interim lease that ended when the sale of the lake was finalized in October, 2002. The lake is now an official State Park with plans for improvements including picnic and camping areas.

Les Davis, Kirk Davis’ father, had envisioned state ownership of the lake. “He always wanted the citizens of New Mexico to have the lake. That was the driving force, really, behind sticking with the state on this. He didn’t want to see it developed,” Kirk Davis said.

The 2,200 acre Eagle Nest Lake offers excellent fishing. In the winter, anglers wander out onto its frozen surface, drill a hole and try their hand at landing kokanee salmon, rainbow trout and cutthroat trout. Ice fishing usually begins in January and open water fishing usually starts in April.

Eagle Nest Lake

Eagle Nest Lake Today

Approximately 30,000 anglers visit Eagle Nest Lake every year and thousands more who just love the 13,000-foot Sangre de Cristo mountains overlooking the lake. Though camping is not currently allowed at the lake, the Department of Game and Fish has installed toilets, courtesy docks and boat ramps at the lake.

Future plans for the lake include the addition of campgrounds and picnic areas. Local guides and fishing gear are abundantly available in the area to help the angler get equipped and dispense plenty of advice on where the “big ones” are and places to avoid.

Eagle Nest continues to host the annual Fish Fest which T.D. Neal started back in the 1930’s. The Fish Fest, held in the fall, features great prizes and an especially unique event – the world’s only Worm-Eating Contest!

Today, the Village of Eagle Nest is lined with arts and crafts shops, lodging, restaurants, and saloons. The village is now known as a laid-back mountain town, unbothered by the traffic and noise of city life. The village has seen a renaissance in recent years with the addition of sidewalks, old-fashioned streetlights, park benches and flowerboxes, making the stroll through the village a pleasure. The less than mile long Main street features numerous specialty shops carrying locally-made crafts and fine arts, sculpture, sterling silver jewelry, Indian jewelry, antiques, pottery, candies, fudge, clothing, souvenirs, T-shirts, and much more.

The town’s July 4th celebration features an old fashioned parade, the annual fireman’s barbeque, and one of New Mexico’s largest fireworks displays over the lake.

Stream fishing in nearby Cimarron Canyon State Park also offers a worthwhile challenge to fly and bait anglers. Browns and rainbows are abundant and the upper 1.4 miles of the river is designated as special waters. Only fly-fishing and barbless single-hook lures are legal there.

For nature lovers, the high country terrain offers some of the best scenery in the state with views of majestic mountains, valleys, ranchlands and scenic vistas with pine, aspen and wildflowers. Herds of elk can be seen roaming the pastures and sometimes have been known to swim across the four mile long alpine lake.

Offering visitors year-round recreation the area provides some of the best hiking trails, big game hunting, fishing and snow skiing to be found anywhere. The abundant wildlife in the area includes bear, Trophy elk, mountain cats, beavers, mountain lion, deer, turkey and bald and golden eagles.

Eagle Nest’s newest venture is the building of the Enchanted Circle Gateway Museum that will reflect the historical heritage of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. A group of Moreno Valley business owners and individuals are making progress on the museum, which will be on the north side of Highway 64 and Fifth Street.

The museum plans to include historical displays and artifacts, a model train display, antique toys and an interactive learning center. Other buildings will house visitor information centers, a gift shop and meeting rooms.

 

Vintage Eagle Nest Motor Court

Vintage Eagle Nest Motor Court

© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated July, 2017.

Also See:

The Birth of Angel Fire

Idlewild and the Klondike Mine

Mystery of Eagle Nest Lodge

 

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