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 Texas : Features : Columns : "It's All Trew"

Moreno Valley
great spot for a vacation

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew

In 1962 our family purchased a very rustic cabin in Taos Canyon, New Mexico. Built in 1933, it required extensive renovation and during that period and 35 years of vacation trips afterward we nearly always passed through the Moreno Valley, home of Eagle Nest town and lake.

Seems we were always in a hurry to get to the cabin and paid little attention to the Moreno Valley when we passed through. Researching the history reveals a rich past.

For centuries, Taos Pueblo Indians and other area tribes camped in the valley to escape the heat during summer seasons. Wild game was plentiful in the immediate area while a few miles to the east, down Cimarron Canyon, buffalo herds roamed the vast plains.

In 1866, a Ute Indian carried some colored rock from Baldy Mountain located in the valley, to Fort Union to trade for supplies. The rocks contained copper ore setting off a mining boom.

More minerals were discovered, including gold, and more than 1,200 mining claims were filed.

Eventually, E-Town or Elizabeth Town, named after the original claim-owner's daughter, was established. Another town named Virginia City was platted but never settled.

Transportation to the valley was improved with a good road operating through Cimarron Canyon over which to haul supplies and equipment.

Mining development was hampered from the start by a shortage of water. A magnificent scheme entitled "The Big Ditch" and costing $250,000 brought water from the Red River just over the mountains to the northwest. Only barely successful at first, the project was redesigned and improved to make the Big Ditch project profitable.

In 1916, ranchers Charles and Frank Springer built Eagle Nest Dam, impounding 100,000 acre feet of water for irrigation and recreation. At first, a town at lakeside was called Therma. When they applied for a U.S. post office they had to change the name to Eagle Nest.

As this was before refrigeration was developed, the citizens cut out blocks of ice from the frozen lake in wintertime, storing it in ice houses insulated with sawdust.

Although illegal in New Mexico, Eagle Nest became famous through the 1930's for providing gambling of all types. Old timers stated, "You could do anything you were big enough to do" all in Eagle Nest.

Most of the games were rigged, the roulette wheels could be stopped at will, mercury spots doctored the dice and all playing cards were marked, but that seemed to make little difference to the customers enjoying the climate and excitement.

During the 1940s, citizens recalled shootouts between rival gaming operations bringing on a police raid which axed slot machines on main street. Some operators dumped machines into Eagle Nest Lake to escape prosecution, or so the story goes.

Today, the Moreno Valley is home to the Vietnam Veteran's National Memorial site and continued tourist and commercial growth.

The Angel Fire Ski Resort and township, began originally by the LeBus family, passed through a succession of owners with the lack of seasonal snow responsible for some financial crisis.

No doubt the Lord did his part in creating the Moreno Valley as the scenery is magnificent. The history of the area is rich with the promise of a bright future ahead. The valley is certainly a destination site for a vacation.

Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew" August 26, 2008 Column
E-mail: trewblue@centramedia.net.

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See also:
'Big Ditch' brought river water to gold mines
by Delbert Trew
My recent column about The Moreno Valley, home of Eagle Nest town and lake, generated questions about The Big Ditch Project constructed in 1868 to furnish water to the new gold mines...

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