Enchanted Circle / Eagle Nest Lake State Park

Days 3 to 8 (August 1-6)
Eagle Nest Lake / Enchanted Circle / Taos, New Mexico

The sky is hazy. The west is burning and I wonder how many days in these next few weeks we will see clear blue skies. Teary eyes and a runny nose tell me that we are approaching the site of the recent Ute Park fire. The photographer in me finds the charred remains of tens (hundreds?) of thousands of trees darkly beautiful but I quickly push that ugly, selfish thought from my mind and do not stop to take pictures of the scarred forest. We see snow plows and are curious, until we drive through a small area that still has a dusting of the white stuff. Stops in Raton for lunch and Capulin Volcano National Monument made for a busy day, and we are tired and ready to settle in somewhere for a few days. Cimarron Canyon is awesome, but after the perfect campsite we’ve just left, we find the canyon’s campgrounds too cramped and dark for our liking. We push on and settle into Eagle Nest Lake State Park.

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Our prairie dog neighbors take little notice of us, and the same can be said of the bats that come out at night. Signs posted at the pit toilets that warn of the plague, West Nile virus, hauntavirus, and mountain lions. Neighbors warn us to lock up all food in our vehicle, which we always do. We are told that a bear visited two nights ago, knocked over one RV’ers garbage can, and leisurely ate a tent camper’s watermelon that he had left out. A local waitress confirms that bears – due to a drought related shortage of berries in the mountains – have been frequenting the valley looking for food sources.

Nights are cold here this time of year camping above 8,000 feet, but surprisingly don’t feel as cold as the thermometer reads. We are cozy in our new giant tent, our “house” for the next few months. Mid-week, this park is quiet with minor exceptions. There is a bit of traffic noise on Hwy 64 and the pretty black-and-white geese we cannot identify are quite talkative. I am already awake at 5:37 when the one guy who can’t live without a generator cut it on and drowns out the quiet. Robert goes for a sunrise run while I write.

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To avoid the wildfires and heat in other areas on the original itinerary, and to avoid having to set up camp again, we decide to stay here three nights longer than originally planned before heading into Colorado. We drive the Enchanted Circle clockwise through Red River, Questa, Arroyo Hondo, and Taos.

We hike the Oeste Vista trail in Angel Fire – a hefty elevation gain for a 2.6 mile trail, through a not-so-spectacular forest in transition, although with pretty views of Moreno Valley and Wheeler Peak. We visit the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Angel Fire, a really beautiful and special place.

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The following day we drive into Taos and have plans to walk the downtown and also visit Taos Pueblo. However, we love the vibe downtown so much that we decided to save the Pueblo for a future trip in order to share the experience with my family.

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There is so much to see and do in this area, we hope to have time to make it back through this fall. The Bent Street Cafe and La Cueva are affordable and fantastic (food and service) and are highly recommended!

In town, I actually took more photos of interiors than street shots. Mail slots at Hotel La Fonda:

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Check out the groovy hippie interiors of a vacant shopping plaza. Owners, please convert to apartments so that I may live here.

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One of the must-visit spots for us is the Lockwood WPA murals in the old courthouse. One can also visit the original claustrophobia-inducing jail cells downstairs (too dark for pictures). This jail made an appearance in Easy Rider, and there is a humorous story about actor/resident Dennis Hopper being locked up (for real) here while intoxicated.

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Back in Eagle Nest, we watch three bucks in the wildflower and sage-covered meadow as we walk the 1.5 mile wildflower trail into town. We read the historic plaques posted around the tiny town as we walk around eating ice cream.

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Believe it or not, there is a wild and wooly disc golf course in these meadows. It doesn’t appear to see much use. The wildflowers are still blooming beautifully.

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We drive up to Red River and hike through healthy conifer forest to Middle Fork Lake. The town of Red River is a bit too Gatlinburg-y for my taste, but the surrounding forest is stunningly beautiful.

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We spend our last full day back in Taos area. We visit the rustic 18th century plaza in Ranchos de Taos. The plaza’s centerpiece is the iconic San Francisco de Asis Mission Church (photographed by Ansel Adams and painted by Georgia O’Keefe).

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There isn’t much going on in this plaza. It’s quirky and wonderfully quiet.

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We spend the remainder of the day in Taos: eating, walking, and watching the interesting characters funneling into Meow Wolf’s concert event in Kit Carson Park. We consider staying in town until the Flaming Lips play that night but are not keen on driving the windy road back to Eagle Nest after dark. We joke about feeling old for making that decision and realize that the adventures we choose now are quite different from lifestyle choices in our 20’s and 30’s.

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Over the course of our stay in Eagle Nest, we see an assortment of interesting campers come and go. At the opposite end of the campground, a man camps in old-school style in a nicely restored 70’s vintage blue and white pickup truck with a dirty yellow pup-tent pitched above the truck bed. He sits for a long time looking out at the lake, wooden peg leg stretched outward, sad classic country music as his chosen soundtrack. Another person (whom we never see) camps overnight in the most beaten-up minivan I’ve ever seen. The van draws the attention of park rangers, and strangely a few days later we end up passing the same mysterious beater van parked on the side of the lonely high road between Taos and Chama. The weekend comes and as expected brings noisy neighbors (sound carries in this wide-open windy place).

Due to a lack of amenities, this park may not appeal to everyone, but we really enjoy our stay here, and leave feeling that the Taos area has stolen our hearts.

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