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The $100 Hamburger
The Galley, Flagstaff, AZ
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SW Aviator Magazine
3909 Central NE
Albuquerque, NM 87108
Phone: 505.256.7031
Fax: 505.256.3172
Angel Fire, Jewel of the Enchanted Circle
story by Jim Van Namee, photos by Jim Van Namee and Gerrit Paulsen

Returning to the Angel Fire airport after a two-hour instructional flight, my student exclaimed, "Aren’t we lucky to be living in such a beautiful place!" I immediately agreed. The Moreno Valley, located in North Central New Mexico, lies high in the heart of the Sangre de Christo Mountains. Prominent to the west is Wheeler Peak, New Mexico’s highest mountain at 13,161 feet. To the east is the Cimarron Range with peaks over 11,000 feet. Between these granite sculptures rests the lush green Moreno Valley, with spectacular mountain vistas. The northern boundary holds the incredible Valle Vidal, a privately owned seventh heaven with breathtaking meadows and mountains. The southern end of the valley cradles the resort town of Angel Fire, New Mexico. This is a great place to visit for a lingering weekend, week long vacation, or an extended stay.

The name Angel Fire is inspired by the dancing light created as the morning sun reflects off the dew-covered leaves of the quaking aspen trees that dot the mountainsides. In the fall, these aspens display beautiful golden hues dramatically set against the evergreen backdrop of spruce and pine trees of the adjacent Carson National Forest.

Angel Fire’s beautiful fall colors, mild winter weather, and temperate summers with cool evenings attract visitors from all over the Southwest. Top-notch skiing, fly-fishing and hunting exert a pull on sports men and women; they keep returning year after year. Golf, tennis, hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, white water rafting and camping abound in this little section of paradise. For those who want culture in their vacations, artists, galleries and museums thrive nearby. Enchanting mountain scenery greets you at every turn; and you won’t believe the evening sky, when incredible sunsets melt into the horizon and the heavens become a panoply of stars.

The best way to see this area is to fly into Angel Fire airport, conveniently located just north of town. Be sure you’ve boned-up on crosswind takeoffs and landings, and reviewed all that stuff about mountain weather and density altitude your instructor introduced you to eons ago, if you are not already proficient at mountain flying. You’re going to be in high country and mountains on this trip. The Taos Municipal Airport, located a few miles west in the wide-open Rio Grande Valley is a good alternate if winds, weather or density altitude become a problem.

Be mindful of high terrain flying into Angel Fire. The Angel Fire Resort ski peak, Cieneguilla Mountain, with an elevation of 10,613 feet lies just southeast of the airport. There is also rising terrain below when on left base to runway 17. As you turn final for 17, have your passengers watch for the Vietnam Veterans National Memorial perched on the hill just northwest of the runway. This striking white structure appears as sails growing out of a green mound. The pilot, however, should remain focused on watching for downdrafts on final.

The Vietnam Veterans National Memorial

The Vietnam Veterans National Memorial and Visitors Center, located just north of the airport, stands as a tribute to a fallen son. First Lieutenant David Westphall, USMC, was killed during a Viet Cong ambush in 1968. His father, Dr. Victor Westphall, built the chapel in dedication to his son. Completed in 1971, this shrine is still privately supported. A visit to the Memorial is a quiet and sobering experience, with paintings, photos and memorabilia in the visitor’s center honoring those who gave their lives during that conflict. A separate chapel serves as a place of tranquility to reflect on your thoughts after touring the visitor center. This Memorial alone is worth a visit to Angel Fire, especially for those who served our country, and the relatives and friends of those who did not return.

There are three rental cars, all Subaru station wagons, available for rent at the Angel Fire FBO. There are no renal cars in the village, but there is The Magic Bus. This local transportation service will carry you anywhere in Angel Fire, nearby Eagle Nest, and between. The bus service is very reasonable, in-town rates are only fifty cents, and a ride between Angel Fire and Eagle Nest is only two dollars. Off-route rates up to a maximum of three dollars allow you to be dropped off at the door of any location in either town, and even in-between. Their number is 505-377-6856.

There are a medley of lodging choices in Angel Fire. The central "jewel in the crown" is the Angel Fire Resort Hotel (800-633-7463 or 505-377-6401), located at the base of the Ski Mountain, with 133 rooms, 12 two-room suites, a restaurant, bar, and an assortment of resort managed condominiums. With prior arrangements, they will pick you up and return you to the airport. Many privately owned homes and townhouses are also available for rent on a multi-day or weekly basis. For vacation packages and central room reservations call Nadine Ashcraft at Discover Angel Fire, 505-377-6062.

Winter in Angel Fire offers a family ski resort catering primarily to entry level and intermediate skiing, snowboarding and now, snow-biking. Challenging expert runs are also available. The kids really enjoy the Tubing Hill, open each evening after the ski runs close. Angel Fire Resort, thanks to the efforts of past Ski School Director, Robin May, enjoys an outstanding reputation of coaching children, beginners and intermediates in the joys of skiing, snowboarding and snow-biking. Intermediate skiers will find instruction that takes them to the edge, carving effortlessly on those new shaped skis. In spite of recent "dry" winters, I enjoyed skiing on Angel Fire’s well-groomed slopes almost every day last season, thanks to some of the best, most advanced snowmaking and grooming equipment in the Southwest. The ski area also benefits from some of the fastest lifts to be found anywhere. The annual World Championship Shovel Races have to be seen to be believed. Visualize everything from someone sitting on a snow shovel, to a driver in a sleek drag racer styled machine on skis, racing downhill at 70 MPH. There are no crashes, just sudden stops.

In the summer more, tranquil activities, such as golf, tennis, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, chairlift rides, mountain biking and festivals flourish. An exciting airshow and balloon rally occurs each July, known as Wings Over Angel Fire. As a past Director and Airboss, I can attest to its enjoyment for the whole family. Other festivals include Music From Angel Fire, a renowned event featuring world-class chamber musicians, the Mountain Man Rendezvous and Living History Days, Chile Challenge Mountain Bike Race, Artsfest, and an Oktoberfest Celebration. These are just some of the activities couples and families can enjoy. Bring a light jacket for the evenings. Call the Angel Fire Chamber of Commerce at 800-446-8117 for event schedules.

Golf is an extremely popular pursuit on the Angel Fire Resort’s 18-hole, 6,600-yard championship course. You’ll play under azure skies and puffy clouds on a verdant carpet with manicured greens. In May and June, snow still covers the surrounding mountain peaks. Sand bunkers protect many of the front nine greens, while long, meandering fairways on the back nine provide plenty of challenges. Your ego won’t suffer, though; at an altitude of 8,400 feet, the stories you’ll take home about the length of your drives will match those you’ve told about the fish that got away.

Angel Fire is still feeling its way towards the future, and hasn’t yet developed a centralized shopping area. There are treasures to be found, however, with a little driving around the local area. Alpine Gardens offers plants, garden products, cards and gifts. Serendipity presents accouterments for the home. Several sport shops provide the latest in ski and mountain biking equipment and clothing.

Dining, like shopping in Angel Fire, requires some mobility. There are several excellent restaurants in town, and many will send someone to pick you up at the airport. Earlene’s, a superb choice for all three meals, can be reached at 505-377-5900. The Copper Steamer (505-377-1844) has gourmet coffees, ice cream, and excellent breakfast and lunch selections. They will cater your aircraft coffeepots and galleys upon request. The Angel Fire Resort has restaurants both in the hotel and at the golf course. A new mountaintop restaurant will also be opened by this ski season. If the kids want a pizza, there are several places from which to choose. Staying at a condo? Stop by the Valley Market and ask Dudley to provide an assortment of his BBQ beef, chicken, ribs or sausage with his own sauce. Scrumptious!

If you still have energy to burn after a day on the slopes or out exploring, nightlife in Angel Fire centers around Jasper’s at the Resort, Aldo’s, and Zebediahs. All have food and beverage service, and live bands play during the summer and winter seasons.

Angel Fire and the Moreno Valley are part of an 85-mile scenic drive, known as the Enchanted Circle, connecting the towns of Angel Fire, Eagle Nest, Red River, Questa and Taos, NM. This is an excellent day trip, with wonderful scenery and interesting towns along the way.

Ten miles north of Angel Fire along the Enchanted Circle is the village of Eagle Nest, home of Eagle Nest Lake. You’ll find several pleasant lodges and inns here, should this be where you wish to stay. Eagle Nest Lake is a 2,200-acre manmade lake that hosts a summer fish festival and tournament each September. This event includes a bit of zaniness. All I’ll say, should you decide to drop in on the Best Costume contest, is be prepared for an interesting evening. And I’ll leave the details of the worm-eating contest to your imagination. Dos Amigos Trading Company will provide any and all of your fly-fishing needs. They also have guides available, as do many of the camps on the way into the village.

Eagle Nest has a central drive with recently spruced-up shops, sidewalks and building facades reminiscent of the early 1900’s. Zella’s Kitchen Shoppe is a delightful little store catering to the chef in you, with goodies, gadgets, and Cajun seasonings and sauces. Visit The Rose of Taos to try on unique clothing, jewelry and southwestern attire. Both Zella and Rose are marvelous ladies; you’ll love chatting with them. Kaw-Lija’s, a 50’s/60’s-style restaurant and ice cream parlor will soothe those hunger pangs, as will the Laguna Vista Lodge and the Lucky Shoe.

Driving north from Eagle Nest, the Enchanted Circle takes you by Elizabethtown. If you look carefully to the left, you’ll spot the remains of an old stone building with the chimney still standing. This was the Elizabethtown Hotel. It’s easy to spot from the air, along with the old town’s cemetery. Only a few small homes and corrals stand in the area now. But, visualize a booming mining town that once rivaled Santa Fe as a candidate for state capital. A few miles later, again on the left side, watch for a dragon sculpture rising out of the ground. Though its been here for years, no one seems to know where the dragon came from. Next you’ll pass the Red Eagle Golf Course. This is a wide-open course with views of the Moreno Valley, Wheeler Peak, and the Cimarron Range. North of the golf course the ground rises up to Valle Vidal. If the weather and winds allow, fly up and see this magnificent valley as you depart Angel Fire.

The drive continuing on to Red River is very peaceful. The valley just seems to roll along up to the surrounding mountains. After crossing Bobcat Pass, you drop down into what seems, at first, a European village. Red River is nestled between two mountain walls that remind me of Austria. But, when you enter the town you find quite a different sight. Red River was originally a mining town in the mid-1800’s, and the town has kept this Old West look on many of its storefronts. The main street has recently been refurbished and has shops galore; too many to name — you’ll have to experiment on your own. Try Capo’s Restaurant for Italian dining or Texas Red’s Steakhouse and Saloon for the obvious. Red River Ski Area is the main winter attraction here, with the summit rising to 10,350 feet. It offers all levels of skiing and a ski school.

In the summer you can rent Jeeps in Red River and explore local four-wheel trails. You can also hike, camp in nearby Carson National Forest, race on a go-kart track, or just relax and listen to western music. My personal favorite is to stay at the Lodge of Red River and traipse next door to dance at the Motherlode.
The Enchanted Circle continues down out of the Moreno Valley past the hillside mining town of Questa, then on to Taos before looping back to Angel Fire. When time is short, I prefer to turn back at Red River. This return trip has even better vistas as you drive back towards Eagle Nest. For miles you can watch the lake gleaming in the sun, or imagine yourself on the ski runs of Angel Fire off in the distance.

As you’re leaving Angel Fire, a small part of your soul may say, "Don’t go!" I remember visiting here years ago, and upon my return to civilization I could feel the knots in my shoulders tightening. I had enough of that, so I moved out here permanently. Fortunately, the ski runs, lakes, streams, and mountain views hadn’t gone anywhere. They just welcomed me back and showed me how to live life in the slow lane. Try the enchantment of Angel Fire and the Moreno Valley for yourself, perhaps you too will become addicted to this picturesque little part of heaven. Hope to see you here.

Jim Van Namee lives in Angel Fire and is a Certified Flight Instructor and Ski Instructor. He can be reached at 505-377-6785 or if you have any questions about flying into Angel Fire.

Flying into the Enchanted Circle

When flying into the Enchanted Circle, you have a selection of two airports within the area that have FBO services and rental cars. You’ll find them both on the Denver Sectional.
Angel Fire Airport (AXX) has an 8900’ by 100’ runway. There is a good reason it is that long. At 8382 feet it is one of the highest elevation airports in the U.S., and on a hot summer day the density altitude can reach in excess of 11,000 feet. Recommend you delay refueling until after doing a departure check of the density altitude and a weight and balance calculation. U/CTAF is 122.8, and the runway headings are 17/35. Local pilot and regular visitors to AXX land uphill on runway 17 and depart downhill on 35, weather and winds permitting. Practice crosswind takeoffs and landings prior to departing for AXX. Jet A and 100LL full service fueling is available. Pierce Enterprises runs the FBO; they rent 4-wheel drive Subaru wagons equipped with ski racks. For car reservations and other airport information call 505-377-3171.

Taos Municipal Airport (SKX) has a 5798’ by 75’ runway, and lies over 1000 feet lower at a field elevation of 7091 feet. The PCL U/CTAF is 122.8 and the AWOS is 132.97. Taos Aviation Services (505-737-0505) is the local FBO with Jet A fuel and 100LL, self or full service. A courtesy car is available. They also have up to nine Dollar rental cars on-site, and can get more if needed. Enterprise rental cars are also available in the town of Taos (505-737-0514).

There are two other nearby airports. Questa Municipal (N24), north of Taos, is unattended and has no services, but the 6800’ by 75’ runway may be useful in an emergency. Raton Municipal (RTN) is about 75 miles east of Angel Fire. In addition to providing fuel, the FBO, Pegasus Aviation (505-445-3076), cooks up the finest pub steak burger in the Southwest.

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The material in this publication is for advisory information only and should not be relied upon for navigation, maintenance or flight techniques. SW Regional Publishing, Inc. and the staff neither assume any responsibilty for the accuracy of this publication's content nor any liability arising out of it. Fly safe.