Heading north on U.S. 64 from the Vietnam memorial, you soon see Eagle Nest Lake on the left. The lake was created in 1918 with the construction of a dam on the Cimarron River; funded by ranchers and built using Taos Pueblo labor, the 400-foot-wide structure is the largest one in the United States built with private money.
In addition to agricultural and mining uses, the lake also supplied an ice-block industry in the winter.
Today it’s a state park, stocked with trout, and a popular summertime recreation spot (the huge Fourth of July fireworks display is legendary). Vacation homes are clustered down by the water, but the town itself is farther north, at the junction with Highway 38.
A small strip of wooden buildings along Therma Drive (U.S. 64) are all that’s left of a jumping (illegal) gambling town in the 1920s and 1930s, when enterprising businessmen would roll slot machines out on the boardwalks to entice travelers on their way to Raton and the train, and bars such as the Laguna Vista Saloon hosted roulette and blackjack. The Laguna Vista even claims to host its own phantom, the so-called “Ghost of Guney,” a woman whose husband disappeared during their honeymoon stay at the lodge and who was forced into work as a saloon girl. The restaurant at the Guney is Texas Reds (575/377-2755, 5–9:30 p.m. daily, $12), a branch of the beloved restaurant in Red River; it’s recommended for giant steaks or tasty burgers, but it is open for dinner only. Unfortunately, the adjoining Laguna Vista Lodge (575/377-6522, www.lagunavistalodge.com) doesn’t rent rooms in the historic old building; instead, there are standard motel rooms connected by a screened porch ($85 d), as well as cabins and apartments with a view of the lake.
For lunch, your options include the Kaw-Lija’s Diner (Therma Dr., 575/377-3424, 7 a.m.–8 p.m. daily May–Sept., $7), which serves chicken-fried steak in an old-fashioned ice-cream-parlor setting, and Lucky Shoe Bar & Grille (350 Therma Dr., 575/377-7264, 11 a.m.–late daily, $6).
The Eagle Nest Chamber of Commerce (54 Therma Dr., 575/377-2420, www.eaglenestchamber.org, 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Mon.–Fri.) has limited hours but an enthusiastic staff.
© Zora O'Neill from Moon Santa Fe, Taos & Albuquerque, 2nd edition