My son Bret asked me to pass along any other memories I might have about my first summer out of high school. As you may have surmised, I graduated in 1961 (back in the Dark Ages), and that summer in the Sangre de Cristo mountains, northeastern New Mexico, left some indelible memories. (I’ve re-read that last sentence several times, still not sure I have it right).
Anyway, my mother had a couple of lady friends in Elkhart, Kansas who had gone in as partners in a small curio shop in Eagle Nest, NM, and through them she wangled me a job there at the Laguna Vista Lodge (I won’t go into my lodge career again).
I packed up my 1953 Flathead Ford, (I won’t labor you with the explanation of what ‘flathead’ means) drove to the mountains. I began my summer sharing time at the two cabins of my mother’s friends. I only remember one of the cabins, but it was an interesting time there. The cabin used a gasoline generator for electricity – they had not yet wired the backwoods for the proliferation of homes springing up. So, the nightly ritual was this: the lady (can’t remember her name) and her 2 kids and I would get ready for bed, sleeping bags spread out on the floor, shivering in the cold night air, then I would volunteer to go outside to take care of ‘shutdown’. This involved taking a flashlight out into the edge of the woods where the generator was located, hoping not to encounter a bear, and twisting the gasoline feed valve closed. Then, it was rush rush, back to the bedroom in the cabin and trying to get located and covered up before the last of the gasoline was used and the generator shut down. Not quite the same as just ‘flipping a switch’, was it?
Eagle Nest had about 38 permanent residents, and the basic services for the community was provided by a couple of gas stations and numerous curio shops. You could get a few basic groceries in town, you could get all the accessories you needed that said ‘Coleman’ on the label, but that was about it. Need a haircut? Need an auto repair part? Time to head down Cimarron Canyon to Cimarron, NM, about 25 miles away. This road was a narrow two-lane that wound down through the forested canyon, with speed limits in the 15-20 miles per hour range. Only at the bottom of the canyon did the road open up and flatten out a bit, allowing somewhat higher speeds. So, 25 miles to Cimarron, narrow winding road, low speed limits – I think the record for the Eagle Nest / Cimarron run was 30 minutes. Several guys tried to better that time, but it was tough going – all those campers pulling out in front of you. One time I pulled into the cafe at Cimarron after whizzing down from Eagle Nest, and a fellow came in after me, big smile on his face as he came over to me. He said, “I was following you on that last stretch – your little Ford runs pretty good. I was just able to keep up, but you were hitting 125 miles per hour.” I guess I should have been happy it wasn’t the highway patrol guy talking to me. Don’t tell my Mom any of this, ok? 🙂
I worked at Horseshoe Camp, which was a gas station, grocery store, curio shop, they had cabins to rent, and we were well stocked on a small variety of fishing odds and ends. That summer was a bad one for fishing at Eagle Nest Lake, or so I was told. I knew nothing about fishing, I certainly knew nothing about lures, bait, etc., but that didn’t stop me from selling them. Guys would stop in, shoot the breeze, and ask me what the fish were hitting on at that time. With great apparent knowledge I pointed out that they could buy one of the various types of salmon eggs (they came in colors, for some reason), or they could go ‘Big Time’ and get one of our Royal Coachmen lures. The fishing was so bad, it didn’t matter *what* they bought, but we played the game. The standing joke (which of course I didn’t understand at first) was, “Oh yeah, those bugle-mouth bass are really hitting the bait down at the lake.” There was a type of trash fish in the lake, like a sucker fish, and that was the ‘bugle mouth bass’.
These memories are not coming in order, so I’ll just pass them along willy-nilly. There was a store just down the street from where I worked that had clothing, camping supplies, and something neat from WWII. In the front window, facing the distant lake, there was a set of GIANT German field glasses mounted on a pedestal. Those Germans knew a thing or two about optics. Using those precision binoculars, you could actually see the trout (or suckers) dimpling the surface of the water, several miles away. Of course, the clear mountain air helped a little bit, I’m sure.
Maybe we’ll go down memory lane again to visit Eagle Nest, we’ll see what happens. Hope you didn’t doze off. 🙂