While snow worshippers hibernate, the Angel Fire ski resort in New Mexico offers good times for the singular fun seeker.
By Barbara Bloom
Last winter I wrote a ski story about Northern New Mexico. One of the places I visited, the Angel Fire Resort, invited me back to experience what they offer during the summer and fall seasons.
Fly-fishing is among the many activities they offer. I’ve never tried my hand at this sport, but the thought of Brad Pitt wading through rushing rivers had me scrambling to get in the water to hook a live one!
I purchased a fishing license from a local sports shop and met up with my fishing guide, Van Beacham, owner of The Solitary Angler, a small company devoted to providing sportsmen with access to privately owned sections of the Cimarron River, abundant with trout. Van is the author of several fly-fishing books and comes from a long legacy of fishermen. We drove to the river and entered a secluded area known as “The Holy Waters.” Fishermen pay a premium to have access to this sacred location.
While unloading the truck, Van handed me a pair of thigh-high waders. I suited-up and found the boots surprisingly comfortable, but if you’re not careful, these rubbers have the potential of cutting into the crotch, thereby creating a nasty case of camel toe — or in the case of a man, a moose knuckle.
Learning the basic technique behind fly-fishing was relatively easy. Van maintains that women surpass men as fly-fishing students because women are better listeners and use finesse instead of strength, the key to this sport. It’s about grace, not power. Van wasn’t the first man to tell me it’s all in the wrist.
My favorite part was walking through the cool water without getting wet, feeling the warm New Mexico sun on my back. It was both mesmerizing and energizing. Some areas of the river were deep, the clarity of the water varied, and at times the current was stronger than expected. I had to stay mindful not to trip. Unfortunately, I didn’t catch any fish but with a little more practice, I’m sure I would do just fine.
My next off-ski-season activity was a group ATV (four-wheel all terrain vehicle) tour. Before rolling out, ATV guide Steve Strom gave us a quick tutorial on how to operate the machines. The transmission is automatic and the accelerator lever is operated by the right hand. After two hours of pressing the gas, while bouncing around the landscape, my right arm was shot. There goes my social life.
Strom explained that we were in bear country and chances of running into wildlife were a roll of the dice. Taking that to heart, I figured the odds of shaking hands with Ursa Major were 1 in 6. That made me a little uncomfortable. I could only hope Steve was referring to the probabilities on those 20-sided dice they use in Dungeons and Dragons.
Steve led the parade of riders out into the mountains. I was right behind him and six bikes trailed behind me. As we roared up the path, Strom spotted fresh bear poop on the dirt road. He slowed his ATV, pulled to my side, pointed it out and said, “Looks like they’re out today,” then sped up again.
I thought, “Shouldn’t we warn the others?” How amazing that a bear would poop in the middle of a road. Whatever happened to that old adage, “Does a bear sh*t in the woods?” Perhaps these Smokeys prefer tire tracks and carbon monoxide.
We covered about 20 miles, making stops to absorb ambrosial views of the Sangre de Cristo Range — Northern New Mexico’s portion of the Rocky Mountains. On our way back, once more, Steve slowed to my side to tell me he’d seen bears and mountain lions in this exact area, starting his admission with the words, “I don’t want to scare you but …”
When someone starts a sentence with that phrase, the issue gets even scarier so what’s the point? It’s like when your colon hydro-therapist tells you to “just relax” before she inserts the hose tip.
This ATV tour delivered a scary yet exhilarating thrill even for my spectrum of adventure. That says a lot considering that in the last year I participated in a hot air balloon ride that went awry, dirt biking that caused me to take a few tumbles, skied 12,000-foot vertical trails, and went horseback riding on jagged, rocky terrain.
Furthermore, you have no concept of how effectively dust can cake your face until you’ve done an ATV jaunt. By the time I was done maneuvering the vehicle over boulders, crevices and dirt roads, my complexion looked like I’d salvaged Vickie Lawrence’s make-up from 80s sitcom, Mama’s Family.
Next, I played the back nine holes on Angel Fire’s challenging golf course. Although it’s built atop an old cow pasture, the clubhouse, part of Angel Fire’s Country Club and Fitness Center, is one of the most beautiful establishments in the region.
In the Stonewood, the fine dining restaurant inside the country club, the ceilings are framed with open-beam architecture, and since this resort town is trying to do their part for the environment, each rafter was harvested from already fallen spruce trees.
The Stonewood’s menu is exactly what you’d expect from a leading chop-house, although I did see a man complaining that the crab salad featured in the Sunday brunch was made of alas, imitation crab (which is just Pollock.) It was my favorite dish. I’d like to coin the term “exoskeleton snob” just for him.
Another great eatery at Angel Fire is New Mexico Magazine‘s favorite pick, the Roasted Clove Restaurant situated near the base of Angel Fire Mountain. This is dining with a mountain feel. Honored as one of the region’s hottest chef’s, Roasted Clove’s owner, Tom Bowles, serves unique, homemade recipes such as roasted pablano bisque, grilled elk tenderloin, and wild boar sausage accompanied by a rustic condiment made with mustard powder, caraway seeds and 90 Schilling beer.
During Bowles’ culinary training, he traveled the globe to study the foods of different cultures. Worth mentioning, when he was in Singapore he ate frog sperm. I wondered if it was served in a Petri dish, but turns out, he ate it on an omelet. I didn’t ask how they harvest frog sperm but that must be one horny toad.
Personally, I don’t understand why anyone would want to own a restaurant. The work is endless with an eternal need for chopping, stirring, and simmering. Then there’s constant overhead, restocking and reordering from suppliers. The tasks are never-ending — the same reasons why postal workers “go postal.” But Tom disagrees, “I finish 60 times a day,” he says. “Every time I serve a dish and then see the customers enjoy it, that’s my finality.”
Fall weather in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains is ideal. In September when many cities are still sweltering, the conditions at Angel Fire are perfect — not too hot and not too cold. And there’s always something brewing in the community, like the Peak Challenge, a 10K race for runners and cyclists to the top of the mountain and down again, not to mention the canine Frisbee Disc Dog event.
The resort also keeps the chairlifts running for hikers and mountain bikers year round. Horseback riding, “euro-bungee” (bungee jumping on a trapeze) rafting, disc golf (played with a Frisbee with rules like golf), tennis and a climbing wall are also offered.
If the pleasures of the great outdoors aren’t enough to get you here, Angel Fire hosts the annual Paranormal Symposium and Film Festival, covering topics such as auras (mine’s got a Louis Vuitton pattern), ghost-hunting, channeling, extra-terrestrial encounters and government cover-ups.
You don’t have to be psychic to know that a full weekend at Angel Fire would be out of this world.