When they started flooding Eagle Nest Lake in 1917, one story has it that Old Man Gallagher “swore and be damned” they’d have to carry him off the porch of his house in the lake bottom, kicking and screaming the whole way. Of course tales about oldtimers tend to run tall.
About 25 years ago, we used to snag kokanee salmon from the catwalk on top of Eagle Nest Dam. We fished over a sign on the dam that read, “Keep Away – 500 feet,” casting treble hooks into the air, then letting them sink before a jerky retrieve. Sometimes we’d snag suckers in their flanks and flip them onto the dam, slamming into the dam sign on the way up. Kokanees we’d keep; they’re killer smoked. The suckers we’d launch off the back side of the dam – suckers are bad for the trout population – where they’d arc 140 feet through the air to a certain death deep in the creek bed below.
“That sucker sure can fly,” we’d say.
The dam, built by Charles and Frank Springer, who founded CS Ranch, was completed in 1918-1919, the largest privately-built dam in the U.S. Concrete was hauled up the curvy Cimarron Canyon on a steam locomotive. They quarried large rocks to add to the mix. Most of the work was done by Taos Pueblo Indians. The dam, anchored into the mountain walls, bends into the lake and can handle all the snowmelt the Moreno Valley can muster. A tunnel is carved into the rock on the south side, a planned train route from Cimarron to Taos. Looking west from the dam past the neck of the lake are famous trout holes: Cutthroat Alley, The Honey Hole, and The Willows. Wheeler Peak grows out of the far shore.
If the dam ever caved in, a tsunami would barrel down the canyon, a surf that would capsize Ute Park and everything in tis path. But the dam is far too strong.
When the land at the bottom of the lake was condemned for the dam, a bitter battle began, primed by the main landowners – the Dugan, Gallagher and Graney families.
We always wondered, whenever our liens got hung up, what sat at the bottom of the lake. We imagined manmmoth trout swimming through sheds, cattle pens and fences or around illegal gambling machines chucked into the lake when Feds raided Eagle Nest. There’s a ton of fishing gear down there and a boat or two dragged off shore and sunk in high winds. There’s fireworks schrapnel from the annual Fourth of July show and lost hardware from ice harvesting days.
Some say the story about Old Man Gallagher wasn’t true. Could be. But the longer you live here, the more anchored you feel; it’s easy to imagine the only way many of us will ever leave is kicking and screaming the whole way.
— Joe Haukebo, Publisher
This article appeared on page 6 of the Winter 2005 print edition of SkiCountry.