It’s not an exaggeration to say that much of the West was built on gold. The Moreno Valley is no exception. Located in remote and savage country at high altitude, the area was virtually unvisited until the discovery of the irresistible yellow stuff. It all changed when a Ute Indian traded some “pretty rocks” with the soldiers at Fort Union in 1866. The ore was traced back to the west slopes of 12,441 ft Baldy Mountain and gold was discovered. Within a year a thousand mining claims had been filed and Elizabethtown or “E-Town” was born.
It was the typical story of the Wild West. A ramshackle village that rapidly grew to a bustling rough western mining town. By 1870 Elizabethtown boasted 7,000 residents, seven saloons, three dance halls, five stores, a school, and two churches. With growth came reputation and lawlessness, and the Elizabethtown hosted its own set of notorious outlaws with the infamous serial killer Charles Kennedy and famed vigilante Clay Allison. The local minister, Father John Myer summed up the spirit of the place in 1868 with the words “it was a rough time. Shooting and killing were very common”.
But the golden honeymoon was a short one. The claims dried up and by 1875 Elizabethtown was a virtual ghost town. It had spurred the growth of a local area including the development of Cimarron Pass, but most of the population was gone . These days only the ghosts remain in the ruins of the old Mutz Hotel and the memories of the Elizabethtown museum. It’s a cool little visit, just 5 miles north of Eagle Nest on Hwy 38 (don’t blink or you might miss it) and hosts Gold Rush Days every year July 3-5.
The surrounding area also keeps traces of the its golden history with ruins hidden in the valley, and (according to my RV neighbor, Bob) the walls of an old house of ill repute (look for it on your right as you drive into Cimarron) and nuggets of gold still buried in the hills. Bob knows a guy who knows a guy who knows where it’s buried, so if I treat him right I might still strike it rich. After all, these are still the hills of gold and anything can happen out here in the West…