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Why Is It Called Angel Fire, New Mexico?

Puffy clouds turned pink, orange, and purple by the sunset in Angel Fire, New Mexico
Iconic Angel Fire sunset

Drive through New Mexico and you’re bound to see some pretty unique names along the way. Truth or Consequences, Tucumcari, Pie Town, just to name a few. And then there’s Angel Fire.  

According to passed-down stories, the Moache Utes would come to the mountain every autumn for a celebration. At some point, they noticed a strange glow of red and orange flickering at the top of the Agua Fría peak. One of the elders declared the light was an omen, the fire of the god blessing the annual celebration. The strange glow was most likely the sun illuminating the mountaintop but the explanation was accepted and the area became a sacred space.

Later, Franciscan friars, in an attempt to convert the Native people to Christianity, claimed it was the fire of the angels. Their religion didn’t take, but the name, influenced by both Spanish and Native cultures, did. From then on, all referred to the mountain and surrounding lands as Angel Fire.

In his book, “The Place Names of New Mexico,” author Robert Julyan refers to a second legend.

“One account says lightning ignited a fire on the mountain and threatened an Indian camp. Just as the Indians were about to evacuate, the wind shifted, and a rainstorm extinguished the fire. The Indians began calling the peak ‘breath of spirits.’ ” He goes on to say that the Franciscans changed it to “breath of angels” and later, Angel Fire.

If you’ve ever been in Angel Fire to witness the spectacular sunrise and sunset colors, you will understand exactly what gave Angel Fire its name long ago when Ute Indians observed the glowing skies and called it the “fire of the angels.”

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