Editor’s note: The following is a reprint of an article by Ellen Miller-Goins that first appeared in the Sangre de Cristo Chronicle’s 1998 Summer Enchantment magazine.
If Sally LeBus’ history in the Moreno Valley sounds a lot like the history of Angel Fire, that’s because it is the history of Angel Fire — her family founded the resort that later became the community.
In 1954, LeBus’ parents, Roy and LaVena LeBus, bought the 10,000-acre Monte Verde Ranch in the Moreno Valley. Two years later they bought Cieneguilla Ranch, adding another 15,000 acres. Both ranches were once part of the Maxwell Land Grant.
“They had cattle, they were logging and they also had a pole-treating plant (near the blinking light) for telephone poles and fence posts.
“There were several years we raised quarter horses. We had a famous stud.”
“Back in the early ’60s the cattle business was really getting bad,” LeBus says. “Dad saw what Red River and Taos were doing, ’cause we all skied,’ so he just thought, ‘Hey, maybe we could do this too.’”
The plan was to build a total year-round resort with a ski area, country club and golf course. LeBus says the family was sitting around kicking around ideas for a name when her brother had an idea.
“George said, ‘Well you know the Ute Indians called it Angel Fire’ and mom said, ‘That’s it!’
“There is an angel in the mountain. You can see it from certain areas. She’s lying down in the mountain — you can see her wings. The lift comes right over her waist. You can actually see the wing coming up and out.”
From the beginning the business was a family affair, although at that time LeBus still lived in Texas. (“I always felt a part of it,” she says.)
“My dad, my brothers and my uncle put in three chair lifts and built in half the country club,” she says. “My dad designed the first nine holes of the golf course.”
Her cousin George, an architect, designed the country club.
“Dad came up with the concept that anyone who bought lots around the Country Club, golf course, Monte Verde Lake (dad built Monte Verde Lake) and the ski area skied free and golfed free.
“It was such a struggle. My folks would say they ‘poor boy’d it.’ The winter they opened, it didn’t snow and it didn’t snow much the following year either. And that was long before snowmaking equipment. It was just such a gamble. You never knew whether you were going to have good snow or not.”
Before the boom
LeBus says her family spent every summer in the Moreno Valley when “there wasn’t anything here but Eagle Nest, Red River and Taos.
“We went horseback riding and jeep riding,” she says. “We took picnics up American Creek. On weekends we’d go to the Laguna Vista. The parents would take all us kids and we’d go in and eat — Edith Sullivan was always cooking up trout — then we’d go into the lounge and dance. We were just a dancing family. Over in Taos, we’d go to La Cocina on the Plaza.”
According to LeBus, the La Cocina’s longtime manager Cal Loving also leased and ran the ski area base lodge with his sister-in-law Bets and “all her family. That’s about the time that Bob Harney started the shovel races,” she says.
Before she came back to the Moreno Valley from Wichita Falls, Texas for good, LeBus says, “my husband and my kids and I came up a lot.
“I moved up here in ’70 (with her two daughters LaVena and Wincy), but that was about when we sold it (Angel Fire Resort). The sale was finalized in ’72 ’cause it went through two sales.
“I just kinda came home. I got my real estate license and started selling Angel Fire dirt.”
When her parents sold the resort, they kept 1,000 acres and the gorgeous ranch house at the Monte Verde Ranch, which LeBus operated as a bed and breakfast. It has since been sold.