Friday, April 29, 2016

Las Vegas, New Mexico

Las Vegas, New Mexico was quite a surprise.  Located about 75 miles north east of Santa Fe on Highway 25, it was going to be a quick stop-over on our way to Colorado Springs and beyond.  Since the weather up ahead had taken a turn for the worst, we signed into Storrie State Park for two nights until the weather cleared, or so we thought. More on that subject later.

Since we had some time to explore, we  checked out the local visitors center.   The  Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center are located in the beautifully renovated Las Vegas, NM train station.  The building was built in 1898 by the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad, and served as the line's terminal until 1899.  The station was renovated by the City in 2003, and now serves Amtrack trains that arrive twice a day.

Taken from the track side

Las Vegas had been an important town since 1835 as a major outpost along the Santa Fe Trail.  However, in 1879, when making the trip by rail took only several days instead of  several months of very tough-going by wagon, the town growth exploded.  That can definitely be called the "End of an Era".  The Santa Fe trail instantly lost it's designation as the major route to the west.

With the growth brought by the railroad came some notorious outlaws to the area, and Las Vegas became the wildest town in the west.  Some well-known names who spent some time here were Doc Holiday, Billy the Kid, the Dodge City Gang, Wyatt Earp, Pat Garrett, to name a few.  By the end of 1880 things settled down and because it was the railroad headquarters, prosperity bloomed.

The town's history boasts several magnificent hotels.  Precisely to the left of the train station is the old Castaneda Hotel, which was built in 1889 as a jewel in Fred Harvey's famed chain of railroad hotels.  The front of the building and courtyard face the railroad track.  This hotel closed in 1948 but is now owned by Allan Affeldt, well known restorer of the LaPosada Hotel in Winslow AZ.  Renovation of this beautiful structure is planned for sometime in the future.

Track view

The side of the hotel faces the railroad station, and the back fronts onto Railroad street. 

A mannequin in a local antique store is dressed in the uniform of the "Harvey Girls" who staffed all of Fred Harvey's railroad hotels.  Harvey is credited with inventing the first restaurant chain with his hotels, restaurants, and shops at the major stops on the railroad. Started in 1876, there were 84 Harvey hotels along railroad lines.  He advertised for, and employed women from 18 to 32 years of age.  They earned $17.50 a month plus room and board, and signed a one year contract.  There were strict rules, as well at a 10 P.M. curfew, which helped to create the positive image of the "Harvey Girls". 

The Rawlins building on Railroad Ave was across the street from the hotel and was the home of the "Girls" for many years.  Although in sad shape, the building has a pressed metal front that is one of the last such structures in New Mexico.

There is much history here in Las Vegas,  which is actually two separate towns on opposite sides of the river.  Old Town, which existed before the railroad, and is laid out with central plazas in the Spanish style, and the younger New Town, near the railroad, laid out in a grid, like eastern cities.

Another fun thing about Las Vegas is learning how many movies have been filmed here, both in the past and currently.  In fact, the day we arrived there was a traffic jam on the main street because they were filming in one of the old houses.  No idea what it was for, but it was fun to see all the equipment and trailers clustered everywhere.

This is the Plaza park in Old Town, a very popular location for film crews.  Some of the movies filmed here were: Convoy, 1978; Speechless, 1994;   Easy Rider, 1969; Blind Horizon, 2003; and currently the TV series Longmire.

The beautifully renovated Plaza Hotel, that was built in 1882, has been in many films also.  In fact, it was the home of the silent-film producer Romaine Fielding, who in 1913 leased the entire hotel for his film crew to make the movie The Golden God, which cost $50,000 at that time.  A few more recent movies filmed in the hotel are The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez, 1982; and No Country for Old Men, 2007. 

On the left side of the hotel stands the Veeder buildings, built in 1815, and also used in the Longmire series.

In 1969, Easy Rider was filmed in front of the Romero Hose & Fire Company on Bridge Street, half a block from the Plaza

There were also many films made at the above mentioned Castaneda Hotel.  Red Dawn, 1984; Speechless, 1994; Blind Horizon, 2003; All the Pretty Horses, 2000, just to name a few.   There are many other locations in this interesting City that show up in movies.  Some  old movie theaters, Dairy Queens, the drive in, local restaurants, have all had bit parts in famous films.

The boom and bust cycles that Las Vegas has seen over the years is very evident in the many boarded up and crumbling buildings around both New and Old Towns, but there is currently a feeling of another coming boom cycle.  Regardless, it is a fun spot to visit.  Just outside Las Vegas there is the Pecos National Historic Park and a National Wildlife Refuge that we have visited.  More on that later.

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