Before there was Sin City, Nevada, before flashing neon lights and massive casinos, over-the-top entertainment, Penn & Teller smoke and mirrors, and sipping cocktails poolside, there was the true Wild West of Las Vegas, New Mexico.
Yes, New Mexico.
Last spring I swung through New Mexico to tiny Las Vegas, a community once at the pinnacle of commerce, trade, and outlaw shenanigans. The Santa Fe Trail swung through the heart of town on its way from Santa Fe to Missouri when Spain – and later Mexico – still controlled this slice of North America. A few decades later the Santa Fe Railroad chugged into town, renewing trade and setting off a second building binge, including one of Fred Harvey’s famous hotels served by a crew of Harvey Girls. At times, gangs of outlaws, including the notorious Vicente Silva gang, ruled the joint, and the likes of Doc Holliday, Jesse James, Billy the Kid, and Wyatt Earp frequented the bars and brothels. But with the decline of the railroad, the Great Depression, and the age of the automobile, time left Las Vegas, New Mexico behind to age and slumber in peace.
Today Las Vegas, New Mexico is a unique repository of the past, with over 900 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Movies and TV shows are shot here in abundance, including Longmire, and residents are a friendly bunch who switch effortlessly between English and Spanish as they show off their beautiful town. There’s even two colleges in town.
With the 1899 train depot still served by Amtrak, it’s easy to get here. Once-daily trains from Chicago and Kansas City to the east and Los Angeles and Albuquerque to the west roll through. I took the opportunity to hop over from Gallup, New Mexico after a brief overnight stop to check out a little Route 66 history.
To enjoy my photo slide show, click on the link: Gallup & Las Vegas, New Mexico