What Happens in Vegas Stays in….New
Las Vegas, New Mexico
“Doc Holliday ran a saloon on Center Street where he shot and killed
Mike Gordon just about the time that Jesse James and Billy the Kid were
meeting across town.”
“They shot Red Dawn here back in the 1980s.”
“Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders held their first reunion
here in 1899.”
“Tommy Lee Jones was just in town filming a movie at the Plaza Hotel.”
It’s a testament to the hardscrabble, boom and bust history of Las
Vegas New Mexico that these phrases come in that order from the same person
- Marcus Gottschalk, a walking compendium of local lore. Clad in a big
flat-brimmed western hat and brown leather jacket, Gottschalk is the unofficial
town historian and the gatekeeper of local history in this small western
town set at a crossroads, where the Plains meet the Rockies.
About an hour northeast of Santa Fe, this unassuming three-exit blip on
the map holds the keys to some of the most exciting history of the American
West. Tiny Las Vegas New Mexico sits at a key junction in the chain of
mountains that separates the Southwest from the Great Plains. The all-important
Santa Fe Trail ran through nearby Fort Union and made Las Vegas an important
stop for settlers and traders headed further south and west.
With the advent of the railroad, the trail became less and less important
while the town of Las Vegas flourished. Then, as rail lines further south
directed traffic to Albuquerque, the town of Las Vegas began to fade.
Yet, the natural beauty of the town, set in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains,
and the fierce loyalty of the local population insured that the town would
not die. Because of it’s place in history, and the number of well-preserved
historic buildings (more than 900 local structures are listed on the national
historic register), Las Vegas has been an escape and an oasis for anyone
with a real desire to learn about the American West, live in a true southwest
boomtown, or looking for the perfect location for the next western epic.
West is not just a direction, it’s a state of mind and a place of
being. It implies freedom and space, a hard won opportunity to live the
life of your own choosing, and the chance to do it in a place of uncompromising
beauty. In Las Vegas New Mexico this sense of West is evident in the pride
of place show by shopkeepers along Bridge St., National Ave and around
the town plaza.
The Plaza Hotel is a lovingly restored example of an Old West hotel with
a stately dining room that looks out onto the plaza. It’s rumored
that a ghost haunts the second floor rooms along the front of the hotel.
And a planned expansion will nearly double the hotel’s capacity,
add banquet and meeting space, and still preserve the look, feel, and
hospitality that has become the gold standard of care at the historic
Because of its proximity to Albuquerque, easy access to I-25, and its
ready-made Old West flair, Las Vegas New Mexico has long been a favorite
location for Hollywood. In addition to Red Dawn, and Easy Rider, this
“Vegas” has played host to the crews of All the Pretty Horses,
Fool For Love, Convoy, and more than a dozen other films. The town’s
affable nature makes it the perfect place for both the capricious whimsy
of film production, and the vagaries of a last minute unplanned adventure.
As the home of New Mexico Highlands University, Armand Hammer United World
College of the American West, and one of the few Carnegie Library buildings
still in use as an actual library, Las Vegas New Mexico has long been
recognized as a unique oasis of culture, history, and natural splendor.
As a desert getaway, Las Vegas New Mexico is the thirty-one flavors of
itinerary planning. It seems trite to say it, but there is literally something
The nearby Sangre de Cristo Mountains offer extensive opportunities for
hiking, biking, paddling, and horseback riding. And for those with a loftier
notion of spending time out in nature, Star Hill Inn offers comfortable
cabins with daytime views of the surrounding countryside, and nighttime
use of the Inn’s numerous telescopes, including advice and guidance
from, Philip and Rae Ann, the Inn’s owners and resident astronomy
While this Las Vegas can be a bit like stepping back in time, the town
has a knack for keeping up with the times and seamlessly switching gears.
From modern day wi-fi coffee shops, to traditional dancing at a local
food festival, visitors are warmly welcomed in “local favorite”
watering holes for a drink and a round of singing, where almost anyone
can and will pick up the Mariachi guitar and begin to sing.
With a visit to this Las Vegas you’re guaranteed to hit a jackpot
that will sooth your soul with much more than quarters.
Copyright Glenn D. Kaufmann,
2006. All Rights Reserved