If you are ready for a quaint stroll back in time where you can peruse the halls of a historic castle, bathe in natural mineral hot springs or sit under the gazebo on the plaza while taking in the local flavor, Las Vegas, N.M., is a must-see day trip or overnight destination.
Las Vegas, which in Spanish means a fertile, flat plain near water or a meadow, is about 60 miles east of Santa Fe along Interstate 25. Boasting an iconic grouping of Victorian architecture, anyone who loves history and architecture will surely appreciate the authenticity of this charming town, founded in the year 1835.
“Las Vegas definitely exudes the old charm of the past,” says PJ Wolff, a native Las Vegan who owns the El Fidel Hotel built in the 1930s. “The heart of the town is our plaza. It is a calming place where you can view all the historical buildings built between 1835 to about 1930. During the summer, we have a community Fourth of July celebration.”
While on the plaza, a great place to meander through or stay for the night is the historical Plaza Hotel built in 1882 by two local merchants and then acquired by local attorney, mayor and state representative, Byron T. Mills. “Our hotel is a great example of Victorian architecture built in the booming railroad era,” says Gabriel Garcia, who works at the front desk. “In addition to our cool architecture, this hotel hosted the first meeting of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders and past clients include Billy the Kid and Doc Holliday.”
If you are into paranormal activity, the Plaza Hotel is a must-see. “We have had many sightings of the ghost of Byron Mills in our saloon,” Garcia continues. “If you are really adventurous, you can check into room 310, Mills’ personal room.”
See a castle
Another interesting place to visit is the Montezuma Castle. Wealthy railroad owners built the castle in the 1880s. “In 1982, the property was sold to Armand Hammer. Around that time Prince Charles of England persuaded Hammer to use the castle as a United World College-United States campus,” says Jennifer Rowland, UWC-USA director of marketing and engagement. “He did so, and today it hosts students ages 16-19 from all over the world.”
One spot you shouldn’t miss at the castle is the Dwan Light Sanctuary. “Our sanctuary is almost magical and serene at the same time,” Rowland says. “Designed by artist Virginia Dwan in 1996, this circular building houses 12 large prisms in the apses and ceiling. As sunlight floods through, rainbows cover the whole interior of the room.”
In addition to the historical architecture, the campus has three natural hot springs. A short drive from the school up Highway 65 is the rustic hot springs. “This is a community gathering place,” Rowland continues. “Some people go every day then cool off in the nearby Gallinas River.”
After a nice soak, a fun jaunt to the Carnegie Library in Las Vegas allows for some quality reading time. This authentic Carnegie Library, built between 1883 and 1929, is one of 2,509 libraries funded by Scottish-American businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. He donated money to build all of these historic landmarks. Grab a book and cozy up in one of the quaint reading rooms.
Another historical stop is the City of Las Vegas Museum and Rough Rider Memorial Collection. “This is really cool way to experience the past,” Wolff says. “They have the Roosevelt’s Rough Riders Association collection. They also have thousands of items about Las Vegas history.”
If you prefer being outdoors, six miles southeast of Las Vegas is the Las Vegas National Wildlife Reserve and Storrie Lake State Park.
“I love visiting the reserve,” Wolff says. “It’s a beautiful spot that I often frequent. There are three different ecosystems here, the Rocky Mountains, the Great Plains and the Chihuahuan Desert, so many birds like geese, ducks and cranes spend a lot of time in these waters. You can take photos, learn about birds, fish or just observe the beauty.”
“Storrie Lake State Park is another great place, too,” Wolff says. “It’s perfect for boating and windsurfing.”
After all of this sightseeing, a tasty New Mexican meal can hit the spot.
“I love Charlie’s Spic and Span Bakery and Café,” says Jim Terr, native Las Vegan and filmmaker. “I thought I had good New Mexican food until I tried their food.”
Another delicious New Mexican hangout for Las Vegans is the El Rialto Restaurant and Lounge where Wolff recommends the stuffed sopaipilla filled with chicharrón (fried pork rinds) and smothered in red chile. For great hand-cut potatoes and huevos rancheros, Wolff likes El Encanto.
“Another interesting fact about Las Vegas is that many movies have been shot on location right here in my hometown,” Terr says. “Beginning in 1913 with silent western movies, Hollywood has a longtime love affair with the Las Vegas mystique. Since then there have been hundreds of movies made here to the present day.”
As can be seen, Las Vegas is chock full of memories waiting to be created. Whether you just want to lounge on the plaza, stroll the streets to view the unique Victorian architecture, relax in natural mineral springs, partake in the local cuisine, feel like one with geese, ducks or cranes or walk across a movie set, Las Vegas serves up a lot of good wholesome summer entertainment.