Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Las Vegas - the other one

May 7 - 10, 2015:

I dislike traveling on the interstate highways as a rule, you miss a lot of the local stuff, but some days you just want to take the straight run there.  So, we are on I-40 west, with the Jeep in tow, for 154 miles then onto route 54 to route 84 to route 25 to Las Vegas, New Mexico.  We are traveling up hill gradually and the terrain has changed from the short grass prairie to more of a high prairie with grass and trees. We arrive at Storrie Lake State Park around noon and set up in an easy pull through site with water and electric.  

Story Lake State Park is four miles north of Las Vegas at the boundary of the great plains to the east and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the west.  In 1916 a earthen dam was constructed on the Gallinas River to form the lake for irrigation purposes.  It became a state park in 1960 and is a popular fishing location for rainbow and german brown trout and crappie.

On the road to Las Vegas

The Gallinas River has quite a gorge into the lake

Las Vegas is a gem of a small town!  It was established in 1835 by a small group of settlers who received a land grant from the Spanish government.  The town flourished due to its location on the Santa Fe trail and then latter with the introduction of rail service.  The Santa Fe trail was a major travel route for traders bringing goods to sell from the east and passed right through the center of Las Vegas.  In 1879 the Achison, Topeka and San Fe Railroad came to town, bringing many more merchants and adding to the prosperity.  In 1900 Las Vegas was the largest city in New Mexico.  As a result, the town has an incredible 900 structures on the National Register of Historic Places.  The 1899 train station has recently been restored, with Amtrak still operating train service a couple times a day.  The fantastic Harvey House Hotel, the “La Castaneda Hotel” sit adjacent to the railroad depot.  It had been vacant for decades, but recently was bought and will be totally restored and reopened as a hotel and restaurant in the near future.  Then Plaza area in Las Vegas was the original town square which the Santa Fee trail passed through lined with merchants.  It is a beautiful area with many architectural treasures. We were extremely impressed ! 

The restored Serf Theater

A cowgirl welcome to Las Vegas

Beautiful downtown building

A grand entrance way

Architectural detail

Mural depicting a conflict between the sheep herders and
the cattle ranchers over fencing of the range.   

The Plaza Hotel is fully restored

Another architectural gem

The Plaza Hotel on the right is the centerpiece of Las Vegas

Beautiful town square park area

Historic old Cafe sign

We visited the Train depot and were able to view La Castaneda Hotel from the outside.  We then visited the City of Las Vegas Museum and Rough Rider Memorial Collection.  A large percentage of the Rough Riders, led by Theodore Roosevelt were cowboy types recruited from the western states for their horsemanship abilities with the largest contingent coming from New Mexico. The Rough Riders fought in the Spanish American war to liberate Cuba in 1898.  As it turned out, there was no room on the ships bound for Cuba to take the horses.  As a result, the only one on horseback was Teddy Roosevelt himself leading the charge as his men marched behind.

Las Vegas has been a location for many movies and TV shows

The restored Las Vegas Depot

La Castaneda being restored to past glory

Next was a look at the Carnegie Library built in 1903 which is the only one remaining in New Mexico.  It is still being used as a library and is scheduled for restoration shortly.  They had one room filled with nothing but southwestern books that sort of overwhelmed my mind.

The Carnegie Library is also being restored

We had a great breakfast on Saturday morning at Charlie’s Spick & Span Bakery which is truly spick & span with great food, service and impressive bakery items.  It seems to be a town favorite with good cause and our favorite too!

A desert item at the restaurant

We then drove 6 miles outside of town to Montezuma where there are natural mineral hot springs and a series of small soaking pools.   We found several people in the pools of varying temperatures.  It was very windy, cold and cloudy with snow flurries as we approached the hot springs along the roadway.  A young bikini clad woman told us of the virtues of thermogenesis or hot to cold immersion treatments.  She went from the hot pool to the cold mountain stream without hesitation, I must admit I was impressed.

I'm soaking my feet

Interesting church near Montezuma

I explored downtown on Friday night, first at the Plaza Hotel where the Carlos Medina band was performing for a lively crowd.  I then went to the nearby Brewery where a great jam session was in progress.  There were a couple of good blues players and several other interesting musicians and local characters.

Carlos Medina band

The Harvey Company was attracted by the hot springs and built it’s first resort Hotel there at 7,000 feet elevation that eventually became known as the Montezuma Castle. It was the first building in New Mexico to have electric lights and an elevator.  The Santa Fe railroad also built a track to it to operate passenger service.  The original Hotel built in 1882 was destroyed by fire as was its replacement a few years latter. The third Hotel survived but was closed in 1903.  In 1981 it was bought by the United World College as it’s American campus.  They have since restored the Hotel but it can only be seen on a guided tour.

Montezuma Castle

We took another ride 20 some miles north on route 518 to the old village of La Cueva where we saw the old Roller Mill and the San Rafael Mission Church.  The Mill complex must have been huge in it’s day, all adobe and relatively intact.   There are so many of these weathered old adobe buildings everywhere out here.  They require much maintenance to keep from deteriorating and many are being neglected and are gradually falling apart.  A prime example is the nearby St.Vrain Mill built in 1864 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.  In 2002 it was also added to the list of ten most endangered historic places in New Mexico.  In 2013 a foundation was established to buy and restore the Mill.  It’s now 2015 and I understand the Mill has been bought, but still no restoration work in progress and the end of the building appears to be in danger of imminent collapse.  Restoration is going to be hugely expensive, hopefully they raise enough money before it falls down.

La Cueva Mill

San Rafael Mission 

St. Vrain Mill

The ride to Mora, New Mexico takes you from the wide open plains into the foothills of the Sangre Cristo Mountains.  All of a sudden you go from no trees to green forested hillsides.  All along this route you can see the snow capped mountains in the distance, it is a beautiful area, not the typical New Mexico scenery.

View coming into Mora, NM

Next stop is Santa Fe;
Twinkles and Slick

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