Las Vegas is filled with hotels, casinos, world-class shows, and it is a city that never sleeps. Excitement abounds everywhere; that is if you are in Nevada. However, I happened to be in Las Vegas, New Mexico which has none of that. But what it does have is a rich history filled with tales of the Old West from famous lawmen to ruthless outlaws. The city was an important stop along the Santa Fe Trail. Although it has lost most of its importance since then, it continues to recognize its role in history and it has become a leader in education. Las Vegas is home to New Mexico Highlands University and the United World College of the American West (UWC-AW). The UWC-AW is a two year independent boarding school that is highly competitive consisting of about 200 students from 80-90 countries. Most of the graduates go to attend prestigious universities. The UWC-AW is the only United World College in the USA and one of thirteen around the world.
We decided to stay in Las Vegas because we wanted to get away from Albuquerque for a few days. We wanted to see some other parts of the state, but most importantly, to relax and unwind after almost two weeks of traveling. Las Vegas is in the northeast corner of the state along Interstate 25, about two hours from Albuquerque. There are not a lot of attractions within Las Vegas, but I found a museum that surprised me. I am an admirer of Theodore Roosevelt and there was a museum dedicated to him and the Rough Riders, the name given to his unit that fought during the Spanish-American War.
I was so surprised about finding this museum because I had no idea that Las Vegas had any connection to Theodore Roosevelt. Because many of the soldiers in his unit were from Las Vegas, it was decided that the first reunion of the Rough Riders would be held here in June of 1899. Roosevelt attended that first reunion. The Rough Rider museum is very small. In fact, it is so small that it shares the same building with the courthouse. Although small, it has a wealth of information and memorabilia related to the Rough Riders. While I was speaking with the curator, she told me that the last reunion was sometime in the 1970’s when only two of the soldiers were still alive. A short distance away on the Plaza in downtown, which is where Las Vegas was founded, stands the Plaza Hotel. This hotel was built in 1881 and it was the site of the first Rough Rider reunion in 1899. It is still a functioning hotel and although we did not stay here, I took a walk through it. The inside of the hotel seems practically unchanged from the 1800’s.
Because our Las Vegas city tour was pretty brief, we noticed two National Parks that were not far away. This first one was Fort Union National Monument, about twenty miles north of Las Vegas. Fort Union is literally in the middle of nowhere. It used to be the largest military fort in the region. It was originally built in 1851 and remained in use until 1891. Today, the park consists of the second of three forts built on the site as well as the ruins of a third. There is a $3 entrance fee, which is also good at Pecos National Historic Park and visitors may walk one of two self-interpretative trails. The first one is 1 ¼ trail or there is a smaller half mile trail. As you exit the interstate heading to the park, there are ruts along the road and through the fields marking the Santa Fe Trail. The highway that closely follows the original trail is known as the Santa Fe Trail National Scenic Byway.
Less than an hour south of Las Vegas in the opposite direction is Pecos National Historic Park. The park preserves the Pecos Pueblo. These pueblos were built around 1100 AD. A 1.25 mile self-guided trail leads you through the ruins as you gain a perspective of how the Pecos people lived. Also along the trail is a church which was built in 1625, which was later destroyed in 1680, but the foundation remains. A smaller church was built on the original foundation in 1717.
The park also consists of Glorieta Pass Battlefield, a civil war battle that took place near the ruins. There is a 2.3 mile Civil War Trail which requires a visitor to sign in and a gate code will be given to you that allows you access to the battlefield. Admission is $3 which allows access to Fort Union National Monument as well.
Las Vegas may not have the lights and glamour of its cousin in Nevada, but it’s proximity to a few different National Parks as well as Santa Fe and Albuquerque made it a great place to stop, relax, and recharge before coming home.