About Las Vegas, New Mexico
Facts, Trivia and useful information
Elevation: 6,424 ft (1,958 m). Population: 14,408 (2010).
Time zone: Mountain (MST): UTC minus 7 hours. Summer (DST) MDT (UTC-6).
Las Vegas is not located on Route 66 but is only six miles north of the original 1926 to 1937 US 66 alignment that linked Santa Rosa with Albuquerque through Santa Fe along the Santa Fe Trail.
Its rich history with Wild West flavor makes it a must-see stop for those driving along Route 66 in New Mexico.
Las Vegas New Mexico is the county seat of San Miguel County and combines two once separate towns: west Las Vegas ("Old Town") and east Las Vegas ("New Town"). See a Map of the Town.
Downtown Las Vegas New Mexico
New Mexico has been inhabited for over than 10,000 years (the site at Sandia Cave, southwest of Las Vegas is proof of this). More recently (ca. 900 AD, the Pueblo people settled in the valleys of the rivers that flowed south from the Rocky and Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
The first European to explore the area was Francisco Vásquez de Coronado in 1540, who named the native people "Pueblo", after the Spanish word for "village" and passed by Pecos and crossed the Pecos River.
In 1598, Juan de Oñate conquered the territory for Spain and occupied the Pueblos. However Las Vegas was not actively settled for almost 230 years; it was too far from the capital at Santa Fe across the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and its location on the foothills next to the Great Plains exposed it to the raids of the Comanches and Apaches. It was however a strategic trade route linking New Mexico with the east, and the Santa Fe Trail passed through the area.
Some time after Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821 did the meadows attract Mexican settlers in the 1830s who founded Las Vegas a few miles west of where Romeroville is now located. But Mexico lost the territory to the U.S. after its defeat during the Mexican - American War (1846 - 48). The Mormon Batallion led by General Kearny passed through
The Name: Las Vegas
The Spanish words Las Vegas means simply: "The Meadows". And it is very appropriate.
At the time of the Mexican independence from Spain (1821), Luis María C. de Baca requested a land grant along the Gallinas River (by the way, gallinas means: "chickens" in Spanish). He specifically requested the tract of land known as "Vegas Grandes" (Large Meadows). The grant was approved in 1823 but occupation was slow due to the raids from the Indians that lived in the area.
By 1831 Baca had built a small ranch and bred sheep in the meadows. In 1833 a second group of settlers from neighboring San Miguel del Bado made a petition for land, which was granted on the condition that a Plaza be built in the village.
This was the origin of "West Las Vegas" or the "Old Town" which was established on the western side of the Gallinas River. The town was founded as "Nuestra Señora de los Dolores de Las Vegas" (Our Lady of Sorrows of the Meadows), a very long name quite typical among Spanish towns, which usage shortened to "Las Vegas". The town was placed under the patonage of the Virgin Mary (Our Lady of Sorrows) and a church was built on the Plaza.
At the time of the Mexican - American War (1846 - 48), it had about 100 houses. And became the headquarters of the American forces.
General Kearny took posession of New Mexico for the United States in 1846 and proclaimed this from a roof-top that overlooked the Plaza in Las Vegas.
Once it was a part of the United States, more traffic flowed along the Santa Fe Trail; Las Vegas became an important a trading center and stopover.
When the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway reached Las Vegas in 1879 it built its station one mile east of the old town. The train also attracted a horde of ill-doers and Las Vegas became a violent and crime-ridden town, but law was enforced in the Old-West style and many bandits were hung on a windmill in the center of the plaza. Some Wild-West icons came through the town: Jesse James, Billy the Kid and Wyatt Earp were among them.
The Railroad chose to build its own town and develop it one mile to the east of the Old Town, across the Gallinas River. So there were two separate towns with the same name: East and West Las Vegas. They have now been combined into one city but, there are still two separate school districts...
In 1926, Route 66 was aligned along the Ozark Trail south of Romeroville (right next to Las Vegas) and west, along the Old Santa Fe Trail. Route 85 also followed the Santa Fe Trail and headed north through Las Vegas. It was an important town for those travelling the Mother Road between Santa Fe and Santa Rosa, offering a wide variety of services to the motorists.
But in 1937 US 66 was realigned further south, when the "Santa Fe cut-off" shortened the road. An improved alingment with an east-to-west course from Santa Rosa through Moriarty to Albuquerque, bypassed Las Vegas.
Where to Stay
There is lodging along Route 66 in Las Vegas:
> > Book your Hotels in Las Vegas
Lodging Near Las Vegas along Route 66
West along the later Route 66 alignment
>> There are RV campgrounds near Romeroville
The weather in Las Vegas
Summers are warm and winters quite cold. The area is dry and relative humidity is low.
The average summer high (Jul) is 83°F (28.3°C) and the low average is 52°F (11.1°C). In winter (Jan) the average low and high are: 22°F (-5.5°C) and 46°F (7.8°C) respectively.
Rainfall is higher during the period between May and Nov. (13 in. - 330 mm). The average rainfall is 16.5 in. per year (419 mm).
There are 272 sunny days and 62 precipitation days per year in this sunny and dry town. Snowfall is around 27 in. per year, and falls between Nov. and March.
Las Vegas is located in an area with virtually no tornado risk: San Miguel county only has two (2) Tornado watches per year and mostly in the eastern fringe of the county.
Tornado Risk: read more about Tornado Risk along Route66.
Map U.S. 66 in Las Vegas New Mexico
Display Las Vegas Route 66 Map
Click Map will appear below
This map shows the alignment of Route 66 in Las Vegas. The color key for this town is:
(for the other towns, check their maps - color keys may change)
Pale Blue: Historic Route 66 alignment.
Red line: I-40 & where it overlaps the old alignment.
Green: The 1926 - 1937 alignment through Santa Fe (click button to see it).
Route 66's alignment in New Mexico: the Historic Route 66 through Las Vegas
Route 66 across New Mexico
Click to read the Full description of Route 66 across New Mexico.
The Santa Fe Loop (1926 - 1937)
Our Santa Fe Loop page describes the complete 1926 to 1937 alignment of Route 66 from Santa Rosa to Albuquerque through Pecos, Santa Fe and Bernalillo.
Below is full information on Route 66's 1926 alignment in this town.
Las Vegas: its Attractions
Landmarks, Route 66 sights
Getting to Las Vegas
Further away, to the southwest, on the crossing of old an new alignments of Route 66 is Albuquerque (120 mi.)
The "Other Vegas"
Las Vegas its Attractions
The town of Las Vegas (New Mexico) is only 6 miles east of the 1926 Route 66 and has plenty of sights: a historic Old Town Plaza, with an also historic Plaza Hotel and Church. The Museum and Rough Rider Memorial Collection and the "original rut marks" of the Santa Fe Trail at Fort Union National Monument. Outdoor fun at Storrie Lake State Park, Montezuma Springs and Villanueva State Park.
The landmarks mentioned below can be visited either by car or walking. The Walking Tour Map, shows the itinerary to see them all. Total distance 1.5 miles.
Begin your visit at the Old Town square:
The Old Plaza
The historic town square, that dates back to the 1830s.
Billy the Kid
Henry McCarty a.k.a. Billy the Kid, (1859 - 1881) was a gunman and outlaw who reputedly killed 21 men.
The Old Town Plaza was the center of the original village. It was the Old Town's market, and the goods carried by the freight wagons along the Santa Fe Trail were unloaded here. The Jail and first courthouse were built next to the plaza and Billy the Kid was imprisoned in it after being captured.
A windmill erected in the center of the plaza served as gallows in the late 1870s to hang outlaws. It was later replaced by a bandstand.
Around the Old town square you will see:
Demarais House - Our Lady of Sorrows Parish Hall
1810 East Plaza, Las Vegas
This historic adobe building was built prior to 1882. The undulating wall was added in the 1930s. It serves as a Parish Hall.
230 Plaza Park, Las Vegas, NM.
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places & U.S. National Historic Landmark
A historic hotel built in 1882 on the Old Town Plaza, site of many historic events. See its street View.
The Rough Riders was a vounteer cavalry unit organized during the 1898 Spanish-American War. It was commanded by Teddy Roosevelt, a promoter of the American involvement in the war, which led to Cuban independence from Spain.
Theodore Roosevelt (1858 - 1919) was the 26th U.S. President between 1901 and 1909. And he stayed twice at the Plaza; he also announced his bid for the presidency in Las Vegas.
The hotel was built on the north side of the historic Plaza. The three-story Italian-style brick building was nicknamed the "Belle of the Southwest".
Charles Ilfeld opened a three-story department store next to the hotel (the village of Ilfeld, on Route 66 west of Las Vegas was named after Charles).
Las Vegas has a dry climate which drew many people suffering from lung disease, especilly tuberculosis (TB). The Plaza lodged many people struck with TB.
Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt's Rough Riders held their first reunion in the hotel in 1899.
The hotel was restored by new owners in 1982 and is still operational (www.plazahotel-nm.com).
Historic Plaza Hotel in Las Vegas, New Mexico
Head west from the Plaza and visit the Old Las Vegas Parish church:
Our Lady of Sorrows Church
W. National Ave.
Our Lady of Sorrows Church, Las Vegas, NM, click on image for Street View
The original Las Vegas church was erected in 1836 on Church Street, one block east of the current church. The parish was established in 1851 and a new building was planned in Gothic Revival style. Construction began in 1862 and took seven years. It employed stone quarried in Anton Chico (25 mi. away).
It has two towers and the red sandstone was laid in ashlar pattern.
Church St. was in those days the "Red Light District", brothels and saloons lined the street, known as "Sodomía" or "Amargura" (Bitterness), a clear reflection of its sordidness.
Leave the Plaza and head east along Bridge St., named so because it had the bridge across the Gallinas River and follow it as it becomes National Ave. and visit the:
500 E National Ave. Las Vegas, NM.
This is the only surviving Carnegie Library in the whole state. It was built in 1904 as a donation by Andrew Carnegie.
It stands in the middle of a park and has a Monticello-like style, (Neo-Classical Revival style). See its Street View.
From the Library, head south along 6th St. and visit another historic building:
Old City Hall, Las Vegas, NM. Click on image for Interactive Google Street View
Old City Hall
626 6th St. Las Vegas, NM
New Mexico's first municipal building.
The old City Hall was built in 1892.
Just east of this building is the museum:
City of Las Vegas Museum and Rough Rider Memorial Collection
727 Grand Ave., Las Vegas NM.
A large collection of the Rough Riders photos, archives and artifacts relating to the 1898 Cuban Campaign of the Spanish-American War and to the local history. (Map with museum's location).
The museum is housed in a historic stone building with a Pueblo Revival style built in 1940 under the Works Progress Administration program.
Open Tue throguh Sat. 10 AM - 4 PM. More Information (505) 426-3205. www.lasvegasmuseum.org
Head towards the old railway station to visit a historic hotel:
La Castañeda Hotel
A luxurious Harvey House hotel in 1898 next to the railway station.
La Castañeda Hotel, Las Vegas, NM, click for Street View
524 Railroad Ave. in Las Vegas, NM
Frederick Henry "Fred" Harvey (1835 - 1901) was a businessman who developed the concept of efficient and clean service for those travelling by rail. So he signed agreements with the main railroad companies and built lunch rooms, diners, restaurants, hotels and souvenir shops. They were the "Harvey Houses". The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway was one of the companies he served so his hotels can be seen across New Mexico right next to their tracks.
This hotel in Las Vegas was one of the first to be built in Mission Revival style.
Tours & Itineraries plus outdoor Fun
Just north of Las Vegas is Montezuma, a renown spot since the late 1800s.
Actually Moctezuma (1466 - 1520) was the sovereign of the Aztec Empire and was killed by Hernan Cortés when the Spanish conquered Mexico.
This is the Map of the village.
5 mi. North of Las Vegas along NM-65, on the Gallinas Creek in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
Map with Directions from Las Vegas to Montezuma.
The natural hot springs known by the Spanish as "Los Ojos Calientes" (Hot springs) had been used since prehistoric times by the Native Americans.
In 1840 McDonald obtained a land grant that included the springs and built the first bath house. After the American annexation of New Mexico, an army hospital was built close to the springs. In 1862 it was converted into a hotel which was rebuilt in stone in 1879. Its therapeutic waters attracted many customers (including Jesse James).
The "old stone hotel" still stands and is part of the United World College-USA. The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway reached Las Vegas in 1879 and in 1882 built a large hotel which it linked to the main line with a narrow-gauge railroad. It renamed the town "Montezuma" and built a new hotel. It burned down, as did a second one built to replace it.
The final hotel built to resemble a French chateau in stone and slate was opened in 1886, and can still be seen. It closed in 1903. Between 1937 and 1972 it was a Catholic seminar.
Nearby Route 66 Towns
The 1926 to 1937 alignment of Route 66 near Las Vegas
From the south, Route 66 reaches Romeroville and then takes a sharp turn to the west towards Pecos via Tecolote. Below we describe these segments. Las Vegas is just 5 miles east of Romeroville along I-25 and US-85, the CanAm Highway.
From Dilia to Romeroville
The 1926 - 1937 alignment from Dilia to Romeroville is now part of US 84 almost all the way to Romeroville. Head north along it, from Dilia, passing by the access to the Aurupa Site and as you approach Romeroville, just before the junction with I-25 and US 85, take a right along "Camino Romeroville", into the small village. It will lead you to the place where the Ozark Trail Obelisk once stood.
Take a left and head west along the old U.S. 85 (which used to be the old Route 66) and now is NM-A25A. It will end in a dead end marking the end of the original alignment. You will have to back track and get on to the I-25 at Exit 339 and head west along it towards Tecolote.
See the map (Dilia to Romeroville).
Romeroville to Tecolote
Almost the whole roadbed of Route 66 has been destroyed when I-25 was built. You will have to drive along I-25 all the way to Tecolote and once you reach that town, leave the Interstate at Exit 335 head to the eastern side of it and follow the "Camino Viejo" (Spanish for "Old Road") until it ends (0.8 mi.). That is what remains of US 66. Go back to the underpass, and head into the village.
Take B47A southwards towards Tecolote Creek. The road ends there as the bridge is gone. But this is the original Route 66 alignment through Tecolote, you can still see the concrete pylons in the river bed.
This map shows the alignment north of the Creek Map of Route 66 in Tecolote.
See the alignment of Route 66 from Tecolote to Bernal.
The Santa Fe Cut-Off
NM 6 which linked Santa Rosa with Albuquerque via Moriarty was finished in 1927 but only later was it paved and finally, in 1937 it was incorporated into the new alignment of Route 66 that "cut-off" Santa Fe, shortening the road and providing a quicker paved route to Albuquerque and the Pacific Coast.
Romeroville was also cut off by this new alignment.
Route 66 on the main post 1937 alignment
Route 66 south of Romeroville
Route 66 west of Tecolote
> > Tecolote to San Jose through Bernal.
The map is from the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection, under Fair usage and its BY-NC-SA 3.0, License. Metadata: Author and Publisher: Rand McNally and Company, Chicago. Date: 1927. Full Title: Rand McNally junior auto road map Arizona, New Mexico. Copyright by Rand McNally & Co., Chicago, Ill. (1927). List No: 5755.032 Page No: 66-67 Series No: 36.
National and State Parks
Storrie Lake State Park
Only 5 mi. north of Las Vegas. See Map and directions.
It is a tranquil lake ideal for fishing, windsurfing and bird-watching. There are many cmapsites and hookups for RVs.
For more details visit the Park's Website.
Fort Union National Monument
29 mi. north of Las Vegas (along I-25 and NM-161), see a Map with directions.
The U.S. Army built three forts here in 1851, 1861 and 1863-68. The forts were built here because the Santa Fe Trail forked here, and it was strategic. It protected wagons and settlers from the Indian attacks and during the Civil War protected New Mexico from the Confederates.
Use the self-guided trail through the ruins of the fort (abandoned in 1891) and see the "Ruts of the Santa Fe Trail wagons". Full details at their Website.
Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge
6 mi SE of Las Vegas via NM-104 and NM-281. See the Map and Directions
Drive the Auto-loop (8 mi.) or walk the short self-guided nature trails to glimpse the wildlife, flowers and great views of the Mountains and Crane Lake.
View of the Outdoors at Las Vegas New Mexico
Full details at the Official Website.
Villanueva State Park
It is located in the midst of high sandstone bluffs on the Pecos River Canyon. A great spot to fish, hike or watch the wildlife. There is an RV park too.
More information: Official Website.
Banner image: The Dead Man's Curve, Laguna, NM by Perla S. Eichenblat.
Robert Julyan. 1996, The Place Names of New Mexico, UNM Press.