Monday, July 22, 2013

Clayton to Las Vegas and Ghosts In Between

Ruins of a building near Clayton
Saturday morning we got an early start out of Clayton to head for a couple of days in the Las Vegas, NM area.  Still following the Santa Fe Trail for the most part, we had plans of venturing off the main route to see a possible ghost town or two, and found a couple of nice surprises along the way, including the remnants of an old stone building not too far out on the road to Springer.  Sitting alone on the landscape, one could only imagine how long it's been sitting here.

Not wanting to risk too long of a stretch without fuel stops, we
decided to stop at a "spot in the road" called Gladstone, and the Gladstone Mercantile. This old store's been here since the 1940's, and when we stopped, the smell of smoked brisket was enough to put us in a trance, luring us to linger here beyond just getting gas.  Very cool place, which has been in the current owners family for about 18 years.  You'll find some antiques, home made vittles, snacks and more in this store, and the owner has done a great job of "cleaning up" the place from its former years. By the way, that was some good brisket!

We didn't want to take the typical route through Springer, and instead veered off highway 56 onto 39 headed for the town of Roy through the Kiowa National Grassland. We were pleasantly surprised to find an unexpected ghost town along the way.

Vintage photo from Mills, NM
Mills New Mexico sits about 26 miles southeast of Springer, and 11 miles northwest of Roy, and like many ghost towns, was once a bustling community with three stores, five hotels, a theater, dance hall, four doctors, a hospital, a barber shop, a bank, two saloons, three churches , a school, and more. Established in the 1890's, it sputtered at first before taking off in the early 1900's. By 1913 there were around 3,000 residents, but you couldn't tell that today.

Mills New Mexico today
With a few falling down buildings and stone foundations, this railroad town is a shell of its former self and sits off the main road. We parked on the highway and walked in, not knowing for sure whether we could get the trailer in tow turned around in town. Much to our surprise we spied a couple of vehicles sitting in front of what appeared to be one of only a couple intact buildings, and one of them was pulling out and coming our way. It was the Postal delivery gal, and that building she just left was the Post Office, which is STILL active. Apparently there's still enough going on around the area that the Post Office, established in 1898, still delivers.  She encouraged us to talk to the Postmaster, who opens the office on Saturday's (lucky for us), so after a few photos of the town, Kathy went in while the dogs and I stayed outside taking in the landscape.

Had a run in with the law while Kathy was jawing with the Postmaster.  Highway Patrol stopped at our
Kaydee dog applies for guard duty in
Mills, NM.
"abandoned" vehicle, saw me walking on the dirt road in town and headed in to check on us. Very nice officer, who gave me a verbal warning about making sure to get completely outside the white line.  As I was walking back to move the trailer over more, he went on in to make sure I hadn't robbed the Post Office.  By the time I was walking back, I could see Kathy and the officer had already made fast friends.  He had some interesting takes on how this area of New Mexico was used by Native Americans to raid wagon trains, and how outlaw riffraff took advantage of the terrain to escape the law. With canyons nearby, it was easy to imagine what he was talking about.  Mills Canyon nearby provides areas for camping and more, so this is a worthwhile destination for the outdoorsman as well as the ghost town lover.

Roy, NM
On down the road, the town of Roy isn't near as 'ghosty' as we thought it would be, and is still active with several businesses open. However, stopping here and walking along the main business district, there are plenty of signs this town has seen its better days.  Two old movie theaters appear to sit empty, though one seemed to be partially used by an antique store.  You can tell there are some residents that really care about keeping up some of these buildings though, and it had a nice "feel", with friendly folk.  Still full from the brisket back in Gladstone, we passed on the local cafe that seemed to be a popular spot.

Turning onto highway 120, we headed for more Santa Fe Trail, passing through the town of Wagon Mound.
Wagon Mound
Wagon Mound is also an important landmark along the trail, as the Mound that sits by the town looks like a covered wagon being pulled by oxen.  One of the best known landmarks on the Santa Fe Trail, it was the last major landmark on the Cimarron route.  Near here in 1850, a small party of men with the express mail wagon were attacked and killed by Jicarilla Apaches.  Another reminder of just how dangerous westward expansion was for pioneers.

At Wagon Mound we hopped on I-25 and headed south for Las Vegas, and our destination for the day at Storrie Lake State Park just outside of town (Nice place to park your RV, or even a tent, with various levels of sites, including some partial enclosures.  No wifi, but we were able to use our ATT data to an extent. Verizon apparently covers this area much better. Clean park, friendly folk. We paid $14 a night with electric and water. Dump station on site.)

Santa Fe Trail, Native American, Civil War, Spanish Mission and even Route 66 history all in a day!

Downtown Las Vegas, NM
Leaving the trailer behind, Sunday we started out exploring Las Vegas. Known to be more wicked than Dodge City during the days of the Old West, Las Vegas features more than 900 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. Established by a Spanish land grant in 1835, this was also the last Spanish colony established in North America and originally called Nuestra Senora de los Dolores de Las Vegas Grandes (our Lady of Sorrows of the Great Meadows) by the Spanish settlers whose roots went back to the early 1600's. In the beginning, the settlement doubled as a fort, designed to be battened down for attacks by the Apache Indians.

When the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad reached the settlement in 1879, it was the biggest city between San Francisco and Independence, Missouri.  During the notorious days of Las Vegas’ history the town was called home or visited by the likes of Doc Holliday, Big-Nose Kate, Jesse James, Billy the Kid, Bob Ford, Wyatt Earp, Rattlesnake Sam, Cock-Eyed Frank, Web-Fingered Billy, Hook Nose Jim, Stuttering Tom, Durango Kid, Handsome Harry the Dancehall Rustler, Vicente Silva and his gang, and Belle Sidons (alias Monte Verde).

La Castenada Hotel from the tracks
While in Las Vegas, be sure to visit the Las Vegas City Museum and Rough Riders Memorial, as well as several picturesque historic districts including the Bridge Street and Plaza areas, where there is a designated Santa Fe Trail site. The La Castenada Hotel is a must see landmark of Las Vegas' post-Santa Fe Trail era.  The 1898 building, once housing one of the famous Harvey House Hotels, faces the railroad tracks in the 500 block of Railroad Avenue.  Marked as Private Property and closed today, you can still take in the beauty of the architecture.  Across the street you'll find the Rawlins building, which was once the residence for the Harvey Girls who staffed the hotel's dining room.

Plaza Hotel, Las Vegas NM
The historic Plaza Hotel, built in 1882, is still operating today and was once the center for commerce in a young New Mexico.  It was renovated in the early 1980's, but keeps it's charm as the Belle of the Southwest.  It's also said to be haunted by one of its former owners, Byron T. Mills, who has been seen in room 310..... BOO!

This stop along the Santa Fe Trail is a great destination for history lovers and we could easily see why early westward travelers would consider Las Vegas a welcome site after 600 miles across Kansas.

Puebloan Ruins
After Vegas we headed down I-25 to Pecos National Historic Park. The Pecos Valley has seen continuous human culture for over 10,000 years, including Pueblo and Plains Indians, Spanish conquerors and missionaries, Mexican and Anglo armies, and settlers traveling the Santa Fe Trail.  Stopping at the visitors center, you are given a guide to lead you through a mile and a quarter trail that takes you to Pueblo ruins and an old Spanish Mission.

Spanish Mission at Pecos National
Historic Park
Along the hike you will see Kivas, which are large pits that you can actually climb down into.  Puebloan peoples considered these social and ceremonial places located between the underworld where people had their origin, and the world above where they live now. Back at the Visitors center you will be invited to watch a film about the Park and history of the area.  Overall, we thought this to be a great stop for the price of admission ($3 per person as of this writing).

While at the visitors center, be sure to ask about the Glorieta Civil War Battlefield, which is another section of the park.  A new experience for us was the fact that they had to give you directions to the Battlefield, and a combination for the lock on the gate, with specific instructions on
Glorieta Civil War Battle Field
how to unlock and lock it.  It was worth the seven and a half mile drive from the visitors center to the battlefield though.  This two and a quarter mile looped hiking trail (listed as moderately strenuous) will take you through 14 interpretive trail stops, teaching about "The Gettysburg of the West".  It was here in the spring of 1862 that Union troops thwarted Confederate plans to expand westward. After losing the Battle of Glorieta, Confederates never again attempted action in the West.  Worried about the trail?  There's an accessible trail just over a half mile that cuts through the middle of the loop, allowing visitors to "bail out" so to speak.

Kozlowski Trading Post & Stage Stop
On your way from the visitors center to the battle field you will run into Kozlowski Trading Post and Stage Stop on the Santa Fe Trail just off the road.  While there is an historic marker there and original buildings, we had the impression this building was closed to the public. Never the less, it was a good photo op.

We literally stumbled out of the Battlefield and onto Route 66.  Yes, Route 66 once had an alignment (before 1937) that ventured up from Santa Rosa to just south of Las Vegas, then over to Santa Fe and back down to its later
An old business on Rt 66 near Rowe
alignment.  We just happened upon the section on what is now Highway 50, and decided to follow the original road back toward Las Vegas as a way to end our day trip.  We only found a couple of markers along the way, so we had to "guess" a bit on how to follow. In short, we took 50 to Pecos, then 63 til it turned into "Old Las Vegas Highway" at Rowe.  Once on that road, it pretty much follows I-25 until you reach Highway 84 south of Las Vegas, where it veers off to Santa Rosa.

It was a great day for our Summer 13 Adventure, and an great way for us to wrap up our Santa Fe Trail history.  Next blog we leave Las Vegas, travel the old pre 37 alignment of 66 to more Mother Road, headed for Tucumcari, then more Old West history in the Texas Panhandle.

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