Think of Las Vegas, and slot machines and neon lights probably come to mind. New Mexico’s version is a lot different. The Land of Enchantment offers a Vegas that’s a small town, with an authentic western feel. It may also feel like some place else altogether, since Las Vegas, New Mexico has played a starring role in numerous movies and TV shows. All of this makes it worthwhile to spend at least a little time here, if you’re driving through the area.
A visit to Las Vegas, New Mexico involves visiting two towns — the “old” town and the “new” town (which is also pretty old). It’s all now one city, but in the early days of Las Vegas, one was a city and the other was a town. The two were (and still are) divided by Gallinas Creek, with the “old” town on the western side.
Instead of old and new, I’d prefer to call the west side Durant, and the east side Calumet — based on two of the town’s most notable appearances in film and TV.
You may already know the “old” town as Durant, Wyoming, thanks to the TV series Longmire. The town square makes regular appearances on the show, as well as some local businesses and notable buildings.
One of the most noticeable buildings on the old town square is the Plaza Hotel, built in 1882. It’s the red-brick building, which is still open as a reasonably-priced luxury hotel.
In the distance, you can see the Vedeer Buildings, built in several stages between 1880 and 1908. These buildings serve as the Sheriff’s office on Longmire.
I strongly suggest you go over to Netflix and give Longmire a try, if you’ve never watched it before. If you do…
… you’ll see some beautiful shots of the Navajo Textiles building, about 18 minutes in. Back in the 1940’s, this building made parachutes made by American troops. (You’ll also see interior shots of the town’s antique store, Plaza Antiques, in the previous scene).
Even if you’re not here to experience Durant, Las Vegas’s old town is still fun to visit. Take a walk around the town square (and notice this sculpture, El Campesino, dedicated to the area’s farm workers)…
… then stroll down Bridge Street to enjoy some old storefronts, some of which have seen better days.
I also like to wander around the perimeter, taking the less traveled roads and alleys. When you do, you find old ghost signs…
… and interesting buildings that haven’t changed much in decades.
From Durant, Wyoming, take Bridge Street to Calumet, Colorado…
… otherwise known as the ‘new’ section of town. There’s a two-story tall cowgirl there to welcome you, proclaiming, “Calumet Says Howdy. Where the Great Plains meet the Mighty Rockies.”
The Calumet Cowgirl was painted for the 1984 movie Red Dawn, where Las Vegas played the role of Calumet, Colorado…
Courtesy Red Dawn/United Artists/Valkyrie Films
… during an invasion of the U.S. by Russia, Cuba, and various other communists at the beginning of World War III.
Thankfully, the streets of Las Vegas are now much more calm, and entirely free of machine-gun-toting commies. In fact, “new” Las Vegas felt a lot like a ghost town during my Sunday afternoon visit.
There’s plenty to see on a brief stroll around downtown Calumet. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t there at 4:30, so I guess the clock outside Gordon’s Jewelry needs some repairs.
If you’re looking for a bargain, you can check the prices at Price’s, a family-owned store that seemed to spread out amongst several buildings.
The SERF Theater has been around since 1937. It was named for the owner’s four children: Sara, Eddie, Richard, and Fannie.
Murphey’s Drugs isn’t there anymore, and even though the neon is gone, it’s still good to see the sign is still there.
As if Colorado and Wyoming weren’t enough to confuse things, why not add a little bit of Paris?
I should mention one other big movie that gave Las Vegas a starring role: No Country For Old Men. Much of the movie was shot in and around town — including scenes at the Regal Motel, the car crash at the end, and the scene at that Texaco station, where Anton Chigurh lets the clerk flip a coin to decide whether he lives or dies.
The Bottom Line
Do a little planning before you arrive in Las Vegas, to ensure you know how to find the shooting locations from your favorite movie or TV show. Or, just take a break from I-25, explore both towns, and enjoy this “other” Las Vegas.
Las Vegas, New Mexico is located along Interstate 25, northeast of Albuquerque, and directly east of Santa Fe. Between Santa Fe and Las Vegas, northbound I-25 runs east, and even south, as it swings around the tail end of the Santa Fe Mountains.
Check out this time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive from Albuquerque to Las Vegas…
… and Las Vegas to Springer, New Mexico: