The Nomad is a series of stories, fascinations, encounters, observations, experiences, joy of the moments by me, Ulrike Reinhard – all around my travels. Stay tuned!
Ulrike Reinhard is The Nomad 🙂
I arrived in Santa Fe, New Mexico (NM) on July 1, 2023. SInce then I am enjoying Synergia Ranch. It is 20 miles outside of Santa Fe – a lovely spot, and ideal for writing. This is what I did here: Writing! However, once in a while I went on a little trip – The Nomad in me needed it 🙂
From Lamy, NM to Las Vegas, NM by Amtrak
North America is not well developed when it comes to trains. There aren’t that many trains, and the ones they have run rather on slow mode. The concept of fast trains hasn’t reached the US yet – unfortunately. However, Amtrak, the national train carrier, offers some spectacular scenic rides. Trains which run for two days or longer, from Chicago to Los Angeles or East-West along the Canadian border.
Last week I took the Southwest Chief from Lamy to Las Vegas. Both in New Mexico. It is a fairly short ride (90 minutes/ 40 miles / 23 USD) and gets you through the heart of the Wild West.
Lamy is one of the oldest train stations in the US and it still breathes the flair form the time it was built in 1909. It was replacing a two-story wood-frame structure erected in 1881. The Lamy Train Station was a Spanish Mission-style train station in the middle of nowhere.
Today, 100 people are living in the village and the road leading there is a dead end road. Still, in the middle of nowhere 🙂
@Lamy Railway Station
The day I was planning to leave the train was 10 hours delayed, so I changed it to the following day. Also this train was running late, but only for fours hours – which allowed me to reach Las Vegas, NM, while it was still daylight.
Right opposite of the railway station in Lamy there is an old saloon/restaurant which only re-opened its doors recently. The Legal Tender. Their slogan is: “Where the pavement ends and the west begins!” It’s a real classic and has pretty good food. It’s there where I started my Classic Wild West journey. I ate a gazpacho which was delicious and sipped a lovely Margarita. The house was packed – a mix of locals from the surrounding area and a few people who were waiting – like me – for the train.
@The Legal Tender
The train signals its approach with a lingering, resonating whistle. One can only image how it must have been with the old snuffling steam trains. In contrary to the miles-long freight trains, the Amtrak passenger trains are fairly short. Maybe 7 coaches. You can choose between coach class, which is the cheapest class to travel, and various choices of “bedrooms”. The “bedroom” classes, no matter which one you book, are as expensive as a flight, sometimes even more than double the price. Just liek back home in Germany.
I was only traveling one station, I had booked coach class. It is comfortable and you can also access the observation deck with huge windows on both sides. The conductor was surprised taht a passenger would only travel one station – and he laughed when I told him that I am on a short Wild West trip.
We left Lamy at 5 pm and enjoyed the most magical light just before sundown. It was really New Mexico at its best.
The train lost another hour on the way to Las Vegas. It goes very slow between the two stations while winding its way through the canyons. I was enjoying the views and was jumping from one side of the observation deck to the other – like a little kid, eager to NOT miss anything. Time went fast.
Just before sundown we reached Las Vegas, NM. I was the only one getting off the train.
Las Vegas, New Mexico couldn’t be more different from its bigger cousin of the same name in Nevada. It is a picturesque town, very much laid back, with an old Wild West vibe. The town was founded in 1835, following the typical Spanish-colonial model. I walked from the station to the main town square, where I had a reservation in the Historic Plaza Hotel.
There was no one, seriously no one in the streets. A few cars passed by on my way. The entire town is like one big movie set! It is rare that you find yourself in a place that transports you back into another era in such a genuine way – without even trying. I turned into Bridge Street, a street that is lined by beautifully restored houses on both sides. It couldn’t be any quainter – the only disturbing thing was the cars parked in the streets. The scenery was crying out for horse carriages.
Bridge Street ends at the main square where my hotel is located. You can’t miss this grand building. It is the most impressive structure there. I walked through the historic entrance doors and felt like I had stepped back straight into the late 19th century. I could easily imagine posh ladies in flowing satin dresses waiting in the lobby for their carriages to be unloaded, sipping on a glass of champagne while their servants were loading the luggage and getting the horses saddled.
The town square is filled with leafy trees and wooden statues, all centered around a gazebo in the middle of the park – again empty. No one was there. My favourite statue was this one: “Cry to the Ages”. There are no words needed to describe it.
I checked in at the hotel, walked up the wide flat wooden stairs to my room on the second floor, dropped my bag and returned downstairs to have a drink at the bar. No, no whiskey – just a glass of red wine, not at all western-style, but yummy. Finally some people. While the dining hall – with its huge red lusters hanging down from the high ceilings – was filled with tourists, the guests in the bar were locals. It seemed like their place to hang out, they were noisy and well aquainted with the bar keeper. As the evening moved on, they almost ruined the antique piano which was standing against a wall. The wall was decorated with yellow-brownish photos from the good old days.
The next morning I continued my stroll through town. Even though it was Labour Day, the shops opened around 11 am. Plenty of quirky antiques and vintage stores – but unlike the Indian or Arabic bazaars no one was bothering to buy anything. The shop owners rather engaged with their visitors and chatted friendly with everyone entering their shops. My favourite store was Roughrider Antiques – they have an excellent selection of books about New Mexico and the Soutwest. I was tempted to buy an onld edition of “Billie, the Kid” but at the end I let it go because I didn’t feel like carrying it around the world!
The dilemna of a nomad 🙂
In the afternoon I walked back to the railway station when I passed by old these Victorian Houses.
My plan was to spend my second night at the Castañeda Hotel, right at the railway station. It was was built in 1898 and was Fred Harvey’s first trackside hotel – the beginning of America’s first hospitality empire. The hotel is roughly 30,000 sq ft, plus a 500 foot long arcade wrapping the entire east facade and courtyard. It has a beautiful dining hall and bar – unfortunately both were closed, even though the hotel was fully booked. What a pity, I thought. Lack of labourer, the lady at the reception was telling me.
The preservation of historic buildings in Las Vegas is part of the New Mexico Main Street program, an initiative founded by the state in 1985 to revive abandoned main streets and town centers throughout New Mexico. It focuses on bringing town squares and the surrounding streets back to live while preserving historic buildings, maintaining their original facades and architectural features. You can see these efforts clearly when you walk through town – yet I was wondering when there is no one in the streets – even on a Labour Day weekend – who will get this going? Who or where are the customers?
The next morning I was allowed to check out a bit later and just walked over to the track when I heard the train rolling in. It was absolutely on time: 12:12 pm.