Las Vegas started as a farming and ranching settlement in the 1840s after a dozen or so families petitioned Mexico for a land grant. It was up and running when Gen. Stephen Kearny declared New Mexico part of the U.S.—the announcement was made from a balcony in Las Vegas' Old Town. It became a raucous, brawling trading post on the Santa Fe Trail in the 1880s.
The town boasts splendid Victorian architecture, especially in the historic district of Old Town Plaza and along Sixth, Seventh and Eighth streets in New Town. Take a long day to visit several of the 830 structures on the National Register of Historic Places. Be sure to see the restored Montezuma Hotel, now the Armand Hammer United World College of the American West. The hotel was built near a hot spring that is open to the public. In winter, visitors and locals enjoy ice skating at Montezuma Pond. Stop by the Rough Rider Museum, so named because many Las Vegans served in Cuba alongside Teddy Roosevelt in the Spanish American War.
Fort Union National Monument, 30 mi/48 km northeast, was once the biggest fort in the Southwest but is now in ruin. The ghost town of Watrous is nearby. Outdoor enthusiasts may want to investigate the Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge, a prairie preserve that attracts hundreds of bird species, especially such raptors as eagles, hawks and kestrels. Or they can head up Gallinas Canyon for a daylong hike to Hermit's Peak, which was home to a Roman Catholic mystic in the 1800s. There are also several state parks in the area that are located on scenic lakes. Las Vegas is 85 mi/135 km northeast of Albuquerque.
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