Alibi V.25 No.21 • May 26-June 1, 2016 

Day Tripper

Of Churches & Castles

Historic towns with prisms, ghosts and giant cream puffs

Neon at Charlie’s
Neon at Charlie’s
Taylor Grabowsky
Las Vegas, N.M. has a rich history, much like many parts of the state. With 900 buildings listed in the National Register of Historic Places, you could literally trip and fall onto a piece of history. Once overrun with outlaws, now Las Vegas is a sleepy northern town. One cloudy Sunday I drove up to this town nestled at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains with Desiree Garcia, fellow Alibi receptionist.

Las Vegas greeted us with old, abandoned-looking buildings and neighborhoods with large Victorian-style houses. Each house was unique and brightly colored. After driving around, we started to notice the many churches that Las Vegas had to offer. Soon this became a game of “Find the Church.” A quick Google search revealed that there are at least 27 churches of varying denominations in Las Vegas. We saw churches everywhere, even across the street from each other. We followed signs to the Historic Old Town Plaza, but my dreams of shopping in the unique small-town boutiques were soon dashed, because almost everything was closed, due to it being Sunday.

Earlier, when I was researching Las Vegas, an interesting restaurant had popped up in my search: Charlie's Spic & Span Bakery & Cafe (713 Douglas). With a large cream puff sticking out of the building above blue lettering, I had to see what the inside looked like. We walked in and were transported to the past, with vinyl covered seats and booths in all the primary colors, neon signs declaring, “Viva Las Vegas,” and a giant painted donut hanging on one of the walls. Although Charlie's is a local restaurant, it boasts the fact that they sell Starbucks drinks, and I realized this was the only place for miles where one could purchase Starbucks coffee. From a menu full of New Mexican food that surely wouldn't disappoint, we picked chicken enchiladas and vegetarian tacos with ground beef added (go figure) and watched the locals. After getting sufficiently full, we went to pay our check up front, and that's where we saw all they had to offer in their bakery. Oversized treats sat behind a glass case: cookies the size of our faces, cream puffs as big as our heads, and eclairs the size of a forearm.

After our yummy lunch at Charlie’s, we went back to the plaza to look at the Historic Plaza Hotel because we had heard it was haunted. The Victorian-style hotel was relatively recently renovated in 1982, but has been around since 1882. The lobby, although small, offers high ceilings and Southwest art everywhere you look—from the walls to the case by the front desk to sculptures sitting in alcoves. The staff at the hotel were very friendly and allowed us to look around. We explored several rooms off the lobby that were sitting rooms or were there to house more art.

In the lobby was an antique record player which the front desk attendant—whom we later dubbed Casper—helped us crank to play. After we listened to the old-timey song on the record, Desiree asked him if the hotel was indeed haunted. He replied with a friendly “Yes,” and then described a few of his personal experiences. He said that it is common to hear distinct cowboy boot footsteps coming from the floor above when no one is around, and the smell of cigar smoke also signals the appearance of one of the hotel's ghosts: the former owner and mayor of Las Vegas. We asked Casper what there was to do around town on a Sunday, and he gave us directions to the Dwan Light Sanctuary, which was near our next destination: the Armand Hammer United World College in Montezuma, N.M.

Montezuma castle
Montezuma castle
Taylor Grabowsky

We arrived at the Davis International Center (formally known as Montezuma castle), which is part of the United World College campus (Highway 56) and our main reason for visiting the campus. All our Hogwarts dreams came true while we took pictures of the castle and marveled at the other buildings on campus. We then followed a small road into the campus which led us to the Dwan Light Sanctuary. The building was hidden behind some trees, but there was a winding sidewalk up to the front doors. The inside was composed of a dome with windows made of prisms. The idea is to create a room full of reflected light rainbows. Unfortunately for us, the sun was hiding behind the clouds, so we weren't able to see any rainbows.

Not quite done with Las Vegas, we headed back to the plaza because we had seen that one of the stores was open. We pulled up in front of Tome on the Range (158 Bridge), a small, local bookstore. We lucked out and the store was having a sale where certain used books were 3 for $5. We scoured the rack and each picked out three titles.

After a day filled with driving around a new town, getting a sense of local flavor, and general exploring, we both felt like a part of Las Vegas, but it was time for us to go home. We drove back in the pouring rain, passing snow and car accidents in Santa Fe, and were back in sunny Albuquerque. If you are interested in seeing a slice of New Mexico history, Las Vegas is a good place to start, however maybe don't go on a Sunday when most of the town is closed.