As far as day trips go, Las Vegas, N.M., is one of the easiest places to get to. Only an hour and a half drive from Albuquerque (or an easy three and a half hour ride on Amtrak), Las Vegas offers a pleasant blend of natural vistas and small-town charm.
When they hang out overnight, our readers prefer to sleep in style at the Historic Plaza Hotel, which was originally built in 1881 and has since been restored to look exactly as it did then. If you recognize the Victorian facade and the elegant interiors, it’s probably because you’ve seen the place in any number of movies or TV shows (“Longmire,” Easy Rider and No Country for Old Men all feature scenes inside the Plaza Hotel). If you’d rather rough it, you can camp at Storrie Lake State Park, which is a few miles north of the town on 518.
Whether or not you choose to stay at the Plaza Hotel, you should at least stop in the saloon, which boasts a 25-foot long granite bar and beautiful views of Plaza Park. Just up the block is the World Treasures Traveler’s Cafe, where you’ll find a comfortable spot for coffee or lunch and the occasional live performance from a touring poet or musician. It’s a good place to chat with locals and (you guessed it) travelers who may just give you a stellar recommendation on what sights to see while you’re in the area. If you’re on the hunt for a big plate of Mexican comfort food or a tasty sweet, hit up Charlie’s Spic & Span Bakery & Café. Here you’ll find bubbling plates of chilaquiles and smothered burritos, along with a mouthwatering assortment of baked goods that you’ll definitely want to pack up and take with you.
While you’re on the plaza, check out the many antique shops and be sure to stop in Tome on the Range Books to pick up a road trip read or a gift for somebody back home. If you’re looking to get into the wilderness and sweat a little, a trip to Hermit Peak is also in order. The hike up the mountain gains 2,500 feet in elevation, so make sure you bring plenty of water and give yourself adequate time to reach the peak. Once you’re there, the view from the top will prove more than worth the climb. For some lower-impact nature time, visit the Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge, just south of Las Vegas off I-25. Here you can go on a number of short hikes that offer excellent opportunities for birdwatching or hunting.
This area is also home to the country’s only United World College and the ethereal Dwan Light Sanctuary, two cultural anomalies worthy of a visit. The UWC campus is small and insular—like the college itself—but worth a walkthrough if you want to know what Hogwarts would look like if it were dropped in northern New Mexico. The Dwan Light Sanctuary lies in a circular building on the campus, and it’s certainly one of the most interesting stops on a Las Vegas road trip. This small, empty gallery space is dedicated to showcasing nothing but light and space: Prisms in the windows refract natural light into rainbow stripes on the walls and floor, creating different works of art all through the day. Within eyeshot of the United World College are the Montezuma Hot Springs, which are especially nice in colder weather. Although they're located on the college grounds, UWC allows pubic access and maintains the pools. There are no road signs to tell you where these “wild” springs are, so just keep your eyes peeled for cars parked along the right side of State Road 65 about six miles outside of town. Swimming suits are required. ()