December 15, 2015

Have you ever thought about hopping on a train bound for New Mexico to have lunch, and then returning the same day?

I'd be on Amtrak's Southwest Chief.


It's an inconvenient time of night, boarding the #3 west-bound train at the station in Newton, Kansas.


Dodge City has brought out their Christmas display lights.  Meanwhile, I'm having a cup of hot Amtrak coffee in the observation car.



The rails mostly parallel US-50 through Kansas, and then on to La Junta, Colorado before turning south to Trinidad.  More accurately would be to say the train follows the route of the old Santa Fe Trail.


It's a cold winter's morning.



My car wasn't even a third full, but the conductor said that beyond Albuquerque (heading towards Los Angeles), the cars would fill up.  Nearer the Christmas break, every seat will be taken.


At La Junta, the train stops long enough for an engine crew change and to allow passengers to walk around a bit.


The wind is blowing very strong out of the west.



Passing through Trinidad, I got a glimpse of downtown while crossing Commercial Street.

Heading up Raton Pass, the train slows for the curves (and the track conditions).  This was once a major route for freight, but that was years ago.  Now, these twice-day Amtrak trains are probably most of the traffic over the pass.




New Mexico

Through the summit tunnel and down into New Mexico.


Raton, New Mexico and another chance to walk around in the cold air.


Amtrak cars have anti-lock brakes; I didn't know that.  That orange device is my GPS tracker (which created the points on the map at the top of this report).  It has just enough view through the window to communicate with the satellites.  The window sills have conventional 110V outlets.  On the train, there's plenty of room to stretch your legs.




Las Vegas.  That's the station on the left and the old Harvey House Hotel "The Castaneda" on the right.

With the coming of the trains, this large hotel would have put the much older Plaza Hotel out of business.  Of course, with automobiles and paved roads, the Castaneda was made obsolete by the cheaper motels along the highway.  The new freeway (I-25) then put those motels out of business, replaced by the larger generic corporate hotels out at the interchange--not even within walking of the town.

In a turn-about, the Plaza Hotel has now come back restored and in better shape than ever (I've stayed there).  I understand that there are now plans to bring the Castaneda back, as well.  Excellent.


Las Vegas is really two towns joined by history.  The town that's associated with the Santa Fe Trail (and including the Plaza Hotel) is west of here.  It has its own downtown district.  This is the downtown associated with the growth of the railroad in the late 1800's (and once called East Las Vegas).  Both are historic downtowns worth visiting and you can easily walk between the two (although perhaps not on such a windy 20-degree day as this).


Yes; that's a Carnegie Library on the left (and it remains a library).


The El Fidel Hotel is just a couple of blocks from the station, and is an operating classic old hotel.  Around the corner from the hotel entrance is the El Fidel Restaurant.  While I'd heard of it, I had never eaten there.  Until today.


It offers a blend of Mediterranean and American/Cuban food (and I think whatever interesting thing the chef might think up that evening--it's that sort of restaurant).  But, perhaps importantly, you will not find a green-chili-cheeseburger on the menu (as seems to be the case at virtually every other restaurant in New Mexico).

Mushroom Penne with chicken.  It's very good.


The local museum has an expanded exhibit on Theodore Roosevelt's Rough Riders of the Spanish American War.  Las Vegas was selected as the site of their reunions; so, for that reason the town has quite a good collection of artifacts.  It's worth visiting if you're in the area.




The #4 eastbound train was running a couple of hours late, but I was soon enough rolling back to Newton.

An extravagant lunch?  Perhaps; but, why not?


last edit: 12/16/2015