Viva Las Vegas—New Mexico, that is

Elvis was wrong. It is not just Viva Las Vegas. It is Viva Las Vegas, New Mexico. You don’t need to drive to Nevada to see bright lights and highlights with cowboys and showgirls. Put your car on the road and steer north to fill that Western thrill.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t gamble so Nevada holds no joy for me. Living on a teacher’s salary (Wait, I take that back. We teachers are the ultimate gamblers. Every year we bet our paycheck that we can hit the jackpot with the kids in our care. If they learn, we all win. We bet with more than money, we wager on their futures.) Back to Vegas.

I’ll bet my lunch money that I can show you in the next few lines how a railroad built a town, how young ladies from all over the country burst into the work field for the first time in history as Harvey girls. How hardworking entrepreneurs came west to raise Victorian architecture into an art form. (New Mexico Vegas has more national historical sites than any other town of its size.) And how San Francisco has no monopoly on the flower power shops of the sixties. The arts and crafts displayed on the plaza stores can compete with any from coast to coast. I know, because I bought a Longmire relic, a painting, from 2-Ten Gallery. It is great.

My friend and neighbor Judy Roberts, who went from grade school to college in Las Vegas, sold me on visiting this truly inspirational venue. We came to see “Places with a Past, Rejuvenation of Las Vegas Historic Homes & Buildings Tour.” The event took place on August 4. I taught history and English, so the Victorian era was always a favorite of mine, and Judy had me at “crown molding.” But this was not the only treat on our three-day, two-night, girl’s weekend out. My husband of 46 years, Bill, gave us his blessings if I remembered to bring back donuts from Charlie’s Spic and Span bakery. Bill is a native; I am a newcomer, moving here from Iowa 56 years ago. And he knows his pastry. He used to fly F-16s all over the world. That man knows sugar.

Come to find out this weekend was also a get-together for graduates of Vegas high schools. It seems I was privileged to see what small town students do when they graduate: They party. Since their 24th reunion in 1984, Donna Keserich Peters and Theresa Fulgenzi have gotten the group together yearly. It is now more than Robertson High, it includes those from West Las Vegas High and Immaculate Conception High school. Theresa puts out a newsletter called “Our Las Vegas” that keeps all involved in touch with one another. The first night Friday we met at Dick’s Liquor and about 20 happy campers showed up. Judy and I are from Edgewood, but some came from Colorado, Santa Fe, Albuquerque and one lady’s daughter who was with her came from Seattle, Washington. The food at Dick’s was terrific. I was hesitating to order sea food, but it sounded so good. I was rewarded when a plate of pasta came hot to the table with lobster, shrimp and mussels cooked to perfection. My anxiety was soothed by a great dinner worthy of any Nevada menu. I returned a clean plate giving Dick’s a trophy for the catch of the day. As an outsider that dinner was more than a good meal. For a short while I could bask in the glow of their friendship. I went to Catholic school K–9th grade and then was whisked off to five other high schools, all good, but when you move frequently you do not have time for real lifetime friends. The chat at that dinner was all about family and to see how the rest of their class was doing. What a treat!

We set out on our tour Saturday seeing a beautiful restored Victorian, then a smaller home built by the railroad for the workers. Finally, before we took off for the United World College, we viewed a collection of rock houses on one property. These had formerly been owned by the Catholic church, but are now individually owned. They were beautifully decorated, intimate and cozy honoring the original craftsmanship. On to the World College in Montezuma. What can be said? “WOW!” The history is so extensive. It was rebuilt three times because it burned down twice. The woodwork alone in the entrance outshines anything I have ever seen. I am not a world traveler, but I have seen the British Isles. No castle I ever viewed can compare to the vision left by Armand Hammer and taken up by Prince Charles of England and the new benefactors, the Davis family. Students in 11th and 12th grade stay two years to finish up high school, and this school prepares them to go back and enter college with the wisdom earned in this unique experience. If only the countries from all over the world where these students come from were as eager to work together for the good of mankind.

Want to see what America is really about? Go to Las Vegas, New Mexico and taste the real west and how real friends are treasured again.