Thursday, December 19, 2019

Remembrances of Vermejo Park NM

Merry Christmas!

I often write about the eastern slopes of the southern Rockies in New Mexico, and the towns of Las Vegas and Mora, two of the remaining villages from the time when this area was part of Mexico before the Mexican-American War of 1846-48.
Colfax County, NM, borders Colorado on the north. All of Colfax County was part of the Beaubien-Miranda Grant awarded by Mexican Governor Armijo in 1841, and covered 2.7 million acres and extended into southern CO. This property is also known as the Maxwell Grant. Lucian Maxwell was Carlos Beaubien’s son-in-law and inherited the property upon Beaubien’s death in the Pueblo Revolt of 1846. Maxwell defended the grant against Federal claims, squatters, and false claims through 1870, when he sold it to investors. 
Maxwell then purchased the abandoned Fort Sumner (known as the Bosque Redondo) from the Federal government for a cattle ranch.
I reference Ceran St. Vrain as a historical figure in my Apprenticeship Series. St. Vrain and Beaubien, French-Canadian fur trappers, were friends who found their fortunes in northern NM. Nestled between two mountain ranges, the large pastures beside the Vermejo river earned it the name, Vermejo Park, in the 1840’s. With Beaubien’s permission, St. Vrain and Kit Carson grazed cattle in Vermejo Park during this period.

In 1960, during Spring break, Tom Curtis, a fellow engineering student, and I visited Vermejo Park Ranch, which consists of over 500,000 acres. Tom’s father was the manager for the ranch’s Utilities service. (They had managers for  Cattle, Horses, Timber, Gas, and Utilities operations.) The ranch generated its own electricity, provided water & sewer/ septic, trash pickup, telephone, and radio for the ranch (no CB or cell phones in those days). The ranch’s north entrance is in Stonewall, CO, and the South entrance is across from the Boy Scout Ranch at Philmont, NM. Each entrance is 30+ miles from the Ranch headquarters.

In those days, Vermejo Park was owned by a Dallas oilman who sold it to Pennzoil in the 70’s, who then sold the land (but not mineral rights) to Ted Turner in 1993. The gas and coal operation, Atlas Energy, LLC, continues independently.

When I visited in 1960, the main house had been destroyed by a fire in the 40s, but a wing survived. The "wing" was large, elegant stone structure. The story is they dynamited the connecting hallway to save the wing from the fire. The legend had it, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr, built the main house when he purchased Vermejo in the 1910s. Ted Turner has restored the main residence and it’s available for luxurious vacations.

In my visit, we fished for trout in the mountain lakes, hunted porcupines with the blessing of the Timber manager. Porcupines like to eat the bark of young trees, which causes the tree to die. In a pure tourist mode, I took pictures of the smaller Black bears and large, spectacular Elk. It was my first visit to the Rockies, and I was hooked.

The Cattle Manager warned us they had just released the bulls into the high pastures. He said, “Give the bulls some space.”
While fishing at one of the high lakes, I heard the bellow of a bull getting closer and closer. When the bull came in view, it became obvious, he hunted a heifer.
I moved down to the water edge, planning to take a swim.
Curtis teased me about being afraid of the bull.
I said, “I don’t want him to mistake me for a heifer.”

I wish each of you a blessed and joyous New Year.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Las Vegas New Mexico

Traveling the West

How times fly’s past without us noticing it’s gone.
Ten years ago, we visited Las Vegas—no, not that one—Las Vegas, New Mexico.
Several of my western novels frequent Las Vegas, NM, because, in its day, it was a rough and tumble western town. It was well established by the time the Mexican-American War erupted in 1846. From the 1820 through to the Civil War era, wagons from the Santa Fe Trail stopped to rest in the grassy meadows between the Gallinas and Pecos rivers and shop in the Las Vegas stores. These meadows served as a gathering place for Spanish and Native Americans from the 1600s to early 1800s and gave the new village its name, “Las Vegas,” meaning the meadows.
In 1846, General Stephan Kearny climbed to the porch roof of the General Store to calm and reassure local residents, Mexican citizens, they would not be harmed if they did not fight the US Army. The downtown district and the stores are little changed since those early days.
The major change in the area came in 1879, when the Santa Fe railroad finally arrived and replaced the Santa Fe Trail and its wagon traffic. Las Vegas was larger than Denver at the time.
The arrival of the Santa Fe railroad created a little town “on the wrong side of the tracks,” where nefarious characters came to ply their trade of gambling, bunko, and mayhem. Doc Holiday practiced there before buying into a saloon and gambling hall with one of the local lawmen.
In the midst of this turmoil, Fred Harvey constructed a classic Mission Revival hotel as part of his Harvey House chain of hotels alongside the railroad stations.
When we visited in 2009, the old structure hid behind a chain-link fence. We admired its classic design, and at the time wondered why no one sought to revive the grand old hotel.

Fast forward 10-years and a welcome the newly re-opened Hotel Castañeda.

Allan Affeldt, and his wife, artist Tina Mion, renovated and remodeled La Posada, another Harvey House, in Winslow, AZ, 20 years ago, much to the delight of the townsfolk. Mr. Affeldt used his experience from the La Posada to give an idea of what it would take to reconstruct the old hotel. He has done a masterful job in restoring La Castañeda and changing the old single rooms into modern hotel rooms with a bath. The spacious halls and grand staircase have regained their former splendor. Affeldt, in keeping with history, purchased 2,600 pieces of furniture from the Santa Fe former Harvey House, La Fonda, to add to the historic charm of the La Castañeda in Las Vegas, NM. Mr. Affeldt also purchased and renovated the historic Plaza hotel on the Plaza in downtown Las Vegas. If you visit the area, be sure to visit the shops on the square (and Tome on the Range, the local independent bookstore.) Consider staying at the two historic hotels, The Plaza and La Castañeda. 

My next two blogs will delve into the history of Las Vegas and describe a few of the colorful characters who helped the railroad district earn its reputation.

In closing, I’ll brag for the moment that “The Apprenticeship of Nigel Blackthorn” is #2 on Amazon and has 138+ 5-star Reviews.
My latest book, “North in the Spring,” the 2nd book in The Apprenticeship series is #1, beating out “The Apprenticeship” for the top spot.
A tip of my hat to all my blog followers who have followed my novels and posted reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. I appreciate your support. I couldn’t do it without you. If you read these books, you know Las Vegas NM is a favorite stop on “north in the spring.”
Thanks for riding along.
Frank Kelso

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