You may never have heard of Las Vegas, New Mexico, but the film industry sure has. This small city, an hour east of Santa Fe, has been welcoming movie-makers since 1913. The city has such a robust movie-filming scene that it has its own film commission. Los Vegas New Mexico film locations are bringing people to town. The Las Vegas New Mexico Film Commission has put out a colorful 22-page guide with the towns film history information on locations and even a numbered map to make finding them easy.
As entire tourism industry is developing around film tourism. People really want to visit places where their favorite film or TV show was shot. Years ago we detoured to Roslyn, WA on our way to Seattle to see Roslyn the small town that stood in for the fictional Cicely, AK. I was hoping to see that moose walking down the street. He wasn’t but it was very cool to visit the town and recognize places from the show. Breaking Bad has put Albuquerque on the film tourism map. People flock there to see Walt White and Jessie Pinkman’s homes, the car wash and Los Pollos Hermanos, Gus Fring’s chicken joint. What brings film buffs to Las Vegas, NM? Join us as we tour Las Vegas New Mexico Film locations.
Film history in Las Vegas New Mexico
The first movie maker to discover what was then a bustling city was Romaine Fielding, an actor, director, writer and producer for Lubin Films. He arrived in West Las Vegas in 1913 and set up shop in the Plaza Hotel. He renamed it “Hotel Romaine.” Today, you can see the ghostly remains of Romaine’s sign painted on the west side of the hotel. Fielding even brought Buster Brown and his faithful dog, Tige, to town for his 1913 film, The Sheepherder. His never released futuristic film, The Golden God, set in futuristic 1950, was filmed in 1913. Reportedly they used over 5,000 extras. The local paper, the Los Vegas Optic reported at the time that the Santa Fe Railway brought hundreds of spectators during the 17-day shoot to view movie making in action.
The people of Las Vegas recognized the potential of the movie industry and actively courted Hollywood. They convinced the Selig Polyscope Film Company to send cowboy great Tom Mix to this city where the high desert prairie and the Rocky Mountains meet. He arrived in 1914 and shot over 20 of his westerns in the area.
Las Vegas New Mexico film locations
The 1969 cult film, Easy Rider, about two hippies riding Harleys from one LA (Los Angeles) to the other (Louisiana) and then on to Alabama, where their journey ends, in search of “spiritual truth,” was largely shot on the road. It features two New Mexico locations: Taos, home at the time to star Dennis Hopper and Las Vegas. Hopper, who plays Billy and co-star Peter Fonda who plays Wyatt aka “Captain America,” follow a parade at the historicWest Las Vegas Plaza and are arrested and charged with parading without a permit. We met Karen, owner of Hillside Restaurant on Grand Avenue. She was the majorette the camera pans from the legs up. In one take she hit Peter Fonda with her baton and they had to do another one. She said it was “mortifying.” She was 16 at the time. She was so embarrassed when she saw the film that she put her hands over her eyes. She’d had no idea the camera was up to a bit of mischief. The film brings a lot of people to the restaurant to meet her and a lot want to pose for a photo with her. Many are bikers following the film’s route. “It’s kind of fun,” she told us.
After the duo’s arrest they’re thrown into the town’s jail where they meet dissipated ACLU lawyer George Hanson, played by then unknown Jack Nicholson. While the film didn’t use the actual cells, they did shoot in the police station. If you want to know more about it, Visit Tito’s at 157 Bridge Street and talk to Tito. He even showed me the old jail cells now used for storage. They weren’t the cells used in the film. They reportedly shot that scene in the Taos jail.The police station and the firehouse next-door, also in the film were closed in 1970 when the cities of East Las Vegas and West Las Vegas merged. Look carefully when viewing Easy Rider and you can see the town’s name in the background.
Another cult classic, Red Dawn, shot in 1984, used locations around town including West Las Vegas’ historic Plaza, the historic Castañeda Hotel and the still standing Union Drive-in. You’ll find the film’s “Calumet says Howdy” sign with its giant cowgirl welcoming people to the fictional Calumet Colorado, painted on the side of a building at the corner of 6th Street and Douglas Avenue. Swayze liked the town so much when he filming Red Dawn that he bought a ranch outside of town. His widow, Lisa Niemi, still lives there.
Cormac McCarthy in Las Vegas
Two films shot in Las Vegas were based on Cormac McCarthy books. The 2000 film, All the Pretty Horses, starring Matt Damon and Penelope Cruz has scenes filmed in the Castañeda Hotel, the historic train depot and Murphy’s Drugs on Douglas Avenue, where a vintage Coke sign still hangs outside of what is now a bank. Scenes from No Country for Old Men, the 2007 a Coen Brother’s film, were shot at locations around town including the historic Plaza Hotel where you can have your picture taken at the registration desk used in the film;, Pancho’s Roadside Café; the Regal Motel and the University Avenue exit from I-25 which doubled as a border crossing from Mexico to the US. The same location was used as a border crossing in the 2010 Robert Downey/Zach Galifianakis comedy, Due Date.
The popular TV show, Longmire, now on Netflix has spent the most time. They recently finished filming their fourth season. The contemporary western, set in fictional Absaroka County Wyoming has been shooting in Las Vegas since 2012. At the west side of the Plaza you’ll find “Absaroka County Sheriff” stenciled on the glass of the door to a historic building. If you not a fan of the show and you know you’re in San Juan County, it might give you a moment’s pause. Another of the show’s popular locations is the Plaza Hotel, catty-corner to the faux sheriff’s office. If the show gets another season, look around Las Vegas when they are filming and you might spot show stars Robert Taylor or Lou Diamond Phillips.
Other films shot in Las Vegas
Other films shot in Las Vegas include Convoy (1978) with Kris Kristofferson and Ali MacGraw (who now calls Santa Fe home); the 1994 romantic comedy Speechless starring Geena Davis and Michael Keaton; the 2006 Astronaut Farmer with Billy Bob Thornton, which did a lot of shooting at Santa Fe’s Bonanza Creek Ranch where the “Astronaut Farmer House” and it’s barn still stand, Paul starring Seth Rogan, Jason Bateman, Kristin Wiig and Bill Hader and the short-lived TV series Las Vegas about the other Las Vegas, aka “Sin City.”
We really enjoyed touring the various Las Vegas New Mexico film locations and talking to people involved or knowledgable about the local movie industry. If you’re a film buff, you’ll love this and if not, the city has other charms. Viva Las Vegas!
Author’s note: You can pick up the 22-page guide to Las Vegas New Mexico film locations put out by the Las Vegas New Mexico Film Commission at the Las Vegas Vistiros Information Office at the historic depot (now the Amtrak station) on Railroad Avenue as well as other locations around the city. We want to thank Annette Velarde, the City of Las Vegas’ Film Liaison for the personal tour she gave us of various locations in the city. We went back a few weeks later for more extensive touring on our own.
Travelers march on their stomachs. If you want our Las Vegas dining recommendations, click here.
For more on Las Vegas, NM film making: