Made in NM: Las Vegas New Mexico film locations

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.

The vintage Kiva Theater seen here circa 1938 still stamds on Bridge Street in Las Vegas NM a Mecca for movie-makers photo/courtesy of City of Las Vegas New Mexico Museum

The Kiva Theater circa 1938 photo/courtesy of City of Las Vegas New Mexico Museum

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 ghost sign for Hotel Romaine in Las Vegas NM renamed by film-maker Romaine Fielding in 1913 canstill be seem on west wall of the Plaza Hotel on the hiistoric West Las Vegas Plazaphoto Steve Collins

The ghost sign for Hotel Romainecan ia visible on the west wall of the Plaza Hotel photo/Steve Collins

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

Easy Rider

Karen, owner of the Hillcrest Restaurt in Las Vegas NMappeared as the drum majorette in the parade in Easy Rider the 1969 cult film photo Steve Collins

Karen, owner of the Hillcrest Restaurant on Grand Avenue was in Easy Rider photo/Steve Collins

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.

The former E. Romero Hose & Fire Co., next to Tito's Gallery , once the West Las Vegas NM police station both appeared in 1969 cult film " Easy Rider" Photo courtesy Las Vegas Film Commission

The former E. Romero Hose & Fire Co., next to Toto’s, once the police station both appeared in Easy Rider. Photo/courtesy Las Vegas Film Commission

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.

Red Dawn

The "Calumet says Howdy sign form the1984 Patrick Swayze film Red Dawn can still be seen at the corner of 6th and Douglas in Las Vegas NM photo/Steve Collins

The “Calumet says Howdy sign painted for Red Dawn remains photo/Steve Collins

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

The I-25 exit ramp at University Avenue in Las Vegas NM in Las Vegas has stood in for a Mexican border crossing films including No Country for Old Men and Due Date photo/coutessy of the Las Vegas Film Commission

The I-25 exit ramp at University Avenue has stood in for a Mexican border crossing a few times photo/coutessy of the Las Vegas Film Commission

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.

Longmire

Longmire is shot on location in Las Vegas New Mexico.The sign on the door of this building on the west side of the Plaza reads "Absaroka County Sheriff photo/Steve Collins

The sign on the door of this building on the west side of the Plaza reads “Absaroka County Sheriff photo/Steve Collins

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

Thevintage Kiva Theater in Las Vegas NM became the Golden Nugget Casino for Las Vegas, a TV show starring Dennis Quaid about the other Las Vegas aka "sin City" photo David Manzanares

The Kiva Theater became the Golden Nugget Casino for Las Vegas, a TV show starring Dennis Quaid photo/David Manzanares

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:

 

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26 Responses to “Made in NM: Las Vegas New Mexico film locations”

  1. Johanna Castro
    September 6, 2015 at 11:01 pm #

    You got me thinking about which locations I might have visited where a film had been made. The only one I could think of offhand was the James Bond movie shot at a The Lake Palace Hotel in Udaipur, which I visited as a backpacker but didn’t have the money to stay there! The Las Vegas New Mexico film locations would definitely be something I’d get into if I ever visited. Very interesting, fascinating 🙂

    • Billie Frank
      September 7, 2015 at 3:26 pm #

      It’s amazing how many people are interested in film tourism. Seeing locations I know in films is exciting to me. Have gone to a few films shot in Santa Fe just to see the town, some were good, some weren’t but seeing places I know is cool. We really enjoyed “Crazy Heart” which show Santa Fe well. “Cowboys and Aliens” was a pretty terrible film but we toured the movie ranch it was mostly shot at the day before seeing the moving which was cool and some was shot at Ghost Ranch and the White Place in Abiquiu which was exciting for me. Have to revisit Easy Rider to see familiar places in NM.

    • Billie Frank
      September 14, 2015 at 10:45 pm #

      Las Vegas is definitely loaded with interesting film locations.

  2. Lyn (aka) The Travelling Lindfields
    September 7, 2015 at 12:03 am #

    We have not only heard of Las Vegas, New Mexico, we have stayed there. I’m not sure whether we were aware of the film location connection but we certainly loved the slow, out of the way nature of the town.

    • Billie Frank
      September 7, 2015 at 3:21 pm #

      Very cool! Now you have a reason to come back.

    • Billie Frank
      September 14, 2015 at 10:46 pm #

      You’ll have to come back! Hope you got to explore the town. For many it’s just a stop on the Interstate.

  3. Peter Parker
    September 7, 2015 at 12:13 am #

    Great Place to live in for a change. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Edward Smith
    September 7, 2015 at 12:30 am #

    Great and lively place to visit. Thanks for sharing

    • Billie Frank
      September 7, 2015 at 3:20 pm #

      Great, yes- don’t know how lively it is. Maybe you’re confusing it with the other Las Vegas which is pretty lively.

    • Billie Frank
      September 14, 2015 at 10:47 pm #

      We loved it. Hope our writing about it encourages others to come visit.

  5. Carole Terwilliger Meyers
    September 7, 2015 at 10:11 am #

    Well, this makes me curious. My son is a director and filmed part of his movie, “The Hitcher,” in New Mexico. We all stayed in Santa Fe for a while. I’ll have to ask him if he did any scenes in Las Vegas!

    • Carole Terwilliger Meyers
      September 7, 2015 at 12:09 pm #

      His reply is, “new mexico yes – all the daytime open road stuff was there.”

      • Billie Frank
        September 7, 2015 at 3:19 pm #

        This went right over my head. Googled the quote hoping the Internet would have an answer- but alas not.

      • Billie Frank
        September 14, 2015 at 7:10 am #

        Very cool! Tell your son to let us know. Always happy to hear someone filmed in NM.

    • Billie Frank
      September 7, 2015 at 3:27 pm #

      I’d love to know. Now I understand the other comment which I saw first.

  6. Betsy Wuebker | PassingThru
    September 7, 2015 at 12:13 pm #

    i had no idea this was such a popular location, starting back with Tom Mix. Having lived and worked around Conejo Velley and Ventura County, I got used to seeing “my” habitat in old movies ranging from 1930s Robin Hood, John Wayne and Gary Cooper cowboy sagas, etc. It’s good fun to track down these locations and try to get into the heads of the location scouts. Fun reading!

    • Billie Frank
      September 7, 2015 at 3:17 pm #

      Las Vegas is definitely on the movie folks radar. Trucks for the remake of Magnificent 7 have been spotted in the area.

    • Billie Frank
      September 14, 2015 at 10:48 pm #

      It is fun tracking them down. I think being a location scout would be a fascinating job. Would love to do it locally.

  7. Irene S. Levine, PhD
    September 7, 2015 at 5:31 pm #

    How much fun it must be to follow the film trail in New Mexico—although NY also has its share of great movie backdrops. When we toured Albuquerque’s old town, we visited the Breaking Bad candy shop. Some touristy things are fun to do!

    • Billie Frank
      September 8, 2015 at 11:25 am #

      There’s a tour company that does a Breaking Bad tour in an RV just like the one Walt and Jessie had. Breaking Bad tourism is huge in Albuquerque. It’s a bit quieter at the Las Vegas film locations. There’s a bit about NM film locations on the NM Tourism New Mexico True website https://www.newmexico.org/true-film/.

  8. Catherine Sweeney
    September 8, 2015 at 1:40 pm #

    Well, I’ve got to get to Las Vegas, NM soon now that I know Longmire is filmed there. Would love a chance to see Robert Taylor. 🙂 I knew of Las Vegas (in fact, I think we went through there on a road trip when I was young) but certainly didn’t know about its filming history. Fun to meet Karen — how cool to be in Easy Rider.

    • Billie Frank
      September 10, 2015 at 1:52 pm #

      You might just see him in Las Vegas or Santa Fe during filming season. I think they film around May. Hopefully they’ll be shooting a new season next year.

  9. John G.
    April 2, 2017 at 3:00 pm #

    In Law Vegas, NM as I write this. Hanging in the Plaza bar. Big fan of Longmire and wanted to see some of the film sites, to include the Mine Shaft. Lots of fun for me! Amazing how they can make all the diverse sites look co-located!

    • Billie Frank
      April 3, 2017 at 12:17 pm #

      Didn’t know they filmed at the Mine Shaft which is in scenic downtown Madrid. I was floored when I discovered the Absaroka County Sheriff’s office in LV. Started me on my Longmire journey. They’re filming in the area at the moment.

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