Scene: Las Vegas, Nevada. It’s 9:00pm. Tim and Drea have just returned from dinner at the Rio Hotel & Casino. The outdoor temperature has cooled to a “comfortable” 90 degrees. Camera zooms in on Drea toying with her iPhone.
Drea: Whoa! It’s going to be in the seventies tomorrow.
Tim: Uh…are you sure about that?
Drea: Yeah, it’s what my weather app says.
Scene: Las Vegas, Nevada. It’s 8:00am the following morning. Drea has just completed her morning run, as evidenced by the fantastic amount of sweat beading on her forehead. She is convinced that the outdoor temperature was most definitely NOT in the seventies. Tim observes Drea as she jabs a finger at her iPhone in protest.
Drea: What the hell?!
Tim: Drea, did you set your weather app to Las Vegas, New Mexico?
Drea: There’s a Las Vegas in New Mexico?
Yesterday we left Gallup behind to the thumping beats of daytime playa music (read: energizing electronic music well-suited to daytime Burning Man dance parties). It’s worth mentioning that Gallup lies on historic Route 66 and is the commercial center of the Navajo Nation, the largest Indian reservation in the continental U.S. Many a Western film was shot in this area, with famous stars of the silver screen staying in Gallup’s El Rancho Hotel.
We crossed the continental divide in the morning, continuing northeast through the rugged land of flat-topped mesas and desert shrubs. Albuquerque came and went, as did Santa Fe. Curious about this other Las Vegas, we saved our appetites for a late lunch there at Hillcrest Restaurant.
It was everything I ever wanted from a road trip diner. The place is a long-standing bastion of Americana culture. Jukeboxes leftover from its time as a teen-infested soda fountain in the 1950’s sit at every table. The walls are lined with a mishmash of southwestern decor and dusty books. Greeting cards, souvenirs and candy bars cluttered around the cash register greet you upon entry. Even the restrooms – labeled “Cowgirls Only” and “Cowboys Only” – are a hoot. Swinging saloon doors provide “privacy” for each stall, and the soap is a big friendly bottle of Dawn.
Tim and I both ordered off of the Mexican food menu from our charming waitress. Always too curious for my own good, I tried their supposedly-famous Burnt Chez (pronounced “cheese”) Tacos. Unremarkable and tough to boot. Tim made the right choice with a combination plate, which proved to be enough food for three people. If you ever find yourself at Hillcrest Restaurant, order the chile relleno. Hell, order five! They’re that delicious.
Now, no Great American Road Trip Diner Experience is complete without a slice of pie to top off the meal. The lemon meringue was perfect – a heavenly cloud of meringue atop smooth, bright, zesty filling. The coconut “cream” pie was also tasty but curiously topped with meringue in place of whipped cream.
A quick trip to the post office took us through downtown Las Vegas. Like most former frontier towns, it is characterized by of mix of charming old buildings and somewhat dilapidated property. You wouldn’t know by looking at it, but Las Vegas was one of the most lawless cities of the old west. Legends like Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, Billy the Kid and Jesse James all paid visit to its streets…or street. I have no idea how large the town was at that point.
What I do know is that yesterday’s average temperature in Las Vegas, New Mexico according to Wolfram Alpha was a balmy 71 degrees.