Feb. 26: Fort Union Drive In, Las Vegas NM

It’s Day 57 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. The drive from Monte Vista CO took almost four hours over twisty two-lane mountain roads. At the end of my journey, I reached the Fort Union Drive In Movie Theatre in Las Vegas NM. It’s on the north edge of town, right on Highway 518.

In a June 2014 article, the Santa Fe New Mexican documented how the Fort Union almost closed because of the need to convert to digital projection. It highlighted its new general manager, then 18-year-old Jake Cordova, who had asked his grandfather to buy the projector and take over the theater. “Las Vegas doesn’t have many other forms of entertainment,” Felipe Cordova said. “You often wonder why they discontinue this kind of entertainment that brings the community together.”

So we know that it updated to digital projection in 2014, but when did the Fort Union first open? At Visit Las Vegas NM, they say it was 1958. Then again, the Vegas Drive-In, about the same size as today’s Fort Union, opened around 1949 and was still in the 1955-56 Theatre Catalog. Did it get renamed, or did the Fort Union replace it? I just don’t know.

The Fort Union typically operates from mid-May to September or so. I expected that I’d run into a stretch like this – I’ve only seen one movie all week.

Miles Today / Total:  182 / 7426 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 37

Nearby Restaurant: For a touch of history in this old railroad town, a great place to eat is The Landmark Grill at the Plaza Hotel. It was like stepping through a time warp to the late 19th century, except for the prices. I chose the somewhat reasonably priced blue corn enchiladas so I’d feel better about trying their bread pudding for dessert. The best I’ve ever had is still at the Golden Nugget in that other Las Vegas, but this one’s on the list.

Where I Virtually Stayed: A few days ago, I suggested that if the Super 8 is the best hotel in a town, that might mean it doesn’t have much competition. In Las Vegas, despite the historic, excellent Plaza Hotel, it’s the Super 8 that has the highest traveller rating on TripAdvisor. Because it really is that good, especially for the money. Evening soup and a decent breakfast are included, as is some of the friendliest service you’ll ever find.

Only in Las Vegas: Thirty minutes away from the Fort Union Drive-In is the Fort Union National Monument. Fort Union was built in 1851 near the convergence of the Cimarron and Mountain branches of the Santa Fe Trail. In 1879 a newly built railroad began to displace traffic on the trail, and in 1891 the Army abandoned the fort. Fort Union National Monument was established in 1956, so maybe that’s when and why they renamed the drive-in.

Next Stop: Corral Drive-In, Guymon OK.