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Scenic Drive

 At least twice visionaries laid plans for a highway over the mountains from Las Vegas to Montezuma at least into the Pecos Valley and once even as far as Santa Fe.

In their earliest vision, at the turn of the twentieth century, boosters were able to obtain support for a road between Las Vegas and Santa Fe.

In March 1903 a bill was passed by the state legislature that provided for a public wagon road between the courthouses in Santa Fe and Las Vegas built by convict labor. The road “shall be constructed over the most feasible route through or near the canyon of the Santa Fe River…over the mountain range at the most practical route to the east of said city.”[1]

In June of that year work began on the eastern side of the route, in Gallinas Canyon.

Twenty convicts from the state penitentiary in Santa Fe were assigned to the task. By 1907 the road had been built to within 3/4ths of a mile of the Santa Fe National Forest boundary when the appropriation money ran out.[2]

In the late 1960s and early 1970s there was discussion about extending the road.   

“The Santa Fe National Forest planned to build a paved, two-lane highway from Terrero in Pecos Canyon up across the high eastern divide of the range and then down the other side to connect with the existing road that led to Las Vegas. The initial justification for the road was its character as a ‘Scenic Highway’ and scenic it would have been. From its highest point near the summit of 11,661-foot Elk Mountain, the road would have afforded car-bound tourists a view of nearly everything in northern New Mexico – a view that had hitherto been available only to backcountry hikers, horsemen, and occasional daredevil jeep drivers. But scenery alone could not justify the expenditures of the nearly five million dollars needed to build their road. For the final argument in favor of the road, the projects’ backers, including principally the Forest Service and a few declining War on Poverty agencies, turned to the idea of economic and social progress. The Elk Mountain Road, they said, would make possible the construction of a first-class ski resort atop Elk Mountain, which in turn would create more than seven hundred new jobs for economically depressed San Miguel County.

“It turned out…in order to acquire the 3,000-foot vertical drop necessary to compete with other New Mexico ski resorts, the Elk Mountain Ski Area would have to borrow land from the Pecos Wilderness, which Congress as the ultimate caretaker of the Wilderness, would hardly allow it to do. As a result, any ski facility on Elk Mountain would have amounted to little more than an extravagantly expensive beginners’ hill…the road seemed likely to create only a handful of new jobs, many of which would be taken by newcomers to the area, not by residents[3].

After about ten years of discussion and controversy, the idea of a paved highway from the upper Pecos over the high country, into the Gallinas and on to Las Vegas was dropped.

Scenic highway in Gallinas Canyon, north of Las Vegas, NM, possibly 1907, Jesse Nusbaum photographer, Courtesty Palace of the Governors Photo Archives (NMHM/DCA), Negative No. 061274


[1] Gallinas Canyon…past and present

[2] Ibid

[3] Enchantment to Exploitation