MONTEZUMA HOT SPRINGS, ONCE THE DARLING OF THE SANTA FE railroad, still serves many purposes. Its great, chateau-like building, a former luxury hotel, is now a seminary. The once-bustling activity of the canyon is gone, but it is still a popular picnic spot in summer. And the once-important ice-cutting enterprise is gone, too, but the ponds still serve in winter, for now the canyon is Las Vegas’s winter playground. 

Here, in 1886, they built a splendid, luxurious, 300-room hotel. Many world-famous people stopped at Montezuma. The old Kaiser Wilhelm III, English royalty, American presidents, and others all enjoyed Montezuma. William Allen White honeymooned there more than 50 years ago. 

Several dams hold the swift icy water of the Gallinas back in summer. During winter months, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway filled huge icehouses with ice from behind these dams. Thick cold blocks were cut and lifted from gaping holes over slick green water. This ice helped supply hundreds of miles of the AT&SF system before dry ice came into common use. 

Read more: Holiday traditions may evolve, but the spirit remains.

Ice cutting required teams of horses for cutting and hauling. Large barns were built to house many matched teams of giant horses. During the last few years, with the passing of the ice-cutting era, the barns have been deserted and the icehouses have been torn down. Only the marks of the stone foundations are still there.  

A railroad strike in 1893 caused the big hotel to lose business. After several efforts to keep it open, it closed indefinitely as a hotel in 1903. In 1922 the old hotel building opened as a Baptist college. After the depression of ’29, the college was forced to close. In 1937, the Baptists sold Montezuma to the Committee of Bishops of the Catholic Hierarchy of the United States. Now it is Montezuma Seminary, a place where young men from Old Mexico study for the priesthood. These black robed young men pace the halls where once the first electric lights in New Mexico glittered on the jewels of laughing pleasure seekers.  

January 1950 cover for New Mexico Magazine


This month’s cover is an interesting and unusual treatment of a typical New Mexico subject—the cowboy roping a calf. The modernistic painting from which the cover was reproduced was done by Roderick Mead, a Carlsbad artist.

At the health-giving hot springs, many of the buildings that once enclosed them have been torn down. Summer or winter the temperature of these springs is still 110° to 140°. 

The old canyon is quiet. The rails that once sang to the iron of the moving wheels have been torn up. Likewise, the ties. Automobiles follow the narrow old railroad bed around the curve of the mountain and across the Gallinas on the high iron railroad bridge. Twenty-five years ago, when I crossed that bridge on a summer picnic excursion train, the beautiful canyon seemed a busy place. Now the cycle is nearly completed—from quiet to bustling activity and then back through the years to quiet once more.  

Quiet—except when the ice is thick in nature’s icebox under the sheer cliffs. Then hundreds of skaters make the echoes work overtime with merry play.  

Read more: North of Santa Fe, a water mill continues a tradition and brings a community together.

The water backs up behind the dams in long deep pools. In late November or December, the ice begins to thicken. Slowly it grows down deeper into the water. Ardent skating fans begin to watch the ice. It is tested and retested. Finally, the 20-30 Club of Las Vegas, sponsors of the best of the ice ponds, gives the word: “lce skating will begin tomorrow.” 

Every skater and skate fan in Las Vegas and surrounding vicinity knows that there is no other pond like the wide rink in the Gallinas Canyon bottom. The setting of the silver jeweled ice, sparkling under the sheer cliff, is perfect. One may glance straight up and see tall old pines and firs clinging to the face of the rock with a scant toehold. A big flume on wooden stilts clings bravely to the ins and outs of the cleft rocks.  

Any sunny Sunday afternoon will find anywhere from 100 cars on up to several hundred, parked or moving in and out of the road area beside the ice. Tiny tots unable to walk ride sleds or sleighs over the ice. The two- or three-year-olds practice on their little skates. Schoolchildren, teenagers, university students, and gray-haired grandmas glide over the slick silver in their shirt sleeves. If they become too warm in the sun, they swing down the canyon into the shade of the cliff. When the nippy shadow chills them, they rush back into the sun. Nature’s peculiar icebox here keeps the ice well frozen in spite of the warm sun.  

When it snows, the 20-30 Club members plow the snow from the ice and scrape it until it is in fine condition. At the edge of the ice, snowballs fly over hastily erected snow forts. Anybody can have fun alone on the Gallinas ice any day of the week. And when the Las Vegas 20-30 Club sponsors the Ice Fiesta some Sunday in mid-January, winter fun is at its best. 

Read more: As the creator of the annual Santa Fe tradition, Will Shuster burns with a desire to be rid of this gloom—or does he actually love it?


“At Anthony, you pause to get some gas. While the fuel feeds into your car, you watch other cars feeding a never-ending line of traffic into New Mexico. Noting the license plates, you realize that visitors from all over the nation are entering New Mexico through this busiest of our ports of entry.”

—from “Gateways to New Mexico,” by Clee Woods


All Month
Skiing at winter sports areas, Santa Fe, Taos, Cloudcroft, Ruidoso

Dances in Native Pueblos

Basketball: New Mexico A&M at Silver City

Kings’ Day, Taos Pueblo

Graff Ballet, St. Francis Auditorium, Santa Fe

Invitation basketball tournament, Silver City

Opera, Little Joe, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque

New Mexico Miners & Prospectors Convention, Silver City

Richard Wingo Recital, Las Vegas

Western Dance, Clayton

UNM Community Concert Series, Erica Morini, violinist, Carlisle Gym, Albuquerque