Absaroka County, New Mexico

In 2004, author Craig Johnson created Sheriff Walt Longmire as the protagonist in his series of Western-crime novels set in fictional Durant, Wyoming, county seat of the equally fictional Absaroka County. Longmire is a crime fighter, but first and foremost his is a gentleman and a cowboy. Johnson has to date gifted us 21 books in the Walt Longmire Mysteries.

In 2012, the A&E network (I’m old enough to remember when it was Arts & Entertainment) brought us a Neo-Western crime drama called “Longmire“, which switched over to Netflix from 2105-2017. Australian actor Robert Taylor plays the good Sheriff Longmire in the series.

Author Johnson lives in Wyoming, and does a good job creating a geography of mind around the real live places around the Big Horn Mountains. Buffalo, Wyoming, claims Longmire Days for their festival (most years but 2020) but Durant shares many aspects of Sheridan, Wyoming, as well. I myself am more of a fan of Wyomingite C.J. Box‘s Joe Pickett Western-crime series, also set below the Big Horns along I-25, but he hasn’t found his A&E or Netflix yet.

As in so many cases, A&E found Longmire, but they took great liberties in adapting the crime stories for their crime drama. That usually ticks me off, but Johnson’s short-story format works better for that than Box’s continuity of series (maybe why Box isn’t on screen yet). Anyway. A&E changed the narrative, and they moved Abasoroka County 750 miles sound down the Interstate to Las Vegas, New Mexico.

New Mexico has a burgeoning film industry, with studios that can fit tv and movie sets and the support systems they need. I don’t like when Hollywood thinks they are smarter than authors, but they also like working in a warmer climate. I get that. And I admit I really like how they make Las Vegas, Santa Fe, and the Sangre de Cristos stand in for the Big Horns (though you will be unlikely to find piƱon pines in the northern Rockies).

This Las Vegas, population 13,100, was settled in 1835 as part of a Mexican land grant, and became a bustling stop on the Santa Fe Trail. The Plaza was laid out in the traditional Spanish colonial style, as a central square with adobe buildings that could double as fortifications, so they were built tightly with narrow streets. The Plaza Hotel was built on the north side of Plaza Street in 1880, just after the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe (ATSF) Railway arrived a mile to the east, prompting development of an entire New Town around the depot.

In 1895, the Veeder Brothers built a two-story brick building just west of the Plaza across Pacific Street. Fast forward to the second decade of the 21st century. With protection as contributing resources of the Las Vegas Plaza Historic District, the Veeder Block with the revived Plaza Hotel next door made the perfect exterior location for the Absaroka County Sheriff’s Department.

Las Vegas, New Mexico, has had its challenges, even before the 2020 COVID-19 lockdowns. Even now as many businesses open in late May, the Governor of New Mexico is not inviting tourists back yet. We were not exactly welcome in Las Vegas over Memorial Day weekend, but it was a beautiful day for a drive anyway. Hopefully somebody will be open to take our money and sell us a Green Chile Cheeseburger next time we head up that way–you won’t find Green Chile in Wyoming either, so Absaroka County, New Mexico does have that going for it.

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