Raton's appealing setting at the foot of a lush mountain pass provides wide-open views of stepped mesas and sloping canyons from the higher points in town. Because of its rich history, abundance of motels, and convenient location midway between Albuquerque and Denver, it's both a practical and reasonably engaging base for exploring northeastern New Mexico.
As it has for more than a century, Raton (population 7,200), the seat of Colfax County, runs on ranching, railroading, and the industry for which it's most famous, mining. In the early 1900s there were about 35 coal camps around Raton, most of them occupied by immigrants from Italy, Greece, and Eastern Europe. It was hard living in these camps and a tough road out, but a close-knit familial interdependence grew out of mining life—a spirit that still prevails in Raton today. People here are genuinely friendly and have great pride in their town.
Originally a Santa Fe Trail forage station called Willow Springs, Raton was born in 1880 when the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway established a repair shop at the bottom of Raton Pass. The town grew up around 1st Street, which paralleled the railroad tracks. Much of the Raton Downtown Historic District, which has 70-odd buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, lies along Historic First Street, which consists of several restored blocks of antiques shops, galleries, and everyday businesses.
The Historic First Street area provides a fine survey of Western architecture from the 1880s to the early 1900s.