Las Cruces, New Mexico – Off the Beaten Path

Genie Davis December 31, 2011 No Comments

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There are so many famous places to see in New Mexico, from the bats and stalagmites of Carlsbad Caverns to the art and architecture of picturesque Santa Fe, that the smaller towns are sometimes forgotten by visitors to a state that’s nicknamed well as “the land of enchantment.”

Las Cruces is one such slightly unlikely place, for us a stop over on part of a long cross country trip that took us from Los Angeles through the southwest, the deep south, and up through Tennessee to the mid-west before returning to California. Las Cruces is a justifiably interesting destination in and of itself however, with curving roads, rocky red cliffs, and stunning scenery outside its boundaries and historic spots within them.

We were fortunate enough to arrive on a day when a Farmers Market and Crafts Fair was running. Along with beautiful bouquets of chiles and chile products from jam to sauces, we found jewelry and hand made crafts, fresh locally sourced produce and cheeses, and prickly pear jelly that we carried with us and enjoyed throughout the rest of our American trek.

A district within Las Cruces proper known as Old Mesilla, offers wonderful history to explore. A lovely plaza rivals that of Taos or Santa Fe, and is a step out of time from the rest of Las Cruces which has a fair amount of suburban sprawl to distinguish it. Old Mesilla houses dwellings listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the church and adobe shops, restaurants, and even a movie theater located here are quaint, charming, and easy to stroll.

Church Old Mesilla Las Cruces

The church in old town - great fun to explore

Old Mesilla Las Cruces

The former stage coach station house, is an adobe that now contains La Posta, a Mexican restaurant and chile shop. We loved the tostadas, and were fascinated by the aviary in its interior courtyard. The  San Albino Church, was built in 1906 and has two graceful bell towers. Regardless of what they now house, amazingly, except for two of the original plaza buildings, the entire plaza is as it was in the 19th century when the adobes were crafted. We loved reading the sometimes gory stories about the dwellings, involving gunfights, treasures, and buried bodies. We also loved La Zia, a shop with interesting Native American crafts and rugs, and most of all we loved the theater, which is arguably the oldest movie theater in the U.S. that has been in continuous operation. We saw a screening of The Magician here, and were charmed by its old fashioned feel, and stained glass windows, if not its slightly uncomfortable seats.

Outside Old Mesilla, we enjoyed the more modern Las Cruces Museum of Fine Art. Airy, loft like galleries featured colored modern art that kept the kids happy. Historical artifacts with a decidedly local flavor can be found at the more traditional Historical Museum located in an adobe home.

Nearby Attractions

White Sands National Monument Sand

Sand. White Sand. Lots of it!

For us, the biggest attraction was out of town, following Highway 70′s moonscape landscape to the snowy white sand of White Sands National Monument. It gets very hot in the middle of the day, in the summer, and it’s best any time of year, for photography and to eliminate the possibility of sunburn from the white shimmery glare, to visit in the morning or at twilight.

White Sands is in fact the largest gypsum dune field, gypsum it is that creates the whiteness of the dunes. We took an all too short eight mile scenic drive. You are allowed to park, get out, and climb the sparkling dunes, and to go sliding down them, too. You can rent or buy plastic tobogans for just this purpose, or use cardboard water flats as we did and enjoy the ride. The sand is soft and silky, which also means its going to stick to clothes, fingers, and hair.

For us, that meant a return to Las Cruces, and our hotel, the reasonably priced Hotel Encanto De Las Cruces, which embraces a Spanish Colonial style near a shopping mall on the eastern edge of the town, about a twenty minute drive from the historic Mesilla. Our room had a great view of the Organ Mountains, named for their organ-like spires not for buried body parts as my son suggested. The room also had some really good local photography, and access to a pleasant pool. Tired from our day of exploring, we opted for in-room sandwich creations a la mom of corn tortillas, avocado and tomatoes but on a return sprint through town, we checked out a recommended restaurant for a relaxing brunch splurge, The Double Eagle restaurant. Located back in Mesilla, the restaurant is housed in a mansion from the mid eighteen hundreds, and it contains both a sit down French- oriented restaurant in the most elegant setting, and a more casual cafe, called Peppers, where we ate. The latter focuses on New Mexico style cooking. While our salads and tacos were great, better was exploring the rooms open to the public and crammed with chandeliers, art works, colored snakeskins, a bar imported from Chicago, and ghost stories.

Leaving Las Cruces, take a swing north to the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site, where prehistoric people left a large collection of petroglyphic art, accessible down a half mile trail that should be easy for all ages. My kids were thrilled with the figures of people, animals, suns and moons, and yours will be, too.

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Genie Davis is a multi-published fiction author, screen and TV writer, and travel writer. If it was possible, she'd like to spend every day traveling. www.geniedavis.com

Tags: Travel Excursions

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