Monday, April 11, 2022

A Week in Las Cruces, New Mexico

April 5 - 11, 2022
Las Cruces, New Mexico

I always find it surprising that the I-10 signs in Eastern Arizona show Phoenix as the western destination and El Paso as the eastern direction. There's a whole state between Arizona and Texas! And Las Cruces on I-10 is the second largest city in New Mexico, so it seems like a real destination to me. 

It's been a destination for us on a few routes, and it's our second stop this year. We're back at Hacienda RV Resort for a week. 50 amp FHUs on level dirt sites with no picnic table or fire ring, it's an immaculate city park close to everything we plan to do. Access is very easy. Every other site has a tall fence divider, and "faces" the opposite direction (motorhomes on the left, trailers on the right) so your front yard has some private space while your utility side is pretty snug with your other neighbor.

Our plans include repeat activities, and a few new ones. Las Cruces has several natural and historical sites - but the food in New Mexico is in the top of our list of favorites :-)

At the recommendation of good friends Maggie and Jim, our first afternoon we enjoy amazing food and Margaritas at nearby La Posta in the historic area of Mesilla. Before we finish we're already planning to return this week! 

All the times we've driven past on our way south and north, we've never stopped at White Sands National Park (Bill went when he was a kid). Our first morning seems like a good time to remedy that. From the highway the unique white gypsum sand is pretty, with a lot of grass and brush. Once the paved entrance road becomes an unpaved interior road the flora stops and miles of solid white dunes surround us. It's spectacular - and blinding under the cloudless sky!! 

The number of visitors during peak season must be overwhelming with how many large parking and picnic areas there are. Today there's only a few of us here. Most are picnicing, and a few have discs for sliding on the dunes. While the sliding looks fun, I've never understood the draw of hiking or climbing in deep sand. 

The edges of the dunes move about 3.5 feet each year and sustain plant life, while new dunes can move up to 38 feet in a year!

Established dunes in the interior of the 275 acre park move between 15 and 18 feet each year.

While most dunes vary in height, this section looks like it was smoothed with a level!

Looking like a weird land marina or a herd of droids, the picnic areas clearly identify the normal direction of the winds.

For those of us with no desire to climb the dunes there's a nice boardwalk with interpretive signage.

I love the simplicity and hardiness of life here. This Soap Yucca could have up to five more feet below the sand.

Interior roads are hard (very hard) packed sand. Some sections are rough, but there are several large RVs in the parking areas with plenty of room to turn around or spend the day.

The Visitor Center is small with a nice gift store, and an interesting 30 minute video. Discs can be purchased, but not rented. A few visitors are looking for people to give their discs to - most vacationers aren't likely to have room to haul them home!

From seemingly everywhere in town you can see the Organ Mountains. There is very little access into the national park, but the tiny Visitor Center at Dripping Springs provides lovely views of the rugged peaks. We've been up here before, but it's pretty enough for another visit.

A "wall quilt" of paintings done by visitors in 2018 during "Paint With the Artist" sessions sponsored by the park. 

Like the mountain peaks, water tank murals are also visible from much of Las Cruces. From a few online maps, we spend a couple hours finding all of them, and learning a little about their names and artist. I'm surprised to learn most are by the same man - Tony Pennock.

Space Mural at the Space Museum

Unnamed and not maintained, we found this one on the way to another.

Quail Morning - away from town and highways, accessed on a dirt road. Although the Roadrunner is the New Mexico state bird, like in Tombstone the Gambel Quail are more prevalent.

Pretty colors

Journey to Tlalocan - my favorite - depicts traveling to the Aztec paradise. Tlaloc is the god of rain.

Aqua Fria highlights the significance of the Rio Grande to the region.
Valley of the Moon - yes, it's in a residential area surrounded by three backyards - tells the story of Christopher Columbus' voyage. 

La Entrada was the first Las Cruces tank mural, completed at night with a projector by 17 year-old Tony in 1973.

Not my definition of a "mural", this university emblem below the A Mountain (for university Aggies) shows school pride for the oldest university in the state.

After a few hours of exploring, Bill finds us a highly rated place for late lunch. We were just talking about some of the little quirky places we've eaten at over our years on the road, and he's found another one! Mothers Place is a converted apartment in an odd location between condominiums and hotels. It's literally like having your mom cook for you, and Dad taking care of your drinks and check - in their home dining room. Not a good choice if you're in a hurry, but definitely worth a stop for excellent homemade meals (including fresh from scratch biscuits). 

Enter through the living room/gift shop to the dining room where mom and dad will take good care of you.

Small, local museums are always a treat, and on the coolest day (68 degrees) of our stay we check out the Museum of Art, Museum of Nature and Science, and the Branigan Cultural Center in downtown. 

First we stop for a tasty breakfast at the popular eatery The Shed. Their eggs benedict with turkey sausage and green chili hollandaise are to-die-for!

At the museum I'm again surprised to find a large selection of desert critters - this time no live rattlesnakes. Free admission and lovely buildings make for a nice experience - we're the only ones visiting on a Wednesday afternoon. 

The largest (most, not biggest) collection of Permian (early reptiles) in the world found in 1987 by local citizen scientist Jerry MacDonald.

Diamond Back Rattlesnake - amazing complete skeleton.

Red-eared Slider Turtles

Snapper Turtle - very curious about Tessa.

This active Gila Monster was climbing all around his habitat.

This darling little one is an Axolotl amphibian that lives their lives under water. They are facing extinction from the introduction of invasive perch and tilapia.

Small square footage means remembering to look up!

The art museum exhibit highlights entries from the local high schools - this wonderful self portrait claimed Best in Show.

The cultural center only has two exhibits, in a pretty adobe across a large courtyard.

Southern New Mexico has a surprising place in the history of our country's aviation. In 1916 military aviation was established when the the army sent the 1st Aero Squadron to aide in the search for Pancho Villa.

My mother rode side-saddle in the early 1930's, but not in competitions like these women at a Charreada.

Now very much a family affair, the Charreada is competition of nine scoring events, all focused on handling animals - horses and cattle. Born from the tradition of hacienda hands (charros) competing for who was the best in the area, now they are more formalized with required regalia and stricter rules.

While the roping skills of these competitors is amazing, it's the photographer's timing of the shot that really grabs my eye!

After the museums we drive through a tree-lined vintage neighborhood with a wonderful variety of bungalows, adobes and other single story homes. When we have time I always enjoy getting to know a place better by seeing its older residential areas. 

Several pretty wall murals downtown.

A couple weeks ago Ezra and Elliott, along with their parents and some friends, spent a day at Legoland. Wish we could have been with them, but had fun enjoying the pics throughout the day. Thought I'd share their fun with you too!

Like his brother Ezra, Elliott just keeps getting cuter.

The 16 month old tour director.

Ezra ready for battle.

Hard to believe he'll be seven when we see him next!

Heard from our friends that the Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum is something special so Saturday I make a solo visit. Definitely more than just farms and ranches, this beautiful museum also exhibits the missile range, Lincoln County Wars, and transportation. With a large theatre and amphitheater and courtyard, the facility hosts many events throughout the year.

We went to high school with Jimmy Cox. Since being on the road we learned of his family's connection to Las Cruces. This exhibit highlights some of his history - very cool!

I love this charcoal piece "Puppy Training"

An interesting telling of the rise and fall of the cattle industry along the time line of Billy the Kid's life. 

The role of both honest and corrupt lawmen in the Lincoln County War.

How men who wanted to be kings shaped an industry and an area. "The cattle made men money, the money made men powerful, and power led men to use violence. It was as simple as that."

World events impacted the area through the development of missiles and atomic bombs.

Bill's father was working as an air traffic controller in Roswell, New Mexico, where he saw the first testing at White Sands in 1945.

Nice collection of modes of transportation.
New Mexico Colonial Home 1815 - three rooms with wonderful artifacts.

Postmaster's office in the full-size post office and mercantile.

Horse-drawn hearse that likely carried Pat Garrett to his grave in 1908.

Advanced technology in 1916! Self-regulating windmill with blades that folded in as wind speed increased to keep the pump speed consistent.

Grist mill exhibit tells the story of wheat production in the mid 1900's. Basalt made good grinding stones, but they had to be replaced too often to be practical for large production.

The outdoor space has four large barns and numerous corrals, but only these long-horns were in residence today. 

"Watering Place" part of an Art in Public Places Program

The forecasted winds arrive Sunday, and other than a lovely brunch at Salud! we spend a quiet day at home. Our week in Las Cruces has been a perfect start to the season, I'm becoming a big fan of spending a full week in good size cities. So much to do!

A refreshing alternative to Mimosas - the lavender lemonade with gin.

Oops! What's left of our Brie Wontons with cranberries and walnuts - so good!

I don't think we'll ever tire of good green chili. Here on stacked enchiladas with poached eggs. Another recommended eatery with fresh, local sourced ingredients, and unique offerings.

Monday morning we turn north to Elephant Butte State Park for a few nights. A short drive to a later check-in than usual so we'll have to get creative for "taking our time" - especially in the wind :-(


  1. The wind is awful in our valley too! Thanks for the Las Cruces tour! We too have never understand the fun behind hiking in deep sand or even being out on sand in the ATV--the sand gets everywhere, just like when you are at the beach. Safe travels!

    1. I enjoyed driving the dune buggies and quads in the dunes of SoCal for years, younger and better shoes I think :-))

  2. Great tour of Las Cruces! Got to admit we've been Whit Sands a few times, but never explored
    Las Cruces. Always stop for pasticcios in Alamogordo and they also have a great space museum there. Have been there?

    1. We've been through and to Alamagordo and picked up lots of pistachios - they have the best!! Pecans are wonderful from Las Cruces too :-)

  3. Another place to add to he list of short trips from home…we haven’t stopped at White Sands either.
    The grands are growing way too fast!

    1. It's definitely a great stop with a wide variety of fun and food. Yes, they keep getting bigger!!

  4. We always enjoy stopping at La Posta when we're in that area, good eats in a great setting. White Sands is an interesting visual stop isn't it? When you sit in the Jeep in one of the parking areas you could almost believe you're at a ski resort somewhere and that that white stuff is snow!

    1. La Posta is definitely on the "every time" list now. It especially looks like snow when they're sledding on it with those red discs!

  5. So many wonderful places to explore with Las Cruces as your base. You brought back many memories of our time there. You had John and I talking all about each adventure. I don't, however, remember so many beautiful mural paintings. But I do remember the food. Good to see your new adventure trip started with a bang.

    1. Some of our most fun memories in LC are with you two in 2017. The look on your faces when we pulled into the Adobe Deli!!!

  6. Uh oh...I'm not getting notification of your blog posts. So I'll check in often to keep up with you. You've been busy—what a fabulous beginning to your trip! We've never spent much time in Las Cruces (mostly just the natural food store to stock up) as we passed through. But we will definitely stay for a few days next time we're in the area. I love all of the cool things you found to do! I agree, that little amphibian is something out of a Disney movie.

    1. I can't believe Disney hasn't featured those little guys in anything yet - they're naturals!! I'm always surprised there's still something else to see in Las Cruces :-)
      I'm going to try to stay on top of posts so check weekly. We'll be in Chicago by Memorial Day so several shorter stays on our schedule.

  7. We were at White Sands years ago, before I had my passport book, may need to stop by again. Cool murals, finding them all around town is a cool way of seeing the town. Love those quirky restaurants. Always nice to find those local museums.