The agricultural heritage of the Mesilla Valley is still evident today. Tourist can visit local vineyards such as La Vina. Those who prefer a nuttier taste can drive 12 miles south to Stahlmann Farms, a 3,850-acre pecan orchard, which is one of the largest in the world.
Another one of New Mexico's enchanting features is its unusual and varied landscape. An exceptional array of shiny gems and rocks can be found about 60 miles west of Las Cruces at Rock Hound State Park. Unlike most parks, visitors to Rock Hound are encouraged to gather and keep their favorite rocks, up to 15 pounds per person. Although some digging and exploring into the Little Florida Mountains may be necessary, it's an exciting and rewarding part of the fun. Memories of the splendid scenery and remarkable rock outcroppings are also worth keeping. To the east of Las Cruces, pure white gypsum dunes shimmer in the desert sun. The monumental waves of sand cover 275 square miles of New Mexican desert, making it the world's largest gypsum dune field. Surprisingly, several types of small animals have adapted to the shifting sands, and a few craggy plants survive as well.
White Sands National Monument along Highway 70 attracts more than 100,000 visitors each year. Some enjoy the annual White Sands Balloon Invitational. Others enjoy the unique photography workshops, evening slide programs and moonlight bicycle tours sponsored by the park.
Many drive along the 16-mile scenic route that intersects the dunes, stopping at pullouts to examine the gypsum sands more closely. Some tourists brave the desert sun and walk along a one-mile, self-guided nature trail. Others take a deeper plunge and hike the 4.6-mile Alkali Flat Trail. A quarter-mile Inter-dune Boardwalk also allows wheelchair explorers to survey the top of a dune.
Another intriguing tourist spot about 15 miles east of White Sands is the Space Center, which features the International Hall of Fame and an IMAX theater and planetarium. The White Sands Missile Range Museum is another historical spot. Since Las Cruces is within 60 miles of the Mexican border, many travelers venture south to El Paso, Texas and then to Ciudad Juarez. This city along the Rio Grande provides a quick glimpse into Mexico's charm and customs. Tourists can conveniently cross the border on the El Paso-Juarez border trolley, and enjoy a quick shopping expedition of Mexican stores and markets.
A horse track and casino also dot the way to El Paso along Interstate 10. Quarter horses and Thoroughbreds race at Sunland Park from October through May, and the slot and gambling machines are available every day.
Las Cruces and Mesilla offer an abundant selection of restaurants, many specializing in preparing tasty New Mexican treats that are delicious to savor, especially in relaxed and enjoyable Southwestern environments. The El Patio Restaurante, Severo's and La Posta de Mesilla provide a memorable taste of New Mexico that's well worth the tab. Visitors who desire an Italian twist can try Pizzaria Uno or Lorenzo's cafe and restaurants in Las Cruces and Mesilla. CiCi's Pizza and Domino's Pizza provide additional options. Asian cuisine can be enjoyed at a host of oriental restaurants. A hearty American meal can be found at the upscale Double Eagle Restaurant, elaborate Cattle Baron Steak & Seafood, the Smoke House Bar-B-A, the Outback Steakhouse, the Cattleman's Steak House and the Purple Sage Restaurant. McDonald's and It's Burger Time serve beefed-up American classics.
For those who enjoy an evening dance or two, Rodeo USA features country and western music and dancing. Rodeo also features music with a Latin flare. In addition, the Way Out West Brew Pub is a well-known microbrewery and nightclub, especially among the younger crowd.
Some of the national corporations that provide accommodations in and around Las Cruces include Motel 6, Super 8, Days Inn, Baymont, Fairfield, Hampton and La Quinta.
The Best Western in Mesilla furnishes 160 remodeled rooms, including an executive wing and meeting rooms. The Las Cruces Best Western features spacious, hacienda style rooms and a flourishing garden courtyard. The Holiday Inn also offers two locations, a 50-room facility on South Valley Drive in Las Cruces, and a 114-room building within three blocks of NMSU. More than 200 guestrooms are available at the modern, 6-story Hilton Las Cruces. The Spring Hill Suites by Marriott offers luxurious suites, a fitness center and country club privileges to its business and recreational travelers.
For the increasing number of tourists who bring their homes along for the ride, a number of RV parks are easily accessible. Guests can enjoy spacious and modern facilities at the RV parks operated by Coachlight, Best View, Hacienda De Las Cruces and RV Docs. Since Las Cruces is within 60 miles of the Mexican Border, many travelers venture south to El Paso, Texas and then to Ciudad Juarez.
In addition to the hotels, motels and RV parks, a number of bed and breakfast lodges can be found in both Las Cruces and Mesilla, allowing guests to feel pampered in a pleasant environment. Lundeen's Inn of the Arts is a large, stylish adobe house that adjoins the popular Linda Lundeen Gallery. The Meson de Mesilla is a modern adobe surrounded by appealing gardens and a pool. The T.R.H. Smith Mansion serves an elegant German style breakfast including fresh fruits, homemade breads and jams, and imported meats and cheeses. The Hilltop Hacienda not only offers views of the surrounding mountains and valleys, but garden walks and trails take the visitor right into the terrain.
Calendar of Events
Las Cruces is quickly becoming known as a city of festivals with numerous annual celebrations popping up within each month. The year begins with the yearly-held Wells Fargo Bank Mesilla Valley Balloon Rally and a tour of Lake Lucero at White Sands National Monument.
February in Las Cruces has been declared as For the Love of Art Month in an effort to promote art and the business of art. A city described as filled with writers, dancers, composers, painters, sculptors, filmmakers, musicians, potters, crafts people, chefs and designers, during For the Love of Art month thousands of pieces of art are displayed along with dozens of performances performed at local businesses and public venues in Las Cruces and Mesilla.
Another event that has gained momentum and national recognition since take-off is the Border Book Festival held in Las Cruces each March. Founded in 1995, the non-profit collaboration of writers, artists and civic members strives to celebrate and transcend the unique boundaries of a land that encompasses two borders and multicultural beliefs and customs. The group brings well-renowned Mexican and American writers, illustrators and storytellers to the downtown neighborhood.
The weeklong extravaganza offers diverse activities that spotlight southwestern literature and the arts. Literary workshops, panels, readings, narrations and tales, a trade show and an interactive children's center provide entertaining education and insight. Some themes of previous festivals have included a "Literary Harvest," "Stories of Peace," and "Our Bodies/Our Earth," and "The Dreams of Children." The theme for 2001 is "Ancestral Voices."
While much of the nation sustains basketball fever during March Madness, Las Cruces feeds its own basketball frenzy in mid-April. Supported locally by the Hispano Chamber of Commerce, the Gus Macker 3-on-3 Regional Basketball Tournament is a weekend flurry of "in-your-face, on-the-street, driveway basketball at its best."
In addition, to the coveted double elimination competition, other challenges test participants' skills at the slam-dunk, free throw, long distance heave and three-point shooting. The popular fund-raiser is open to all ages, from the smallest basketball enthusiasts to the more experienced abuelas and abuelos (grandparents).
Fort Selden commemorates its 19th century hardships and victories at its Annual Frontier Days in April. Both heritage and history combine to create an enjoyable weekend of learning and fun. Children's activities include sand painting, arrow making, sack races, potato races and a pinata break.
Favorite re-enactments include "A Soldier's Life," volley and artillery firing, a military skirmish and "Trouble at the Saloon." Other popular segments spotlight country and folk singers, flamenco and folk dancing, a medicine man demonstration, fashion show and pie contest.
In May, Cinco de Mayo honors the 1862 victory of the Battle of Puebla, in which outnumbered Mexican forces defeated the French army, which was trying to conquer the region. The music, parades and other festivities of the day are staged at the Old Mesilla Plaza.
Another historical date that is commemorated with a grand fiesta at the Mesilla Plaza is Diez y Seis de Septiembre, which celebrates Mexico's uprising against Spain in 1810, an important first step toward its eventual independence in 1821.
Memorial Day celebrations include a chance to sample Mesilla Valley's flavorful fruits at the Wine and Chile Festival, held at the fairgrounds. For those who miss the festival, La Vina Vineyard, 18 miles south of town, offers a year-round tasting room where guests can sample a glass of Chardonnay or Zinfandel. In addition, La Vina hosts a wine festival in October, and sponsors a musical "Blues and Jazz Thing" at the end of April.
The third Saturday in June marks the annual Juneteenth celebration at Apodaca Park. Shortly thereafter, "Las Cruces Sparkles" on the Fourth of July with an electric light parade the previous night, followed by an all-day celebration at the Meerscheidt Recreation Center, and culminating with traditional fireworks at Maag Park.
The Southern New Mexico State Fair is a weeklong extravaganza that spotlights the Sheriff's Posse Rodeo and other country and western events. It is hosted at the fairgrounds in September. Soon after, the community is graced with the New Mexico State Chile Championships.
The Whole Enchilada Fiesta - The highlight of the Las Cruces calendar is The Whole Enchilada Fiesta, an impressive tribute to New Mexico's flavorful dishes and customs. Usually held in early October, the fiesta has attracted large crowds for two decades.
The three-day weekend festival includes a parade and pet parade, chile cook-off, motorcycle display, fun run, carnival rides, live music, street dancing and an abundance of food and craft booths. In the beer and wine garden, musicians and bands grace the autumn air with chords of Mexican, Latin, Tejano, country, blues and rock music.In conjunction with the Fiesta and the town's Heritage Celebration, the downtown Log Cabin Museum presents costumed, guided Living History tours and displays of historical crafts and artifacts. The cabin itself is a relic of the New Mexico ghost town of Grafton, a 19th century mining village gone bust.
The Fiesta's grand finale-preparing, cooking and eating the world's largest enchilada, which made it into The Guinness Book of Records this year- occurs at the Downtown Mall on Sunday morning. The ingredients include 75 gallons of red chile sauce, 175 pounds of grated cheese and 50 pounds of chopped onions. By the time it is finished, The Whole Enchilada weighs several tons and extends nearly ten feet in diameter.
Commemorating the decreased on All Souls Day, or El Dia de Los Muertos, has been a time-honored Hispanic tradition. In November, the Farmers' and Craft market creates its own "Spooktacular Day of the Dead."
November also brings the Renaissance Arts and Craft Fair, a splendid showcase of southwestern artists, craft experts and performers, boldly decked in 16th century English attire. The annual gem and mineral show at the Dickerson's Event Center occurs just before Thanksgiving. Rock enthusiasts can easily increase their collections and expertise at this regional event.
During the Christmas holidays, the Las Cruces Symphony Guild sponsors a walking tour of local homes, churches and buildings that share an intriguing past. Holiday shoppers can work on their gift lists at the old-fashion Christmas "La Casa Bazaar" in early December at the Dickerson's Event Center. The Farmers' and Craft Market's "Country Christmas" also provides a wealth of gift ideas. Luckily, even last-minute shoppers can find that special gift at the traditional Christmas Eve edition on the Farmers' and Craft Market downtown.
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