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Tularosa and La Luz — history and roses

By Phyllis Eileen Banks

Last updated on Sunday, December 29, 2002

House in Tularosa. Photo by Phyllis Eileen Banks.
House in Tularosa.
Although Tularosa derives its name from the Spanish word tule meaning reeds or cattails, City of Roses is much more appealing and conjures up the picturesque town that Tularosa is.

Original settlers in the 1860s came from washed-out villages on the Rio Grande near Mesilla. Due to frequent raids by the Apaches from what is now the Mescalero Apache Reservation, occupation was untenable and the site was abandoned.

Another attempt at settlement occurred in 1862, and with Fort Stanton in the mountains to the east for protection, it was successful. Orchards were planted and homes were built. Forty-nine blocks of the new village were plotted with allocated irrigation rights. (In 1979 this area became a registered Historic District, according to New Mexico, A Guide to the Colorful State.)

The acequias (irrigation ditches) carried the clear mountain water that nourished the fruit trees. This period of the town's history was idyllic and categorized as the Golden Age. Some of the original block-long adobe homes still exist, their walls decorated with lovely murals.

All was not peaceful, however, and in 1868 the settlers and Apaches battled at Round Mountain. This event was commemorated with the building of the first church, St. Francis de Paula.

Tularosa, at 4,500 feet elevation with a population of 2,615, has seen the arrival of Texas cattlemen, merchants, former Union soldiers, professionals and promoters. It was a mix of Spanish-speaking ranchers and Anglos, divided into Texans and Yankees, but Tularosa has managed to weather them all.

A Rose Festival is held annually, usually the first weekend in May. There is an old-timer's picnic, a Rose Queen, arts and crafts - all celebrating the abundance of blossoming flowers. Other celebrations are the Fiesta of St. Francis de Paula and the invitation from their former enemies, the Apaches, to come to the Mescalero Reservation to observe the 4th of July. Luminarias line the church plaza and the highway on Christmas Eve, giving a soft glow of welcome to those driving through on U. S. Highways 70 and 54.

Seven miles further along these two highways toward Alamogordo and approximately a mile up La Luz Canyon on NM 545 is La Luz, the oldest settlement in the Tularosa Basin. Its name probably dates from 1719 when Franciscan missionaries built a chapel dedicated to "Our Lady of Light " (Nuestra Senora de la Luz), so well cared for it shows little signs of its age.

La Luz's history is very similar to Tularosa's. In l863 settlers from areas on the Rio Grande near Socorro settled here. El Presidio Park with its adobe walls, surrounded by the buildings of the village, bears the same date.

One of the settlers was from Rhode Island and built a pottery plant to make urns and roof tiles. The plant is no longer there but other artisans, potters, weavers and painters have since settled in the area.

It's a little village of 1,625 people at 4,819 elevation but worth the turn off the highway where ripe apricots might tempt you when the season is right.

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