Las Cruces Guide
Last updated on Monday, February 24, 2003
You'll not find prigs at the annual Las Cruces Renaissance Craftfaire this November, but you'll find plenty of good, clean fun.
Perhaps a few jugglers, a few mimes, a few armored knights engaged in combat, surely a few jesters. But no prigs. You'll probably encounter a wench hawking flowers or cookies in her best Eliza Doolittle accent, "Hey, lye-dee. Buy a cookie frum a poor gel. Just 50 cents. 'Taint much tapie."
The roughest and deadliest part of the Camino Real, from Mexico City to Santa Fe, was the stretch between Las Cruces and Socorro called Jornada del Muerto or Journey of the Dead. A broad, flat valley with no water, grazing or firewood, it offered no amenities to travelers for 90 miles.
La Mesilla, New Mexico, has changed little
since Billy the Kid and Jesse Evans died at the end of its lusty frontier
atmosphere. Thick-walled adobe buildings erected by the remarkable men who
trekked the heels of Don Rafael Rules from the heart of Old Mexico to settle in
the spawning Rio Grande Valley are much the same as they were when 10-year-old
Mary Maxwell, the daughter of one of La Mesilla’s forthright citizens, was
carted off by a hungry mountain lion while gathering wildberries.
What hath Bacchus wrought? Drive down to 4201 Highway 28 at La Union, New Mexico and you'll find out. Twice a year vintners Ken and Denise Stark stage their festivals at La Viña Winery - the April Jazz Festival and the October Wine Festival. Both times of year are delightfully sunny and warm in Southern New Mexico.
Tucked into the southern Rio Grande Valley, with the jagged Organ Mountains rising to the east, Las Cruces is the second largest city in New Mexico, the seat of Doña Ana County, and home to the nation's only Chile Institute. This clean, modern metropolis with a population of 72,000 bears many architectural reminders of its rich Spanish heritage.
Johnson's New Military Map of the United States, a replica of a map printed for the United States War Department in the year 1861, places all the Forts, Military Posts, etc., and shows Ft. Fillmore, Arizona Territory, positioned aside the Rio Grande, just above Ft. Bliss, Texas and below Ft. Thorn, Arizona. My modern-day H.M.Gousha map of New Mexico shows a Point of Interest symbol for the "Ft. Fillmore Ruins" just below Las Cruces between State Road 478 and Interstate 10.
On a time line, the two and one-half year operation (1857-1861) of the Butterfield Overland Mail was but a flash in the history of transportation in the United States. But this short-lived operation captured and held the imagination of Americans because it stitched together the growing country from sea to sea.
On March 1, 1908, while on his way to Las
Cruces, New Mexico's most famous lawman was shot and killed near
Alameda Arroyo on the Mail-Scott Road. Garrett
was riding in a buggy with Carl Adamson, one of two partners who were
prospective buyers for Bear Canyon Ranch , property Garrett had
been trying to sell. About four miles east of Las Cruces, they met Wayne Brazel,
a cowboy who had leased Garrett's ranch for a goat-raising venture. Garrett,
angered at the presence of goats on his property, had tried unsuccessfully to
break the lease with Brazel. The only way Brazel would agree to cancel the lease
was if Garrett's prospective buyers would purchase the goats. The idea of
purchasing eighteen hundred goats did not appeal to the buyers, and the deal was
on the verge of collapse.
Tucked into an old stucco wall on Calle de Guadalupe just off the Plaza in Mesilla, NM, is the facade of the Fountain Theater, probably the oldest movie theater in New Mexico. Early records are hazy, but since about 1913 when vaudeville acts shared the stage, the Fountain has been showing movies. These days the Mesilla Valley Film Society rents the theater from the Fountain family of Las Cruces. In an old-fashioned setting that is so retro it's becoming fashionable again, cutting-edge cinema winds down the century.
Events always have a precursor and the Gadsden Purchase is
no exception. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed on February 2, 1848, ended
the war with Mexico. It confirmed U.S. claims to Texas and set its boundary at
the Rio Grande. Mexico also agreed to cede to the United
States, California and New Mexico. This included what is now California,
Arizona, Nevada and Utah as well as parts of New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming.
The purchase price was $15 million and assumption by the United States of claims
against Mexico by U. S. citizens. The U. S. Senate ratified it on March 10, 1848
and the Mexican Congress on May 25.
During a recent trip to Las
Cruces I visited one of the local archeological sites, one which I
later discovered was also the site of an unsolved murder dating to 1869. This
place is called "La Cueva," The Cave.
Taking University Avenue east out of Las Cruces, it will
turn into Dripping Springs Road by the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage
Museum. The road climbs steadily for the entire 11-1/2 miles, and it is paved
for the first 5 or 6 miles. It turns into a dusty washboard road about a car and
a half wide, then back into a paved road shortly before reaching the cattle
guard and swinging yellow gate that make up the entrance to Dripping Springs. This area is in the care of the
Bureau of Land Management and is manned by some kindly retired folks who
volunteer their time and knowledge.
Hispanic currents flow through the history
and culture of Las Cruces and Mesilla like the
Rio Grande flows through the fields and arid pasturelands of these adjoining
Spanish-speaking conquistadores and colonists left their tracks and
bones along the sandy river bottoms more than four centuries ago. Northern
New Mexico's Spanish-speaking settlers, uprooted by the Mexican/American
conflict of the late 1840s, rebuilt their lives at Las Cruces and Mesilla,
constructing community, churches and homes along the riverbanks. Their
descendants, along with more recent Spanish-speaking settlers, now serve in
local political offices; work in local businesses, industries and professions;
study at the local university and colleges; and teach in the local
It's no secret why we call New Mexico the Land of Enchantment. Our state
possesses some of the nation's most beautiful natural wonders, including
Carlsbad Caverns, Taos' Moreno Valley and
White Sands National Monument.
Having grown up in Silver City at the doorstep of the
Gila National Forest, I have always felt very lucky to have
come from such a special place. During my time as a Senator, I've worked to help
promote New Mexico and its splendor as a tourist destination - because it's
important to our people, our economy and also our sense of pride in our home
Imagine this staggering grocery list: 750 pounds of stone
ground corn, 175 gallons of vegetable oil, 75 gallons of red chile, 175 pounds
of grated cheese, and 50 pounds of onion. Well, chile lovers, this is what it
takes to conjure up the world's largest enchilada, which you can watch being
prepared and then devour at the culmination of The Whole Enchilada Festival
(TWEF) on Sunday, October 3 in the Las Cruces Downtown Mall.
A small hump-backed mountain rises above East
Mesa, midway between Las Cruces and the Organ
Mountains. It is often called "A" Mountain for the Aggies "A" blazed on
its west side like a gargantuan modern pictograph. But I prefer its older name,
Tortugas, or "Tortoise" Mountain, for its resemblance - when
viewed from the south - to a huge tortoise slowly ascending the bajada.
I'm awakened at 5 in the morning by the sound of
No, it's not some gang bangers blasting away in the
dark, nor even hunters harrying doves; it's something entirely different, my
neighbors in nearby Tortugas pueblo beginning their dawn
ceremony in honor of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
You wouldn't expect to find a world-class air museum in
tiny Santa Teresa, just outside El Paso,
Texas, but there it sits. The War Eagles
Museum is an eye-opening find for nostalgia buffs such as Lt. Col.
(Retired) Lloyd Mettes of Oxford, Indiana, who said, "I flew seventy P-38
missions during World War Two - reconnaissance mostly, but a few combat
missions." Looking at the black beauty (one of only seven left in the world)
sitting on the hangar floor, he said, "This is really an early version of the
Throughout the Southwest's history, few topics have generated more passion than water. Today battles are fought by lawyers with briefcases rather than farmers with six-guns. The issues are many and certainly changes will come. The chief agreement seems to be is that there are no simple solutions.
Over half-a-million visitors a year enjoy the world's largest gypsum dune
field at White Sands National Monument in Southern New Mexico.
The sparkling white dunes are ever-changing, ever-moving and ever-growing
Where does the gypsum originate? It is constantly added to the dunes from its
source in Lake Lucero. Comparatively few visitors see the ten-square-mile lake
bed, even though it is part of the monument, and, with a little planning, is
accessible to everyone.