Las Cruces: Outdoor Adventure & Rich History

From national parks and monuments to one of the top-rated farmer’s markets in the country, Las Cruces offers a world filled with natural wonder, endless sunshine, and historic proportions of fun

From the rugged mountains to the giant forests to the vast desert, New Mexico truly is the Land of Enchantment and home to an exceptional variety of activities throughout the state. 

Las Cruces, the second-largest city in New Mexico behind Albuquerque, is home to just over 100,000 people thanks in part to hosting New Mexico State University. That gives the city a unique southwestern culture. However, the surrounding area offers numerous popular attractions all within easy driving distance. White Sands National Park is less than an hour away with huge sand dunes that you can hike or sled down.

Mesilla Valley and Organ Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled under the sharp landscape of the Organ Mountains to the east, the Mesilla Valley is situated along the banks of the Rio Grande River where some of the nation’s spiciest and scrumptious chilis are grown a few miles north of Las Cruces in the town of Hatch, which calls itself the Chile Capital of the World.

Chiles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Hatch Valley Chile Festival takes place in early September (September 4-5, 2021) and visitors can taste delicacies that range from hot to scalding to molten lava. For a fun souvenir, pick up a chile ristra which is rumored to bring extra good health when hung outside a house—or RV. 

Las Cruces has a rich history with American Indian tribes and Spanish conquistadors claiming the area as their own. Billy the Kid, a famous American outlaw, was sentenced to death just outside of the city in a town called Old Mesilla. The courtroom and jail that held him are still standing.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A quaint little community, Old Mesilla is home to dozens of art galleries and souvenir stores. The town square is the site of the very last stop on the Butterfield stagecoach line. In fact, the building that served weary travelers back then is still standing. Today, La Posta de Mesilla is a 10,000-square-foot restaurant that serves authentic Mexican food.

La Posta de Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Las Cruces is home to some of the largest dairy farms in America where they’re milking thousands of cows twice a day. If agriculture is of interest to you, be sure to check out the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum. The 47-acre site consists of 24,000-square feet of exhibit space including a working farm where people can see cows being milked and a blacksmith tending to his duties.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Not only is New Mexico State University a vibrant educational center with a plethora of ongoing cultural, social, and athletic events, it is home to the Zuhl Collection, which is a part art gallery and part natural history museum. Sponsored by Herb and Joan Zuhl, New York business people who made their living collecting fossils, minerals, and rocks, they retired to New Mexico and donated more than 2,000 of their best exhibits to the university.

Las Cruces Farmers & Crafts Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The weekly Farmers & Crafts Market has been rated one of the best outdoor markets in the U.S. Held every Saturday and Wednesday morning on Main Street in downtown Las Cruces, the market has over 300 vendors who gather to offer fresh local produce, honey, herbs, spices, arts and crafts and much more.

Mainstreet Downtown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While touring historic downtown Las Cruces, be sure to stop in the Amaro Winery. Established just a few years ago, it has become a favorite stop among wine connoisseurs. All the grapes are grown in the fertile lands of southern New Mexico. The same soil that produces mouth-watering chilis also nurtures fine wine.

Las Cruces’ neighbor to the south, historic El Paso, Texas, is just 45 minutes south and features its own assortment of fun activities including a casino, museums, historic monuments, and zoo. It’s a fun and scenic day trip, especially the scenic route that goes around the southernmost tip of the Rocky Mountains for fabulous views of El Paso and neighboring Juarez, Mexico.

Along the Woodrow Bean Transmountain Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another scenic route is the Woodrow Bean Transmountain Road that connects east El Paso to the west. In nearby Franklin Mountains State Park, visitors can enjoy breathtaking scenic views aboard the Wyler Aerial Tramway, an enclosed gondola that makes a four-minute trip to Ranger Peak. There, you’ll have an eagle’s view of 7,000 square miles of land that encompasses three states and two nations.

Mainstreet Downtown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

I think New Mexico was the greatest experience from the outside world that I ever had. It certainly changed me forever. In the magnificent fierce morning of New Mexico one sprang awake, a new part of the soul woke up suddenly, and the world gave way to the new.

—D.H. Lawrence

Top Reasons to Visit Las Cruces

Outdoor adventure. Unique culinary experiences. Vibrant culture. Rich history.

Maybe it’s the friendly people and the endless sunshine. Or maybe it’s the chile-laced food (and drink.) There are plenty of reasons to visit Las Cruces, New Mexico. Here are just eleven:

Chiles in the Mesilla Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Do the Walk of Flame

That is… if you can handle the heat! The Walk of Flame Green Chile Trail is a newly established culinary route that leads hungry (and thirsty) visitors to hot spots where they can sample Las Cruces’ famous green chiles in all their glorious guises. In Las Cruces, green chile crops up in and on everything from ice cream to pot stickers to hot dogs to wine, not just Mexican fare.

La Posta de Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors can feast on The Game’s corked bats (pecan-encrusted Hatch green chile strips), sip Chile ‘Rita’s at La Posta de Mesilla, or surprise their senses with a Green Chile Sundae from Caliche’s Frozen Custard. Green chile chasers also have the option to get their hands dirty on a tour of the Chile Pepper Institute Garden.

Musical entertainment in downtown Las Cruces © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Kick up some dust at the Country Music Festival

Country superstars ride into Las Cruces in October for the Las Cruces Country Music Festival, a three day celebration of country music in downtown Las Cruces. Past performers include Travis Tritt, Tayna Tucker, Kacey Musgraves, Eli Young Band, Kenny Rogers, the Charlie Daniels Band, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Lee Ann Womack, Aaron Watson, Cam, Dustin Lynch, Cassadee Pope, Little Texas, Darryl Worley, Craig Campbell, Greg Bates, Chase Bryant and others.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Or wander across what seems like an endless desert beach

An hour’s drive northwest of Las Cruces, White Sands National Park comprises 275 square miles of wave-like gypsum sand dunes. During the stroll, visitors will hear the story of the monument and see the critters and vegetation that are able to survive in this arid expanse. By the end of the tour, the sun is setting, lighting the sky with hues of purples and pinks for a picture-perfect moment.

Farmers and Crafts Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Encounter local and exotic creations at the award-winning Farmers & Crafts Market

More than 300 vendors gather to sell locally-made wares and fares of all sorts at the Las Cruces Farmers and Crafts Market, voted one of the top farmers markets in the country. Open every Saturday and Wednesday morning downtown, the market brims with handmade jewelry, pottery and other crafts, local produce, and even prepared food to devour on the spot.

Parrots at La Posta de Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Talk with parrots at La Posta

Diners will find unexpectedly talkative “greeters” at the much-loved restaurant La Posta de Mesilla. Colorful parrots welcome guests in the lobby of the colorful 200-year old adobe. This and numerous other restaurants and shops can be found in the historic village of Mesilla just outside of Las Cruces.

Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Monumental moments

The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument surrounds Las Cruces with 496,000 acres of opportunity for hiking, biking, and exploring petroglyph and archeological sites.

Rio Grande Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Raise a glass in the oldest wine-producing region in North America

Las Cruces has lots to boast about, being in the fertile Mesilla Valley where grape growing dates back to the late 1500s. At Rio Grande Vineyard and Winery, Sunday afternoons on the patio is particularly alluring. Enjoy live music and taste the wines or house made sangrias as you gaze at the nearby mountains. Lovers of wine can also enjoy New Mexican wines at St. Clair Winery & Bistro, Amaro Winery, and La Viña Winery.

8. Become the Salsa Judge

Downtown Las Cruces heats up for Salsa Fest, a three-day celebration of everything salsa in the fall. In addition to salsa sampling and a salsa making competition, the event gets people moving with salsa dancing lessons, live performances, and local wine and beer.

Dining at La Posta de Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Dine among “ghosts”

Legend has it that quite a few buildings in Mesilla are haunted. Begin your search for the paranormal with La Posta de Mesilla Restaurant where many have claimed to see chairs moving, heard glasses smashed to the floor, and experienced strange smells.

Double Eagle Restaurant © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Then head to the Double Eagle restaurant in Mesilla, with resident spirits in the building (which is listed on the National Register of Historical Places!) If paranormal activity doesn’t call to you, the World’s Largest Green Chile Cheeseburger just might.

Along Scenic Highway 28 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Exploring Scenic Highway 28

The Don Juan de Onate Trail invites today’s travelers to follow in the hoof prints of the Spanish conquistador and his band of 400 colonizers in 1598 as they journeyed from New Spain (Mexico) north to find the fabled Cities of Gold in what is now northern New Mexico. The drive along the trail (Highway 28) is one of the Las Cruces area’s most scenic routes, crossing and flanking the Rio Grande from El Paso to historic Old Mesilla.

Stahmann Farms © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The rural two-lane road then passes fields of corn, chile, and cotton on its way through several small villages, including San Miguel. Further south, slip beneath a canopy of pecan trees that mark the world’s largest, family-owned pecan orchard, Stahmann Farms. 

Further down the trail sits the community of La Mesa, home to a National Register of Historic Places property, Chope’s Café and Bar. 

World’s Largest Roadrunner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. An encounter with the World’s Largest Roadrunner

The roadrunner is the official state bird of New Mexico. A giant recycled roadrunner—20 feet tall and 40 feet long—has been an icon of Las Cruces ever since artist Olin Calk built it in 1993. It was made exclusively of items salvaged from the land fill. In early 2001, Olin stripped off the old junk, replaced it with new junk, and moved the roadrunner to a rest stop along Interstate 10, just west of the city. Signs around the sculpture warned of rattlesnakes, but when we stopped by to visit people were blissfully trudging out to the big bird anyway, to pose for snapshots or examine the junk (We did, too).

Worth Pondering…

If you ever go to New Mexico, it will itch you for the rest of your life.

—Georgia O’Keeffe

A Perfect Week in Lodi

Visit a Central Valley town that knows its wine

Lodi Wine Country is one of California’s major winegrowing regions, located 100 miles east of San Francisco on the eastern edge of the San Joaquin/Sacramento River Delta, south of Sacramento, and west of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

Lodi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It is named after the most populous city within the region. Lodi is characterized by a rural atmosphere where wineries and farms run by 4th – and 5th generation families operate along-side a new group of vintners who have brought creative winemaking and cutting-edge technology to the region.

Lodi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lodi has been a major grape growing region since the 1850s when prospectors drawn by the California gold rush began to settle the area. Today, Lodi comprises 18 percent of California’s total wine grape production―more than Napa and Sonoma counties combined.

Twenty years ago there were eight Lodi wineries. Today there are over 80, hundreds of Lodi-labeled wines, and approximately 100,000 acres of premium wine grapes.

Lodi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lodi is predominately a red wine-producing region, with approximately two-thirds of the acreage dedicated to red varieties. However, with over 75 varieties in commercial production, Lodi offers a vast portfolio of interesting and unique wines.

Michael David Winery, Lodi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lodi is the self-proclaimed Zinfandel Capital of the World, producing over 32 percent of California’s premium Zinfandel. Many of the region’s most distinctive wines come from the thousands of acres of “old vines”—some dating back to the 1880s. An estimated 2,000 acres are unique pre-Prohibition own-rooted vines.

Lucas Winery, Lodi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cabernet Sauvignon is prevalent along the eastern edge of the Lodi appellation. Although a part of the local landscape for over a hundred years, Petite Sirah has seen a recent rise in popularity. A relative newcomer, Lodi Syrah has quickly become more prominent.

Van Ruten Winery, Lodi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winemakers have also begun to explore the broad range of emerging varieties originating in similar climatic regions of the Europe, including Spain, Italy, Southern France, and Portugal such as Albariño, Tempranillo, Verdelho, Sangiovese, Viognier, Carignane, and Touriga Nacional.

Flag City RV Resort, Lodi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Life is slow and easy in Lodi. The locals not only make you feel welcome, they appreciate you being here. After settling into Flag City RV Resort, a 5-star RV park, we started our seven-day tour by driving to Galt about 8 miles north of Lodi on Highway 99 for their large outdoor market (weekly, Tuesday and Wednesday).

Galt Farmers Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From its roots as a farmer’s market at the old Sacramento County Fairgrounds in the 1950s, the Galt Market of today is an expansive open-air mall with diverse products available. With over 400 vendors offering merchandise for sale, the quantity of items available is staggering. The Galt Market covers ten acres of great deals with all the adjacent parking lots reserved for customer use.

Galt Farmers Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts, and seafood are displayed along ‘produce row’―an aisle 100 yards long with spaces on both sides of the aisle overflowing with offerings from both local and distant farms.

Lodi Wine & Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Returning to Lodi we oriented ourselves to the area briefly exploring the historic downtown area and stopping at the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center situated on the picturesque grounds of the Wine & Roses Hotel, Restaurant, & Spa, and wine-tasted at the nearby Abundance Winery, a family owned and operated boutique winery.

Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our following day began with a delightful wine tasting experience at Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi where roughly 30,000 cases of wine are produced in eight hours. Despite its capacity, Woodbridge’s intimate Visitor’s Center focuses on its family tradition and pours several small lot, winery exclusive wines.

Abundance Vineyard, Lodi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The seven wines we tasted are available only at the winery. The staff was friendly and informative enhancing the experience. The $5 tasting fee was waved as we purchased a bottle of petit syrah.

Lodi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We drove to Hutchens Street Square Performing Arts Theater and Conference Center, home to the weekend’s annual Sandhill Crane Festival. The cranes winter in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta wetlands west of Lodi.

Worth Pondering…

Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.

―Ernest Hemingway