Old Mesilla: Where Time Stood Still

A stroll through Old Mesilla will take you back in time to the 1800s

No visit to Las Cruces is complete without a stroll through Old Mesilla. This little town, just two miles southwest of Las Cruces, is steeped in history. Mesilla (“Little Tableland”) is the best-known and most visited historical community in Southern New Mexico.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesilla is a small town by today’s standards but 150 years ago it was the largest city between San Antonio and San Diego. By the 1870s, it was the county seat and the Mesilla Valley’s leading center of trade. In addition to El Camino Real, the town’s trade connections were maintained through a variety of stage, freight, and mail routes, including the Butterfield Overland Mail, San Antonio Mail, and Wells Fargo Express. Mesilla hasn’t changed much over the years, allowing visitors to see what a 1800s border town looked like.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the sixteenth century Apaches and other tribes regularly camped in Mesilla, but it wasn’t until after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the Mexican-American War in 1848 that the first permanent settlers came to Mesilla to call it their home. By 1850, Mesilla was firmly established as an outpost of Mexico, but with the signing of the Gadsden Purchase in 1854, the village officially became part of the U.S. Since its beginning, Mesilla has had a major influence on the economic, cultural, historical, and political life of the Mesilla Valley. 

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the Gadsden Purchase to the Civil War to the El Camino Real and Butterfield Stage Coach route to the trial of Billy the Kid to being a lively social center in the 1880s—Mesilla has been a prominent part of the rich history of the Southwest. Mesilla was the Old West with outlaws frequenting many of the bars and dances. 

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From its origins as a simple dirt lot, the plaza has developed through time with paving, landscaping and a replica 1930s-era bandstand, creating a more modern, but no less inviting, social center. The commercial and residential buildings that border the plaza reflect Mesilla’s maturing as a prime location on El Camino Real and on the southern route to California, where gold was discovered in 1849.

Basilica of San Albino, Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the north end of the Plaza is the Basilica of San Albino, one of the oldest missions in the Mesilla Valley. Originally built of adobe in 1855, that church was replaced in 1906 by today’s San Albino church, a yellow-brick building whose facade is dominated by square belfries with pyramid towers and soaring, arched stain-glass windows.

Double Eagle, Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the plaza’s primary anchor, San Albino continues to reflect the prominent role of religion in the community’s history. Outside the church is a memorial to parishioners who died in combat. In 2008, the church’s historical importance was recognized as it was designated as one of two basilicas in New Mexico. 

La Posta, Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, Mesilla offers a wide range of events as well as shopping and dining on the town’s plaza. Enjoy a meal at the famous La Posta or Double Eagle, where patrons can enjoy authentic local cuisine while they visit one of the most historical locations in New Mexico.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many cultural and historical activities are held in the plaza, the Cinco de Mayo fiesta, the 16th de Septiembre Fiesta, and the Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead). On Christmas Eve, the Plaza comes alive with hundreds of luminarias lining streets, sidewalks, and buildings. Every Thursday and Sunday the local Farmer’s and Craft’s market is held on the Plaza.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, many of Mesilla’s population of nearly 2,200 residents are direct descendents of Mesilla’s early settlers. Mesilla has a rich and diverse heritage with the integration of Indian, Spanish, Mexican, and Anglo-American cultures. The traditional adobe structures and architectural features modified through time still remain as a reminder of the long and significant history of the town.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So, come stroll the streets Billy-the-Kid and Pancho Villa once walked, check out the shops and find unique Southwestern gifts to take back home. Step inside one of the most historical cantinas in the area, El Patio. Then stop for lunch or dinner at one of the many cafes and restaurants. But, don’t just concentrate on the plaza, drive or walk around the town taking in all the shops and sights the average visitor misses.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesilla is located south of Las Cruces on Avenida de Mesilla.

Worth Pondering…

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

—Georgia O’Keeffe

Going Mobile

Once called the Paris of the South, Mobile has long been the cultural center of the Gulf Coast and you’ll find an authentic experience like nowhere else in the southern U. S.

The water is a good beginning point to understand Mobile because the city is on a river, just north of a bay, south of a swamp, and has a storied history as a port. From the powdery white beaches of the gulf to the 800 square miles of alligator-­populated delta, you’re never far from water here.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mobile was named after the Mauvilla (or Maubilla) Indians who lived here centuries ago. Once called the Paris of the South, Mobile has long been the cultural center of the Gulf Coast and you’ll find an authentic experience found nowhere else in the southern United States. The birthplace of Mardi Gras in the United States, the area’s sheer beauty, modern architecture, amazing museums, and famous seafood continues to impress visitors and locals alike.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Founded in 1702 as the original capital of the Louisiana Territory and nestled along the beautiful Mobile Bay, few American cities boast a history as rich as Mobile’s. In 1711, the French erected a brick fort to protect their New World inter­ests and named it Conde.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The site, now a 4/5-scale reconstruction of the original early 18th century French Fort Conde, func­tions as a welcome center. The original fort sat on 11 acres of land, therefore a full-size reconstruction was not possible because of the area it would cover in downtown Mobile. The reconstructed fort opened on July 4, 1976.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Later the British took ownership and after that the Spanish. In the 1820s, the U.S. Congress ordered its sale and removal and shortly afterwards it was demolished.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Leaving the fort, history lovers should head across the street to the Museum of Mobile. Opened in 1857 as the Southern Market and used as City Hall through the 1990s, the museum boasts a marble lobby with six brightly colored murals reflecting the city’s landmark moments.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Permanent galleries detail Mobile’s story and include such artifacts as a 14th-century dugout canoe and the Colored Entrance neon sign from the Saenger Theatre, host to many famous black musicians. Upstairs are exhibits detailing The Great Fire of 1919 which left 1,200 homeless, 1979’s Hurricane Frederic which killed three and injured thousands, and the city’s contributions to the nation such as the 1969 World Series champions Mets’ outfield who were all from Mobile.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eight National Register Historic Districts make up what is known as downtown and midtown Mobile. These eight distinct personalities spread throughout the Mobile Bay area truly define the heart and soul of Old Mobile. 

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dauphin Street is an historic district in downtown Mobile that consists of many buildings from the 1820s to the 20th century; architectural styles include Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne, and Victorian. Dauphin Street was named after the son of King Louis XIV and this street became the main commercial street of the city.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1839, a fire destroyed many of the wooden buildings that had been built in the Federal style. During reconstruction, many structures were built in the Victorian style of architecture seen today.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bienville Square is a tranquil square with trees, benches, fountain, and a bandstand.

Downtown Mobile is a mixture of the old and the new. Modern office buildings and high-rise hotels are scattered among the historic buildings. The ultra-modern Outlaw Convention Center along the waterfront is an interesting contrast to the older buildings of the downtown area.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Oakleigh Historic Complex contains several buildings in one picturesque area. The Oakleigh Mansion (built around l833) is an old two-story T-shaped building constructed with slave labor. The bricks used in the walls of the ground floor were made by these slaves from clay dug on the property. The main portion of the house is of wood. The house is filled with antiques and original furnishings.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another historic building near downtown Mobile is the Bragg-Mitchell Mansion. The grounds are beautifully landscaped and century-old live oaks are scattered over the grounds. The mansion is an antebellum home with more history associated with the Civil War era.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Sweet home Alabama
Where the skies are so blue
Sweet home Alabama
Lord, I’m coming home to you

4 Historic Sites to Visit This Summer

Planning a road trip this summer?

From sea to shining sea, the U.S. has preserved sites and other areas of national historic significance.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A National Historic Site (e.g., Hopewell Furnace, Pennsylvania) is a protected area of national historic significance and usually contains a single historical feature directly associated with its subject. A related but separate designation, the National Historical Park (e.g., Appomattox Court House, Virginia), is an area that generally extends beyond single properties or buildings, and its resources include a mix of historic and sometimes significant natural features.

San Xavier del Bac Mission © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All historic areas, including National Historic Sites and Parks, in the National Park Service are automatically listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There are about 80,000 sites, the vast majority of which are neither owned nor managed by the National Park Service. Of these, about 2,500 have been designated at the highest status as National Historic Landmark sites (e.g., San Xavier del Bac Mission, Arizona).

Learn something new on your summer road trip by visiting these four iconic historic sites.

Montezuma Castle National Monument, Arizona

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Sinagua built the five-story, 20-room structure about 1150 but abandoned it in the early 1400s. Montezuma Castle is built into a deep alcove with masonry rooms added in phases. A thick, substantial roof of sycamore beams, reeds, grasses, and clay often served as the floor of the next room built on top.

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This exceptionally well-preserved site gives us a glimpse into the rich history of the North American continent before the arrival of Europeans. There are plenty of places to park your RV near the site, so give yourself a few days to fully explore its many wonders.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, Texas

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park tells the story of America’s 36th President beginning with his ancestors until his final resting place on his beloved LBJ Ranch. This entire “circle of life” gives the visitor a unique perspective into one of America’s most noteworthy citizens by providing the most complete picture of any American president.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The LBJ Ranch is in the heart of the Hill Country on the banks of the Pedernales River. As part of the self-guided Ranch Tour, you may stop at the Texas White House for a ranger-guided tour.

Saratoga National Historical Park, New York

Saratoga National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Site of the first significant American military victory during the Revolution, the Battles of Saratoga (September 19 and October 7, 1777) rank among the fifteen most decisive battles in world history. Here, American forces met, defeated, and forced a major British army to surrender.

Saratoga National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This crucial American victory in the Battle of Saratoga renewed patriots’ hopes for independence, secured essential foreign recognition and support, and forever changed the face of the world.

Fort Frederica National Monument, Georgia

Fort Frederica National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located on the interior coast of Georgia’s St. Simons Island, Fort Frederica National Monument preserves the remains of a military outpost consisting of a fort and town that for a time was one of the most important settlements in the American Colonies. By the 1740s Frederica was a thriving village of about 500 citizens.

Fort Frederica National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Invading Spanish forces were defeated by English forces at the Battle of Bloody Marsh during the summer of 1742. The Spanish soon gave up their campaign and returned to Florida. This British victory not only confirmed that Georgia was British territory, but also signaled the beginning of the end for Frederica.

Worth Pondering…

Traveling is almost like talking with men of other centuries.

—René Descartes

Top 9 Things to See and Do in Santa Fe

Santa Fe, New Mexico, is one of the top destinations in the American Southwest

A city that embraces its natural environment, Santa Fe, New Mexico, is a city whose beautiful adobe architecture blends with the high desert landscape. A city that is, at the same time, one of America’s great art and culinary capitals. Santa Fe draws those who love art, natural beauty, and those who wish to relax.

Here are the 12 best things to see and do in Santa Fe. 

The Plaza, the Heart of Santa Fe

Plaza of Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the heart of the city and the place where Santa Fe was founded, the Plaza is the city’s most historic area. Surrounded by museums, historic buildings, restaurants, hotels, galleries, and endless shopping, the Plaza is the place to start understanding Santa Fe.

Canyon Road

Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Santa Fe has more than 250 galleries and has been rated the second largest art market in the country, after New York City. Canyon Road is a historic pathway into the mountains and an old neighborhood that has become the city’s center for art with the highest concentration of galleries.

Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

Palace of the Governors on the Plaza © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Georgia O’Keeffe museum is a showcase not only for O’Keeffe’s work but also for that of her many contemporaries. It features more than 3,000 works, including 140 of the famous artist’s oil paintings and almost 700 of her drawings. 

The museum also preserves her home and studio in Abiquiu, New Mexico, about an hour away. You can visit this by appointment.

Museum Hill

The Museum of Contemporary Native Arts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In a town with many museums, Museum Hill is a collection of four of its most interesting: the Museum of International Folk Art, the ​​Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, and the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian. With a wonderful plaza, expansive views, footpaths connecting each museum, and a convenient cafe, Museum Hill is a day trip right in town.

Palace of the Governors Native American Vendors

Palace of the Governors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Every day, dozens of artists from around Santa Fe and the Southwest sell their work under the long portal that fronts the Palace of the Governors. This is a regulated program that ​ensures that high-quality, authentic artwork is sold by the artists or their family members. The palace itself is the state’s history museum and the oldest public building in the U.S., making it a perfect setting.

Institute of American Indian Art (IAIA)

Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Contrasting to the more traditional art forms sold at the palace and at many of Santa Fe’s shops and galleries is this museum dedicated to contemporary American Indian art. The museum is an arm of the IAIA college that teaches art to native peoples.

St. Francis Cathedral Basilica of Assisi

The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assis on the Plaza © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The largest example of non-adobe style architecture in the city, the Romanesque St. Francis Cathedral dominates the downtown cityscape. The cathedral is a religious center for Santa Fe and the home to La Conquistadora, a centuries-old statue revered within the city.

New Mexico History Museum

New Mexico Museum of Art © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This museum is conveniently located on the Historic Plaza in Santa Fe next to the Palace of the Governors. This new museum has permanent and rotating exhibits, as well as archives. The exhibits are interesting, vibrant and interactive.

Loretto Chapel

Loretto Chapel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The visitor is drawn to Loretto Chapel to see the spiral staircase that leads to the choir loft. The chapel’s small sized made access to the loft possible only by ladder.

Loretto Chapel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When none of the local carpenters could build a staircase that wouldn’t encroach on the limited floor space, the Sisters prayed to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. Soon a mysterious stranger arrived, looking for work, and built an elegant spiral staircase. Without presenting any bill for payment, he disappeared as suddenly as he had come.

The Spiral Staircase in the Loretto Chapel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The staircase—with two 360-degree turns, no visible means of support, and without the benefit of nails—has been called the Miraculous Staircase. The identity of the builder remains unknown.

Santa Fe history as displayed on mural on the Plaza © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

I’m in love with Santa Fe;

Like it better every day;

But I wonder, every minute

How the folks who aren’t in it

Ever stand it, anyway.

Not to be in Santa Fe.

—Mae Peregine, 1915

4 Amazing History Destinations

Use this list to plan your next getaway to one of the most beautiful historic places in the US

History is best understood by walking the ground where it happened, says filmmaker Ken Burns.

“You feel the presence of what went on before. We go to these places because we’re aware that the ghosts and echoes of an almost inexpressibly wise past summon us.”

Despite what the History Channel tells you, there’s more to the past than Truck Night in America, Pawn Stars, and UFO Cover Ups.

There’s history everywhere you look—maybe even in the city you are in right now. But, not all can be as historic as, say, Old City in Philly. And that is why we consulted our history books—and my journal from 20+ years of RV travel—and power ranked America’s most beautiful historic cities.

Freedom Trail, Boston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Boston, Massachusetts

Walk into history and experience more than 250 years of history on Boston’s iconic Freedom Trail—the 2.5-mile red line leading to 16 nationally significant historic sites. Preserved and dedicated by the citizens of Boston in 1951, the Freedom Trail is a unique collection of museums, churches, meeting houses, burying grounds, parks, a ship, and historic markers that tell the story of the American Revolution and beyond. 

Freedom Trail, Boston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Step inside the places where the American Revolution was launched, from pews and pulpits, private homes, and public offices, with fiery speeches and midnight rides.

USS Constitution (Old Ironside) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Today the Freedom Trail is a world-renowned, signature visitor experience attracting over 4 million people annually to visit Boston’s 17th-, 18th- , and 19th-century sites.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Charleston, South Carolina

One of the oldest cities in the country, Charleston is often described as a living museum. With a whopping 97 properties listed on the National Register for Historic Places, history is ingrained in every aspect of Downtown Charleston—right down to the horse-drawn carriages.

Magnolia Plantation © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Stroll Broad Street’s federal period homes or King Street while snapping photos of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church (1752) and Charleston County Courthouse (1792) along the way. From the historic mansions that line the Battery promenade near the waterside, Fort Sumter-facing White Point Garden to the cobblestone streets and gas-lit alleys of the French Quarter (yes, Charleston has its own French Quarter), you can’t escape all the history that’s packed into the heart of this city. And when history is this beautiful, why the hell would you want to?

Moody Mansion, Galveston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Galveston, Texas

Galveston offers one of the largest and best-preserved concentrations of Victorian architecture in the country. Not to be missed attractions include the Broadway Beauties—1895 Ashton Villa, 1892 Bishop’s Palace, and 1895 Moody Mansion—which portray early 20th century family life among Galveston’s elite.

Ashton Villa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The Grand 1894 Opera House ranks among the nation’s finest historical theaters, the Texas Seaport Museum and 1877 Tall Ship Elissa highlight the history of the Port of Galveston, and The Great Storm documentary details the 1900 hurricane which killed 6,000 and changed the Island’s history. The Ocean Star Offshore Offshore Drilling Rig and Museum and the Railroad Museum in the restored Union Depot combine to enhance Galveston as a wonderful historic destination.

Palace of the Governors, Santa Fe

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Founded in 1607, Santa Fe is America’s oldest capital city and also houses the oldest public building in the country, the circa-1610 Palace of the Governors which was originally the seat of government for the Spanish colony of Neuvo Mexico. To wander the Downtown Santa Fe Plaza is to immerse one in traditional adobe structures in what is one of the country’s most uniquely picturesque urban experiences. There are time-warped old buildings and churches including the stunning Loretto Chapel famous for its miraculous staircase and San Miguel Mission, reported to be America’s oldest church built between 1610 and 1626.

Loretto Chapel, Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

But, history’s not the only thing going down in Santa Fe. The city’s unique cuisine and renowned art galleries are as integral to the area’s charm as anything from a dusty old history book.

Plaza of Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Worth Pondering…

The lack of a sense of history is the damnation of the modern world.

—Robert Penn Warren (1905-1989)