Las Cruces: Rugged Beauty, Endless Sunshine, History & More

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

Las Cruces, the second largest city in New Mexico, offers museums, theaters, historical sites, wonderful food, golf courses, bird watching, hiking, and gracious hospitality.

La Cruces © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Centuries ago, Spanish explorers brought their faith, culture, language, and way of life to this land. Today, over four hundred years later, the past is a great treasure that can be found in everything from traditional architecture to the spicy cuisine and unique art.

Located in southern New Mexico less than an hour from the Texas border, Las Cruces enjoys warm weather and 320 days of sunshine per year.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Las Cruces offers visitors a wide range of outdoor activities such as golfing, biking, hiking, and tennis, as well as a diverse assortment of museums, shopping, and festivals. There is national park and two national monuments less than an hour’s drive: White Sands National Park, Organ Mountain-Desert Peaks National Monument, and the Prehistoric Trackways National Monument. All three offer outdoor recreation opportunities from a simple hike to sand dune surfing and backcountry camping.

White Sands Missile Range Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Military buffs will enjoy touring the White Sands Missile Range Museum, located about 25 miles northeast of Las Cruces. Featuring more than 50 different missiles and rockets tested at the top secret facility over the years, the museum is open Monday through Saturday. Admission is free.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Step back in time and visit Old Mesilla, one of the oldest and most unique settlements of southern New Mexico. Pancho Villa and Billy the Kid walked the streets. The famous trial of Billy the Kid was held here. Today Mesilla is a part of living history. Great care has been given to preserve the original adobe buildings and the beautiful plaza. People from all over the world stop to experience the history, art, architecture, quaint shopping, and unique dining that Mesilla has to offer.

Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park is a beautiful refuge 1.5 miles from historic Mesilla. Over 900 acres of land including Rio Grande wetlands and part of the Chihuahuan Desert with an education building for nature study. Visitors have opportunity to view wildlife in natural surroundings while strolling one of the self-guided nature trails. Mesilla Valley Bosque is an Audubon designated IBA (Important Birding Area).

Main Street Downtown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors can experience the city’s culture, heritage, and hospitality through events such as the annual Las Cruces Country Music Festival which is a multi-day celebration of country music, or Salsa Fest, a three-day celebration of everything salsa in the fall.

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 mornings 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.

Branigan Cultural Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The downtown area is also home to the Branigan Cultural Center, the Las Cruces Art Museum, the Museum of Nature and Science, and the Las Cruces Railroad Museum. All are part of the City of Las Cruces museum system and are free to the public.

Museum of Nature & Science © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other area museums include the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum which offers a glimpse into the 3,000-year-old agricultural history, heritage, and science of New Mexico. The New Mexico State University Museum is home to the largest collection of Mexican retablos in the United States.

La Posta de Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some of the most authentic Mexican food north of the border can be found in Las Cruces. Visitors can explore the Salsa Trail or the Green Chile Walk of Flame and sample authentic as well as unique cuisine only found here. The Salsa Trail included 26 restaurants whose salsa was recommend by locals and the Walk of Flame features 28 stops where explorers can try everything from a green chile sundae, to green chile wontons, to green chile sushi and margaritas. The Walk even includes a stop at the Double Eagle restaurant for a bite of the world’s largest green chile cheeseburger.

Double Eagle Restaurant in Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 area along Interstate 10, just west of the city.

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

Signs around the sculpture warn 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).

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

Don’t just take our word for how great Las Cruces is. Las Cruces has received several awards including rankings by Money Magazine, Forbes, AARP, Sunset, and many others, as one of the best places to visit.

Haucienda RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll find numerous RV parks and campgrounds in the area including a nearby state park and a BLM campground. We have stayed at Hacienda RV Resort and Sunny Acres RV Park, both excellent parks.

Sunny Acres RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located off I-10 near Mesilla, Hacienda offers first-class accommodations including fast high-speed Internet and paved interior roads. Situated near downtown Las Cruces, Sunny Acres caters to adults although children are also welcome as visitors.

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

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

New Mexico’s White Sands Is Officially a National Park

The country’s largest dune field has been a national monument since 1933 and now it’s America’s 62nd national park

After half a decade of legislative holdups, New Mexico’s White Sands National Monument has officially been designated a national park.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located 50 miles northeast of Las Cruces, White Sands is the largest dune field in the world and is so expansive that it can be seen from space. It was established on January 18, 1933, by President Herbert Hoover to preserve “the white sands and additional features of scenic, scientific, and educational interest.” According to the statement, White Sands contains not only the world’s largest gypsum dunefield including gypsum hearthmounds found nowhere else but also is home to the globe’s largest collection of Ice Age fossilized footprints.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Legislation to re-designate White Sands was included in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020. The US House of Representatives passed the act on December 11 with the Senate following on December 16. President Donald Trump signed the bill on December 20.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands sees hundreds of thousands of visitors every year, more than any other national park service site in New Mexico. In 2017, White Sands logged more than 600,000 visits and spurred more than $31 million in spending for the local economy.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“This is a pretty prestigious recognition of White Sands, one of New Mexico’s most remarkable natural wonders,” said U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat who introduced the bill to Congress with U.S. Representative Xochitl Torres Small in March 2019. 

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Starting this spring, visitors to the 275-square-mile stretch of rolling dunes will now be able to hike and camp in its backcountry, sled down sandy hills, and stargaze—without the interruptions of missile tests. The designation was included as a provision in Congress’s defense bill because the former monument shares land with the White Sands Missile Range (WSMR), a U.S. military weapons testing area and the site of the first atomic bomb detonation.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since the 1970s, the U.S. Army has been trying to secure land within the national monument’s boundaries in order to more easily access its missile testing site. The new legislation gives the military 2,826 acres of land within the monument’s former boundaries to allow for this access. 

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In exchange, the National Parks Service has been granted 5,766 acres of formerly Army-owned land on the eastern side of the park. Not only does this mean that White Sands will expand by 2,030 acres, but visitors will no longer have to plan around the Range’s weapon testing drills. Previously, on a random day or two of the week, the monument would close to visitors as a safety protocol.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The new designation will also have positive impacts on the surrounding community: a 2018 study found that turning monuments to national parks could increase visitation by 21 percent (about 100,000 more visitors) in the first five years and result in a $7.5 million increase in the local economy, mainly due to increased visibility. According to the legislation, all funding for the current monument will be directly transferred to the national park. Additional funding is dependent on an increase in the park’s visitors, which would help White Sands compete for National Park Service resources.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Those who’ve visited White Sands won’t be surprised by its new status while others who are less familiar are in for a real treat. Beyond the surreal beauty of its endless dunes, the park is full of wildlife and has a long cultural history, including evidence of hunter gatherers going back 10,000 years.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

The desert could not be claimed or owned–it was a piece of cloth carried by winds, never held down by stones, and given a hundred shifting names.

—Michael Ondaatje

A Great Migration: Bosque del Apache

The sound of the sandhill cranes and the scent of roasting green chile herald the arrival of autumn in the Rio Grande valley

It was a frigid November morning at New Mexico’s Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge where we had joined dozens of ardent wildlife photographers and nature enthusiasts, lined up tripod-to-tripod and scope to scope, ready and waiting for the action to begin.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We were standing on an observation platform called Flight Deck overlooking a network of fields and marshes teeming with thousands of sandhill cranes and snow geese that pause here to feed and rest during their annual migration south.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Talk about a great migration! Every year starting in early November, some 10-15,000 sandhill cranes, 20-30,000 snow geese, nearly 40,000 ducks, and even a few hawks and bald eagles migrate to the Bosque del Apache. This annual event also attracts birders, photographers, and nature lovers of all kinds who also migrate to the Bosque to enjoy this spectacle of nature.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Situated on the Rio Grande just a few miles off Interstate 25 south of Socorro (between Albuquerque and Las Cruces) in the tiny town of San Antonio, the 57,000-acre refuge was established in the 1930s to protect the sandhill crane. The majestic 4-foot-tall crane had nearly vanished along the Intermountain West Corridor, a vital north-south flyway for migratory waterfowl and many other birds.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For instinctive reasons known only to the birds, a sunrise “fly out” en masse is a daily routine. As is a “fly in” at sunset when the flocks return to the shallow marshes after a day of feeding on corn and grain crops farmed on more than 1,300 acres, mostly at the northern end of the refuge.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“They could go any minute now,” said the photographer next to us. An amateur wildlife photographer, here as a member of a photo tour group. “They take off all at once…thousands of them,” he adds, “and it’s really unbelievable.”

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As we watched and waited, the sun inched over the eastern horizon illuminating a wispy fog rising from the marsh several hundred feet away. Then, without any discernible signal, it happened. In virtual unison thousands of snow geese erupted in a thunder of wings, and in a blur filled the sky as they flew low over head before soaring northward to spend the day feeding in the fields.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sandhill cranes then started to walk. Others lowered their heads, long necks stretched out in front of them, almost off-balance. This signal is followed by quick steps, the awkward first wing flaps and flight.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s unbelievable how they take off all at once, thousands of them. Nothing we’ve ever seen in nature compares to it. It is the rare human who is not stirred to awe and excitement as thousands of birds soar scarcely 20 feet overhead.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Then in the late afternoon they streak the sky and return to the water to roost for the night. The afternoon fly-in is almost as enjoyable to observe as the morning fly-out.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The spectacular sunrise had also made us forget for a time the freezing chill as we retreated to the warmth of our toad.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once warmed up, we drove the 15-mile one-way auto loop road and hiked the trails and observed large groups of snow geese and cranes, thousands of ducks of many varieties, hundreds of Canada geese, dozens of hawks, eagles, blackbirds, crows, roadrunners, sparrows, grebes, coots, and other birds along with occasional reptiles, amphibians and mammals, such as mule deer, coyotes, and jackrabbits.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The refuge’s dirt roads are well maintained and RVs should have no trouble driving on them. If 15 miles sounds too long, you can cut your tour short by taking a two-way cutoff and driving on one section—the 7-mile Marsh Loop or the 7.5-mile Farm Loop.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge is open year-round from one hour before sunrise until one hour after sunset. The one-day entry fee is $5 per vehicle including all occupants; an annual pass is $25. Golden Age and other federal passes are accepted.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The refuge hosts a number of special events, including the annual Festival of the Cranes, staged during the height of the fall migration. The 32nd annual Festival of the Cranes is set for November 20-23, 2019. It’s a glorious pageant of nature celebrating the annual migration of birds as they head south for the winter.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Stay: Kiva RV Park and Horse Motel (Bernardo); Bosque Birdwatchers RV Park (San Antonio)

Worth Pondering…

I saw them first many Novembers ago and heard their triumphant trumpet calls, a hundred or more sandhill cranes riding south on a thermal above the Rio Grande Valley, and that day their effortless flight and their brassy music got into my soul.

—Charles Kuralt

Place of the Great Rock: El Morro National Monument

El Morro National Monument is a fascinating mixture of both human and natural history

Rising 200 feet above the valley floor, this massive sandstone bluff was a welcome landmark for weary travelers. A reliable year-round source of drinking water at its base made El Morro a popular campsite in this otherwise rather arid and desolate country.

At the base of the bluff—often called Inscription Rock—on sheltered smooth slabs of stone, are seven centuries of inscriptions covering human interaction with this spot.

El Moro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This massive mesa point forms a striking landmark. In fact, El Morro means “the headland.” From its summit, rain and melted snow drain into a natural basin at the foot of the cliff, creating a constant and dependable supply of water. The pool also attracts birds, coyotes, deer, and other wild creatures.

El Moro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A pre-Columbian route from Acoma and the Rio Grande valley to the Zuni pueblos led directly past El Morro, probably marking it as a favored camping site for prehistoric travelers.

El Moro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beginning in the late 1500s Spanish, and later, Americans passed by El Morro. While they rested in its shade and drank from the pool, many carved their signatures, dates, and messages. Before the Spanish, petroglyphs were inscribed by Ancestral Puebloans living on top of the bluff over 700 years ago.

El Moro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The softness of the light-colored sandstone made it easy to carve pictures, names, dates, and messages. Ironically, that is also the reason that the famous inscriptions are slowly disappearing.

El Moro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, El Morro is one of New Mexico’s smaller national monuments, hidden away in forested, high elevation (7,219 feet), little-traveled land towards the northwest of the state. Some of the surroundings are volcanic, including nearby El Malpais National Monument on the far side of the continental divide, and other parts are featureless grassy plains.

El Moro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The oldest Spanish carving found on El Morro reads, “Paso por aqui, el adelantado Don Juan de Oñate, del descubrimiento de la mar del sur a 16 de Abril de 1605.”

El Moro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Translated, the inscription proclaims: “Passed by here, the expedition leader Don Juan de Oñate, from the discovery of the Sea of the South the 16th of April of 1605.”

El Moro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Not the first Spaniard to see the mesa, Diego Pérez de Luxan, chronicler of an exploring expedition led by Antonio de Espejo, recorded in his journal that the party had camped in March 1583 at a location he called El Estanque de Peñol (The Place at the Great Rock). However, no record of the expedition’s passing has been found on the mesa.

El Moro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Spanish reigned in New Mexico for nearly 200 years. After being driven out by the Pueblo Rebellion of 1680, they took back control twelve years later and ruled for generations.

El Moro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

General de Vargas recorded his victory in this way: “Here was the General Don Diego de Vargas, who conquered for our Holy Faith and for the Royal Crown all of New Mexico at his own expense, year of 1692.”

El Moro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The final inscription in Spanish was dated 1774. The Spanish lost control of their North American territories to the Mexicans who in turn lost them to the United States during the Mexican-American War of the 1840s. At the close of the Mexican War in 1848, New Mexico became a U.S. territory, and the arrival of the Americans opened a new chapter in El Moro’s long history.

El Moro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1849, Lt. James Simpson, an Army topographical engineer, and Richard Kern, an artist, were the first Americans to carve their names on El Morro. More significantly, however, Kern sketched many of the inscriptions and brought them to national attention.

El Moro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After Simpson and Kern, many American wagon trains carrying emigrants to California passed and, as the Anasaziand Spaniards did before them, they left a record of their presence.

The main thing to see is Inscription Loop Trail, a half mile walk past numerous Spanish and Anglo inscriptions, as well as pre–historic petroglyphs.

El Moro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before venturing out be sure to view the short informative film in the visitor center and pick up a copy of the trail guide to assist you in spotting and understanding the various inscriptions.

You can continue your walk up to the top of the mesa for some great views and to see the partially-excavated ruins of an Ancestral Puebloan village.

El Moro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although all can be seen in just a couple of hours, El Morro is an unusual and evocative place, well worth a detour to visit.

Worth Pondering…

Traveling is almost like talking with men of other centuries.

A Great Place to Crash a UFO

Roswell has been at the heart of the UFO scene since July 1947 when the military announced it had found the remains of a crashed UFO in the desert nearby

Seventy two years ago, a rancher named W.W. Mack Brazel checked his sheep after a thunderstorm and found debris made of a strange metal scattered in many directions. He noticed a shallow trench cut into the desert floor.

As the story goes, Mac Brazel drove his rusty pickup down to the county seat of Roswell, New Mexico to inform authorities that something had crashed and scattered metallic debris across his ranch land.

UFO Museum, Roswell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Figuring it must have come from the nearby Army airfield, officers accompanied him back to the ranch, and what they witnessed in the desert has, in the decades since, mushroomed to become the most widely publicized event in UFO lore.

There had been 16 reported unidentified flying object sightings reported that year during the several months preceding what would be known as the Roswell Incident.

UFO Museum, Roswell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Air Force issued a press release stating that a UFO had been found. That statement was quickly rescinded and another was issued indicating that the debris came from a top-secret weather balloon test.

Adding to the mystery, the Air Force ordered sealed coffins from a Roswell undertaker, fueling speculation that aliens had been recovered.

UFO Museum, Roswell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roswell Army Air Field became Walker Air Force Base two years after the flying saucer flap. In 1967, the military vacated altogether, leaving what would eventually be developed into an industrial air center.

It’s also home of the notorious Hangar 84 where, legend has it, the Roswell wreckage and bodies were stored before shipment to their new digs at the even more notorious Hanger 18 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

UFO Museum, Roswell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roswell has wisely embraced its extraterrestrial past. Once-empty storefronts in downtown Roswell overflow with E.T. and UFO everything. Cornerstone of it all is an old movie house converted into the world’s foremost center for UFO information and study.

Roswell, however, boasts much more, historically.

UFO Museum, Roswell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The cattle industry brought settlement to the Pecos Valley when John Chisum founded the Jinglebob Ranch in 1878. Growth was slow at first.

Added to the usual frontier lawlessness, hostile Comanches east of the Pecos and Apaches to the west was the violence erupting from the Lincoln County War.

UFO Museum, Roswell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roswell has been famous in agricultural circles for its high-quality alfalfa, in scientific circles for the rocket experimentation of Robert H. Goddard between 1930 and 1941, and in academic circles for New Mexico Military Institute.

UFO Museum, Roswell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roswell has a varied economy based on agriculture, shipping, manufacturing, and oil production. Large artesian water supplies have enabled farmers to grow alfalfa, cotton, chilli peppers, corn, and pecans, while cattle, sheep, and goats thrive on local ranch lands.

UFO Museum, Roswell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roswell’s food processing industries include the nation’s largest producer of mozzarella cheese, and a lollipop factory.

According to Will Rogers, Roswell was the prettiest little town in the west. Money magazine has called it one of the 10 most peaceful places to retire. Hugh Bayless, in his book, The Best Towns in America, listed Roswell as one of the 50 most desirable communities in which to live.

UFO Museum, Roswell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roswell now is becoming known for its Downtown Historic District, which was created by the Historic Society for Southeast New Mexico. It was named to the State and National Registers of Historic Places in 1985, along with the campus of New Mexico Military Institute, several outlying ranches, and Chihuahuita, probably the oldest settlement in the Roswell area.

UFO Museum, Roswell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Downtown Historic District covers approximately 40 city blocks and contains homes of more than 22 architectural styles. Roswell’s early history explains this unusual architectural style mix. Many styles—Prairie-style, Bungalow, Mediterranean, California Mission, Pueblo Revival, Simplified Anne, Period, Federal, Colonial Revival, Southwest Vernacular, Italiante, and Southwest Vernacular—dot the historic district eclectically.

UFO Museum, Roswell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So—what is the truth? Well, visit Roswell and judge for yourself.

Worth Pondering…

Well, at least my mom knows what species I am.

Rivers of Ancient Fires: El Malpais National Monument

Come discover this land of fire and ice!

The richly diverse volcanic landscape of El Malpais National Monument offers solitude, recreation, and discovery. There’s something for everyone here. Explore cinder cones, lava tube caves, sandstone bluffs, and hiking trails. While some may see a desolate environment, people have been adapting to and living in this extraordinary terrain for generations.

Known as “the badlands” in Spanish, El Malpais was used by early Spanish map makers to describe areas of volcanic terrain. El Malpais preserves an ancient volcanic landscape and a history of human habitation.

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lava that once poured from five separate magma flows produced the black, ropy pahoehoe, and clinkers of a thousand years ago. Islands of earth that were surrounded, rather than covered, by lava are spots of undisturbed vegetation called kipukas.

El Malpais National Monument and Conservation Area was established in 1987. Its 114,277 acres is managed in a joint effort between the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). El Malpais hosts more than 100,000 visitors annually; visitation is highest in July and August and lowest in December and January.

There is much to see. You’ll find expansive lava flows, cinder cones, complex lava-tube cave system more than 17 miles long, fragile ice caves, as well as sandstone bluffs and mesas, easily viewed from Sandstone Bluff’s Overlook. Inhabited for 10,000 years, the area also contains historical and archaeological sites.

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many points of interest are accessible from New Mexico Route 117. The Sandstone Bluffs Overlook is reached by a short walk from a parking area along the highway. Excellent overviews of the lava flows as well as the surrounding terrain are seen from this vantage point.

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can look south to the Zuni-Acoma Trail, a 15-mile round-trip hike over the rugged Anasazi trade route, which crosses four of the five major lava flows.

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In El Malpais many trails are actually routes marked with cairns. Instead of a well-defined path clearly visible on the landscape, a series of rock piles called cairns are used to trace a route across the land. These routes are common on lava landscapes, where creating a traditional trail or footpath is not possible due to the extreme nature of the terrain.

Hiking cairned routes requires more attention to navigation. As you travel, make sure you have the next cairn in sight before leaving the one that you are at. Keep your eyes on the land while walking; the uneven nature of the terrain demands that you pay more attention since the surface is not even.

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To enjoy the views, stop, get a secure footing, and then look around. Look back frequently to stay familiar with the landscape as it changes. Sturdy hiking boots are advised as is ample drinking water.

La Ventana Natural Arch, the largest of New Mexico’s accessible natural arches, is visible from the parking lot. Trails lead up to the bottom of the free-standing arch for a closer look at this natural wonder.

East of the highway are some 62,000 acres of lush, pine-covered rimrock called the Cebola Wilderness. Exploration of this area of the park will reward visitors with prehistoric petroglyphs and historic homesteads.

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Continuing down the highway, you’ll drive through The Narrows; here lava flowed past the base of 500-foot sandstone cliffs. A picnic area is located here, and hikers will be intrigued by the unusual lava formations they’ll find.

At the Lava Falls Area, you can explore the unique features of the McCarty’s flow and marvel at the plant life that is adapted to life in the lava.

If you have a high-clearance vehicle, you can drive to the Big Tubes Area, where you can explore two of the network of gigantic caves formed by the flowing lava: Big Skylight and Four Windows.

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the area known as Chain of Craters, 30 cinder cones can be found across the landscape.

Come discover this land of fire and ice!

Worth Pondering…

We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in, for it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope.

—Wallace Stegner

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 Things to Know Before Visiting New Mexico

New Mexico may seem like it’s all about diverse cultures, world-class art, and landscapes fading away to glistening horizons—and it is, but that’s just the tip of the chile

New Mexico is truly an enchanted place. Explore everything the state has to offer—from breathtaking sunsets to fabulous local cuisine, New Mexico has it all.

D. H. Lawrence, writing in 1928, pretty much summed it up: “The moment I saw the brilliant, proud morning shine high up over the deserts of Santa Fe, something stood still in my soul.”

Albuquerque as seen from Petroglyph National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Land of Enchantment, the state motto of New Mexico, is certainly an apt description of a state with diverse landscape and population. This is a state in which the air is crisp, the water fresh, and the people warm and friendly. 

Elephant Butte Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over the years we have enjoyed several road trips through New Mexico. New Mexico is a truly unique place, with gorgeous landscapes ranging from white sand deserts to snow topped mountains. If you are an outdoorsy person, you will be in heaven. If you are more of a “sit in the air conditioning and drink margaritas” person, you will be in heaven too.

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is really something for everyone in this state. I will go into more detail about things to see and do in future posts, but here are four tips that will help you make the most of your trip!

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. No adventure in New Mexico is complete until you have experienced the cuisine. The food is not like anything else in the country. The closest relative is Tex-Mex which is generally heavier and emphasizes meat, cheese, and cream sauces. New Mexican food relies more on fresh ingredients, chili sauces, and salsas.

Red chiles from Hatch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Right away we noticed the lack of cheese on the dishes. After spending numerous winters in Arizona and Texas, we expected as much shredded cheddar on our plate as anything else. Not the case in NM!

Cotton fields in the Mesilla Valley south of Las Cruces © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Additionally, many ingredients are taken from Native American culture like hominy, blue masa, and lots of fresh vegetables. Of course, I also need to mention New Mexicans love their chiles!

La Posta de Mesilla is a great stop for foodies in the Las Cruces area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Chiles are the soul of New Mexican cooking, which blends Native American and Hispanic influences into a cuisine unto itself. New Mexico’s largest agricultural crop, chiles come in both red and green varieties. Across the state Chile is consumed at every meal, is celebrated in songs and at festivals, and is the subject of the Official New Mexico State Question, Red or Green? estimated to be uttered over 200,000 times a day in the state.

La Plazuela at La Fonda is a favorite of ours for New Mexico cuisine in Santa Fe.

Note: New Mexicans use the spelling chile, not chili, to mean the plant and the green or red sauce they make from it.

El Moro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you don’t like spicy foods, don’t let that deter you from trying new things, just ask for the sauce on the side so you can judge the heat before adding it to your dish. Surprisingly, green chilies are actually hotter than the red ones. Consider ordering a side of guacamole if things got too spicy!

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Elevation can be a major concern. When traveling throughout New Mexico there are significant changes in altitude. Las Cruces is 3,890 feet above sea level while Albuquerque 220 miles north on I-15 is around 5,200 feet sea level. If you are driving north to Santé Fe and Taos, it climbs upwards to 8,000 feet (and higher in the mountains). Altitude sickness can happen to anyone, no matter their fitness level.

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some basis tips: Take it slow and drink LOTS of water. More water than you think you need. If you start getting a headache or feel dizzy, stop and sit down. Allow time in your schedule for rest stops, especially when hiking.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also important to note: all those refreshing margaritas at the end of the day will hit you much harder than normal! Sip with caution.

Plaza de Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. New Mexico’s vibrant native communities and cultures. From northwest to southeast and just about everywhere in between, New Mexico’s Native presence is obvious. It’s a presence that dates back more than two millennia, when early ancestral tribes lived as hunter-gatherers throughout the Southwest.

Spiral staircase in Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More than 1,000 years ago, some of these groups joined together to establish permanent settlements, commonly known as pueblos. It’s a way of life that continues to this very day among New Mexico’s 23 pueblos, tribes, and nations.

Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

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

—Georgia O’Keeffe

The Absolute Best Places to RV This June

There is nothing that compares to the freedom of the open road, especially when following it takes you to some of the most magnificent scenery and interesting places in the US

The longest day of the year! The first day of summer! And, for many, the last day of school!

June may not have any long weekends but it absolutely has the best lineup of unofficial days for celebration. This is when warm weather, blue skies, and blooming flowers all coincide, and when people rush outside—or around America­—to enjoy it. Festivals happen. Baseball happens. Let’s just say it: Magic happens.

In other words, June is the time for an RV trip before the busy tourist months of July and August. School’s out and summer is in full swing which means one thing—it’s time for a road trip in the RV.

Wall Drug © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Read on to find the five absolutely best places to visit in June. And be sure to catch up on all our recommendations for the best places to visit in March, April, and May.

Wall Drug, South Dakota

Wall Drug © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You begin to see signs for it about 1,000 miles before you arrive in South Dakota. They promise free ice water. Five-cent coffee! There are many, many finer restaurants in South Dakota, but none are as famous as the one in Wall Drug. It’s impossible to avoid the Badlands-bordering, 76,000 sq. ft. wonder of tourist-trapping randomness, so just go in. There’s ample RV parking.

Wall Drug © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hit the cafe and score a hot beef sandwich and a maple donut. It won’t hold a candle to the many, better food options in the state. But you will emerge with a “Where the Heck is Wall Drug” sticker. You will have chased that sandwich with a T. Rex viewing. And you’ll be happy you stopped every time you see a roadside Wall Drug sign every five minutes for the next 300 miles.

Wall Drug © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the world’s most well-known tourist stops, it’s hard to believe Wall Drug Store got its start with something we wouldn’t even turn our heads at today…the promise of free ice water. But in fact, the Husteads turned free ice water into a million dollar idea with a little determination and quick thinking.

You will find $.05 coffee here. SERIOUSLY!

Gettysburg National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania

This site, perhaps the most famous of Civil War landmarks, provides not only the opportunity to visit hallowed ground that witnessed three brutal days of battle in 1863, but also to conduct in-depth research at the resource library about those who fought here, and elsewhere.

Gettysburg National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Join one of many ranger-led or living history programs; drive the battlefield; and visit the David Wills House, where Lincoln put the finishing touches on his famous address. Round off the day by stopping for a quiet moment at Soldier’s National Cemetery, where the address was given and where the power of Lincoln’s words can still be felt today.

Boston Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Massachusetts

There are sports to be watched, history to be learned, and great food to be had in Boston, but it’s the boatloads (!) of quaint seaside towns that make Massachusetts such a gem. Amble around Cape Ann’s little fishing villages, where you can hang with lobstermen and chow down on some fresh-as-heck seafood.

Hyannis Harbor, Cape Cod © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boston, the state capital, is rich in history, culture, entertainment, and cuisine. The Freedom Trail winds through the city’s sites that played a key role in the American Revolution. South of Boston, Plimoth Plantation is one of Massachusetts’ four living history museums. It brings to life the arrival of the pilgrims and the Native American experience.

Holmes County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Holmes County, Ohio

The Amish established themselves in the Holmes County area, and it is estimated that one in every six Amish in the world live in this area. The Amish choose to live a simple way of life, which is clearly evident by the presence of horses and buggies, handmade quilts, and lack of electricity in Amish homes.

Boston Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along the byway you will be treated to the typical, yet breathtaking sights of Amish Country: teams of huge, blonde Belgians pulling wagons of hay, farmers working in the fields and of course, beautiful views of lush, green farmland, large white houses, and red barns.

New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Mexico

GREEN CHILE. Also red rock cliffs. And, sprawling mesas. The desert scenery here is absolutely breathtaking.

New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

D. H. Lawrence, writing in 1928, pretty much summed it up: “The moment I saw the brilliant, proud morning shine high up over the deserts of Santa Fe, something stood still in my soul.”

New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Land of Enchantment, the state motto of New Mexico, is certainly an apt description of a state with diverse landscape and population. This is a state in which the air is crisp, the water fresh, and the people warm and friendly. 

New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Northern New Mexico boasts the mountains of Taos. And White Sands National Monument is one of the most distinct—and arresting—pieces of earth in the lower 48. And we’d be remiss to leave out Carlsbad Caverns, a collection of over 100 caves and one of the state’s top attractions.

Worth Pondering…

I wonder what it would be like to live in a world where it was always June.
—L.M. Montgomery