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

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