Loving Las Cruces by Dean & Nancy Hoch

As the two of us travel around this great, old USA, we’re always on the lookout for unique destinations. We certainly found one recently — a city that boasts the following impressive rankings –among numerous others:
· 2010 Sunset Magazine’s “20 Best Towns of the Future”
· 2010 US News & World Report: “10 Cities for Real Estate Steals”
· One of AARP’s “Dream Towns” to retire — second time in the last four years
· As early as 2002, Money Magazine listed it in their “Best Places to Retire”

Couple these awards with a fabulous climate, and we found that this might just be a city where we’d really like to relocate ourselves someday — none other than Las Cruces, New Mexico. Weather in this great location is mild and dry year round with 350 days of sunshine. In the summer, temps climb into the upper 90s, with cool nights. Wintertime lows in January go just below freezing at night and into the lower 60s during the day – so inviting when folks in other parts of the country are dealing with snow and cold, cold temperatures. Some locals, if you can imagine, wear T-shirts year-round. What a climate!

Here in this outstanding destination, you can step back into the romance of the early Spanish-American days of New Mexico. Step even farther back into the Mogollon Native American culture of this part of the great Southwest. Then, step into a modern city of nearly 100,000 people, and what you will find is this lovely and unique city. We experienced all of this and more in a mid-January trip there, escaping our frigid home in Idaho and immersing ourselves in all that Las Cruces has to offer — especially the wintertime SUNSHINE and WARMTH.
Number One on the list of highlights we recommend is Old Mesilla, a charming old village bordering Las Cruces that provides a retreat into what the area was like in the early to mid-1800s. We had been told that a meal at La Posta, housed in a very old adobe building (once a stop on the old Butterfield stagecoach line for over 70 years) would be a memorable experience, and we were told correctly. We had our first delicious lunch in town there, and the ambience was superb. www.laposta-de-mesilla.com

In decades past, other luminaries/celebrities who were sheltered and/or served meals within the old adobe walls of La Posta (besides our humble selves) were the infamous Billy the Kid, Kit Carson, General Douglas MacArthur and even the notorious Pancho Villa himself. Be sure to stroll Old Masilla town square and see the impressive Basilica of San Albino as well as peeking into the intriguing shops and imagining what life was like in this historically important Spanish-American town — once the major stop between San Diego and Santa Fe.
For a Number Two step into the past, be sure to visit the impressive and beautifully designed War Memorial Park with its humbling display of the names of thousands of servicemen and women who offered up their lives in American-fought wars including: the Revolutionary through the Civil War, the two World Wars, the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, and now Iraq and Afghanistan. One wonders if it will ever end? A highly thought-provoking statue on site commemorates three soldiers who survived the Bataan Death March – two Americans and a Filipino. Actual footprints of some of the survivors of the march are imbedded in cement. They lead toward the statue and then away from it.
Dean especially enjoyed our Number Three venture into history, and we suggest at least a couple of hours at one of the finest interactive museums of its kind — and we’ve visited a bunch. This is the 47-acre, State-run Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum just north of the city. Be aware that this is not as plain a place as the name might sound. Rather, this center is a real winner with its outstanding displays that so painstakingly chronicle the 3,000-year history of New Mexico’s farming, ranching and rural life – linking the “family farm” for those who remember what those days were like — and also for those who’ve never experienced those days.
Here at this spacious center you will see the way the ancients lived. You can see an actual mud dwelling and even grind your own corn, as they once did. Depending on the day, you can enjoy well-planned demonstrations of wool carding and learn how the wool was dyed with the use of local plants and bugs – all a real education as to the way even modern-day Apaches, Hopis and Navajos still produce yarn for their marvelous rugs. You can also see blacksmithing , milking and other demonstrations, as well as exhibitions of farming as it is done currently — and in times gone by — with live animals that include corrals of cattle, horses, mules, sheep, goats, and burros – a real “Home on the Range” experience. www.nmfarmandranchmuseum.org

Stepping forward to modern-day Las Cruces (the crossroads of the Southwest), the city is one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the United States. Fed by the mighty Rio Grande, crops of many varieties are plentiful throughout the Mesilla Valley. The city itself, meanwhile, offers other numerous museums and impressive state monuments, endless outdoor recreation choices, including golfing, hiking, horseback riding, camping, and bird watching. The city also boasts several universities, including the New Mexico State campus, as well as excellent shopping, outstanding medical facilities, and fantastic scenery. Just seeing the brilliant sunsets reflecting off the breathtaking Organ Mountains is enough of a reason to visit Las Cruces. Hikers and campers love the Organ Mountains Recreation area with its many trails to sites such as Dripping Springs — once a retreat and health resort, now in ruins. The many and varied hiking trails are outstanding.
The impressive White Sands Missile Range Museum (established during World War II and still operating) and Missile Park are located just 25 miles northeast of Las Cruces, while El Paso, Texas, with three-quarters of a million people is 42 miles south. Birds and wildlife abound in the area, including such unusual species as roadrunners, horned toads and even African oryx, the latter introduced as game animals on the White Sands Missile Range during World War II. Nancy was especially impressed with our stay at the impressive Encanto Hotel which overlooks the city and the Mesilla Valley. The elegant Encanto is a property that features one-of-a-kind Spanish Colonial furnishings and intricate ironwork once used to accessorize hacienda gardens. www.HotelEncanto.com

Extensive lodging and dining choices are available throughout the area. All-in-all, as travel writers, we feel certain, if you go there, you will quickly come to love Las Cruces, New Mexico, as much as we did. However, if we all move there — as so many have been doing in recent years — the city won’t be able to contain us all. Nevertheless, we suspect the friendly folks there will be able to manage the “problem.”
One caveat: When driving in L.C., watch out for the “eye in the sky.” As we left the city at 5:30 a.m., slightly exceeding the 25-mile-per-hour speed limit, we saw a light flash. Then, on arriving home, we found a $100 speeding ticket in the mail. Not our best memory of an otherwise great visit.For more details, contact the Las Cruces Convention and Visitors Bureau at: www.MustSeeLC.org