Historic Old Mesilla, the Gila National Forest and Cliff dwellings, White Sands National Monument and Elephant Butte Lake are just a few of the many Las Cruces area attractions. Ski Apache is also located a couple of hours away in Alto.
Bosque Del Apache
Bosque del Apache means “Woods of the Apache” named for the Apaches that routinely camped in the riverside forest. Over 700 years ago Piro Indians came to the valley for its fertile soil with abundant plant and animal life. These pueblo dwellers farmed, raised turkeys, gathered wild fruit and hunted wildlife. Eventually they were replaced by the Apaches. Bosque del Apache was established as a National Wildlife Refuge in 1939 to provide a refuge and breeding grounds for migratory birds and other wildlife. The refuge covers over 30,000 acres and is located on the northern edge of the Chihuahuan desert and straddles the Rio Grande approximately 100 miles north of Las Cruces (take I-25 north to exit 124). The heart of the refuge is a 7000 acre section of wetlands and farmlands. To the east of the wetlands the refuge rises through arid foothills to the San Pascual Mountains. It is bordered on the west by the Chupadera Mountains.
Dripping Springs – Located on the western slope of the Organ Mountains, Dripping Springs is a hidden oasis and spring providing respite for humans and animals alike. The Dripping Springs Natural Area, noted for its “weeping walls,” has over four miles of easy hiking trails, including the Dripping Springs Trail, which shows off desert scrub and low elevation pinon-juniper and oak woodlands. The area also boasts excellent wildlife viewing opportunities, including excellent year-round viewing of red-tailed hawk, Gambel’s quail, golden eagle and rock squirrel. Protected from hunters – Mule Deer are plentiful in this area and the area is also a place to see gray fox, black tail jack rabbit, cougar, and bobcat. To reach Dripping Springs take University Ave. east which becomes Dripping Springs Road. Pass the NM Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum and follow the paved road until it becomes dirt, then follow the signs to A.B. Cox Visitors Center. The gate closes at 8:00pm.
Info: 575.525.4300 or www.blm.gov/nm
Elephant Butte Lake
Elephant Butte Lake – 45 miles long – is the largest in New Mexico and the State’s premiere location for fishing, swimming, and boating. Jet skiing, water skiing, and parasailing are very popular. Sailboat regattas and dragboat races occur regularly. Rental of boats, fishing gear, and skiing equipment can be done at one of the lake’s three marinas. Guided tours & houseboat rentals are also available. The Inn at the Butte located near the park entrance offers lodging and dining. The lake is well known by fishing enthusiasts for its trophy size bass fishing. Elephant Butte State Park entrance is accessed off State Rd. 195 (Exit 83 off I-25). The Oasis Golf Course just off SR195 offers a challenging afternoon.
Info: 575.744.5998 or www.elephantbuttelake.net
White Sands National Monument
White Sands Located at the northern end of the Chihuahuan desert, the Tularosa Basin is home to one of the world’s greatest natural wonders. Covering 275 square miles of desert, the great wave like dunes of white sand are a product of largest gypsum dune field in the world. Only a few species of plants grow fast enough to survive burial by the moving dunes, but several types of small animals have adapted by evolving to blend in with the sands’ white color. Open year round there are Ranger-Guided walks and moonlight tours in the summer. There is an eight mile scenic drive and a convenient Visitor’s Center with museum & gift shops. An extraordinary place to visit, White Sands National Monument preserves this environment and the animals and plants that have made it home.
Info: 575.679.2599 or www.nps.gov/whsa
Ruidoso – Inn Of The Mountain Gods
At an elevation of 7000 ft. in the cool pines of the Lincoln National Forest, Ruidoso sports a horse racing track and features live horse racing from late May through Labor Day. The fabulous Hubbard Museum of the American West, and numerous golf courses, along with great dining and shopping are some of the other Ruidoso attractions. Just outside the town lies Ski Apache, run by the Mescalero tribe of Apaches. Ski Apache boasts great skiing from November through March on the North face of the 12,003 ft. peak of Sierra Blanca. The surrounding forest is perfect for hiking, mountain biking, camping, hunting and fishing. Ruidoso also claims two of New Mexico’s finest casinos as well as golf courses, horseback riding, art galleries, museums, shopping, and fine dining. Lodging includes cabins, resorts, hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts, RV parks, campgrounds, condos, and homes.
Info: 575.258.8822 or www.ruidoso.net
Gila National Forest
The Gila Wilderness is one of the least developed and remote National Forests in the southwest. It covers 3.3 million acres of publicly owned forest and rangeland. It is the sixth largest National Forest in the continental United States and its geography and wildlife are extremely diverse. Hiking, camping, and fishing are some of the many attractions. At the edge of the Gila National Forest sits the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, a forty two-room collection of homes which people of the Mogollon culture constructed in sandstone caves over 700 years ago.
Info: 575.388.8201 or http://www.fs.usda.gov/gila/
Historic Old Mesilla
Old Mesilla Plaza – Mesilla was originally a Spanish settlement that was part of Mexico. Referred to as “La Mesilla” by Spanish speakers, it was founded in the early 1800s and the village residences and shops grew around the Plaza and San Albino Catholic Church, one of New Mexico’s most historic churches. In 1854 the Gadsden Purchase, signed on the historic Mesilla Plaza, made Mesilla a part of the United States. Many of Mesilla’s buildings date back to the mid 1850s and have been restored and preserved as examples of adobe territorial architecture common during that era. Mesilla is home to a weekly farmer’s market and features many gift shops and specialty stores. The Fountain Theatre, located just off the famed Plaza, features foreign and alternative films nightly and there are several restaurants on and off the Plaza that are not to be missed!
Info: 575.524.3262 or www.oldmesilla.org
The Oñate Trail
A relaxing drive down the Oñate Trail is a great way to spend a lazy afternoon.
In 1598, when Don Juan de Oñate moved his caravan north from Mexico into what would later become the Territory of New Mexico, he established a route that was to become El Camino Real, the Royal Road. It was the first and, for a while, the longest European road in North America. It is believed that Oñate camped just west of what is now the plaza in Old Mesilla, and today you can follow part of this historic trail.
Starting in Mesilla and traveling south down Highway 28, it is a relaxing drive through Pecan Groves, villages and fields of chile and cotton with some interesting stops along the way.
Six miles to the south is the world’s largest family- owned pecan farm. Stahmann Farms has 180,000 trees and produces between 8 and 10 million pounds of pecans annually. They also sell a wide variety of pecan goodies from flavored pecans to pecan candies and pies. All are produced right here in their candy plant.
Continuing south, you pass through the village of San Miguel, with its charming rock church, and La Mesa, home of the well-known Chope’s Restaurant and Bar, which has some of the best Mexican food in the valley.
Just past Gadsden High School is the Nutcracker Suite at Petit Farms. This 200-acre farm has pecan trees dating back to 1928 and is a family run business.
At New Mexico’s oldest winery, La Vina Winery, the ancient tradition of winemaking continues along the Don Juan de Oñate trail. The winery provides state-of-the-art winemaking facilities and a tasting room as well as grounds and a patio suitable for weddings, picnics or any special event. La Viña hosts a Harvest Festival and Grape Stomp each year in October and a Blues & Jazz Festival in April, as well as an old fashioned country picnic and open house on July 4th.
On the east side of the Organ Mountains is a year-round spot where you can hike, mountain bike, camp, or have a picnic in the breathtaking mountain scenery. There are two trails in the area. Baylor Pass is a six-mile trail starting on the east side of the mountains and ascending to the top of Baylor Pass, approximately 5,500 feet. From the top, you can see the Rio Grande Valley to the west and the shimmering dunes of White Sands National Monument to the east. This trail can only accommodate hiking and horseback riding. The Pine Tree Trail is a four-mile loop that takes about three hours to complete and is for hiking only. Aguirre Springs is the site of the famous Baylor Pass Run held each November. Bring your own water. Located 22 miles northeast of Las Cruces on Highway 70 east.
The first settlers came to the Tularosa area in 1861. Here they found the soil rich and an abundance of water flowing down the canyon which made for an excellent place to start a new frontier town. Tularosa today is a great place to go antiquing and don’t forget to check out the Donkey Dust Cafe.
The Mescalero Apache reservation is located along Highway 70 on the western slopes of the Lincoln National Forest and home to the Mescalero Indian tribe. The reservation offers a museum and cultural center, Casino Apache and Travel center, Ski Apache and a scenic golf course at the Inn of the Mountain Gods. Selected tribal ceremonies are available for public viewing.
Cloudcroft, at 9000 ft. above sea level, is a quiet village with a population of just 750 people and surrounded by the Lincoln national Forest. The town has a wealth of recreational activities and festivals. Biking, mountain biking, fishing, horseback riding, plus snow tubing and cross-country skiing areas in cloudcroft available. The center of the town has an Old West look with numerous shops and restaurants. Be sure to visit the historic Lodge at Cloudcroft, which boasts a turn-of-the-century main building, a fabulous dining room and is rumored to be haunted. There is also an excellent mountain design golf course at the Lodge.
Fort Seldon National Monument
Established in 1865 to protect settlers from outlaws and Apaches, this state monument is a short 13-mile drive north of Las Cruces. Ft. Selden once housed an infantry and cavalry company including the Buffalo Soldiers. General Douglas MacArthur also spent several years of his childhood here in the 1880s. The monument features trails and exhibits.