Travel

Las Cruces and Beyond

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We’ve rented a condo for six weeks in the Old Mesilla, just on the outskirts of Las Cruces, New Mexico. The steps to the second floor are a major chore when unloading the car (and will be again when we pack up; this time without Patrick’s help!) but the view from the balconies is worth the effort. From one balcony we have a view of the courtyard and pool of the complex and from the other balcony we can see the mountains and watch the sun set. It feels very Mexican here. We hear lots of Spanish everywhere we go; signs are in both Spanish and English; radio stations are often in both languages and the food, oh the wonderful Mexican food! We are about 50 miles from the Mexican border. As an added bonus all the trees were beginning to bloom just as we arrived! What a great March surprise!

We’ve passed through New Mexico on several trips but never spent a lot of time here. I’ve always sort of lumped it together with Arizona even though I’ve been told the two are very different. I chose a location in southern New Mexico because the temperatures would be warm. But the first thing that hit me was the history…

I remember studying the Gadsen Purchase and The Treaty of Guadalupe in school but there’s something about actually seeing the markers in person that makes it all come to life. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hildalgo ended the Mexican American War but left the possession of the Messilla Valley in question. The Gadsen Purchase, signed in 1854, resulted in the US paying Mexico ten million dollars for more than 29,000 square miles of what today is part of Arizona and New Mexico. Even after the treaty was signed, tensions still existed as a result of differences in maps and surveys but the purchase did establish what today is still the border of the southwestern United States and Mexico.

We’re definitely not used to the desert climate. When we first arrived we were shocked to learn the humidity was seven per cent. We lather up with cream each day but still find that our skin often feels dry and itchy. We can’t figure out why the temperatures feel warmer than the same temperatures do in Michigan. For instance, it was 68 degrees one afternoon when I was sitting on the balcony reading, and I finally had to go inside because it was so hot. Perhaps it has to do with the direction of the sun? On the other hand, we often experience very windy conditions, sometimes making it feels downright wintry! On my birthday weekend we had planned on going north to Taos and Los Alamos, but the weather refused to cooperate and we decided we didn’t want to encounter the snow predicted for that area. So we chose to sightsee in Mesilla. It was really chilly here as well. But the upside was we didn’t have to face any crowds when we spent the afternoon in Mesilla Square wandering through shops. We stopped for a drink and a snack in a local hotel and opted, because of Covid, to sit in the courtyard. Thankfully, they had heaters above and next to tables making it tolerable.

We also drove out to Organ Mountains Desert Peak National Monument. So bleak but beautiful. The wind was so strong we could hardly get the car doors open! But we we stayed warm and toasty in the car. We got back to the apartment and enjoyed a birthday cake Stephen and Sadie and the kids had surpised me with! Yummy!

The Organ Mountains provide a beautiful backdrop to the city of Las Cruces. On one of our first weekends we decided to visit White Sands National Park. Patrick had been there once before while visiting a friend. But for Bob and me, who grew up familiar with huge sand dunes on the southern shore of Lake Michigan… well, we weren’t sure what to expect. It’s only about an hour’s drive from Las Cruces to the park across the mountains. It appeared, when we arrived, that a lot of other people thought this was a good outdoor activity as well.

At the gate of White Sands we were greeted with this sign. It was absolutely huge and the date made no sense to us. Why wouldn’t it be year round? Bob suggested perhaps Spring Breakers?

The line to get into the park went quickly and we found families hiking, picnicking, even sledding in the sand. It isn’t really what we think of as sand but gypsum. And it’s snow white. In fact it looks far more like snow than sand! There is one road that meanders through the park with lots of places to pull off. We walked out on a boardwalk for perhaps a quarter mile but I couldn’t get used to the idea that it was just dunes and more dunes. I kept expecting to see a body of water appear!

Pat decided it was time for him to head back to DC. One plus of the pandemic has been the opportunity to be able to spend time with at least a couple of our kids. First, back at the start, now more than a year ago, when Cary got stuck in the US for a couple of months. And for the past few months we’ve been able to enjoy Pat’s company as working remotely has provided him the opportunity to travel with us. Having extended periods of time with two of our adult kids has truly been a gift! We found that Patrick could get a direct flight from Phoenix and since it’s not like we have a busy social schedule, we decided we we’d make the 5 hour trek and that way, he’d be back in DC a few short hours after leaving us.

By staying off the interstate once again, we saw some great Arizona countryside. And even some saguaro cacti!

Since we are big Cubs fans and also grew up near Chicago we really wanted to see the Wrigley Mansion. There’s also a great view of the city of Phoenix from the climb up to the residence.

Finally, we made a stop at the Japanese Gardens but were interrupted by rain. We also encountered rain on our drive back to Mesilla the following day. It only rains about 43 days a year in this part of the country, and they count the precipitation if it measures as little as .01 inch. We found it disconcerting to read about the fire warnings repeatedly. It appears that if something caught fire it would be difficult to contain it, particularly with all the wind!

And then there are the things sold on the street corners:
We often pull off to the side of the road to read historical markers:

And the state license plate, doesn’t instill a lot of faith in the understanding of US geography by its citizens. Really? You have to add the country? No other state on any of our borders needs to!

Like many places we’ve visited Las Cruces has a local market. There’s not a lot available in March and April, a few handmade crafts and of course, the the ubiquitous chilis. What huge sacks! And I was amazed to see how the heat level of the chilis was marked on each. (We’ve learned that the Scoville Scale measures the heat or spiciness of chili peppers!)

But while we weren’t surprised with the presence of all the chilis we were astonished at the number of pecan groves we saw. They seem to be everywhere! We couldn’t help but wonder where all the water came from to irrigate them! According to the state of New Mexico website pecans are the number one commercial food crop in the state. More than 67 milion pounds of pecans (in the shell) are sent to market each year. The website says that’s more than the combined weight of 67 Boeing jumbo jets. And it accounts for nearly 41 million dollars in sales! Who knew? We always thought of Georgia as the pecan state!

Sometimes we find we just have to make a trip to check out locales with unusual names like Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. It seems in the 1950s Hot Springs became Truth or Consequences, as part of a publicity scheme to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the radio show, Truth or Consequences, hosted by Ralph Edwards. Evidently, Ralph Edwards, who was popular in days past, used to visit the town annually to celebrate the Truth or Consequences Fiesta. And while Edwards passed away many years ago, the Fiesta celebration continues to this day. It’s a town of only 6,000 and they definitely make the most of the name year round.

Wikipedia describes Truth or Consequences as a small resort town in New Mexico. That seemed like a stretch to us! The town has an ancient hot springs but the biggest draw is the dammed up resevoir on the Rio Grande where people come to boat and swim. We drove out to the resevoir and Elephant Butte Lake State Park. As we paid the fee to get into park, we asked about what to see in the area. We really stumped the guy. He didn’t seem to know how to respond. I guess all the residents don’t seem to think of their locale as a “resort” area.

When I think of the Rio Grande I think of the border between the United States and Mexico and frankly, I didn’t know much more about it than that. We were surprised to learn that its source is in western Colorado and it gets much of its water from the snow runoff of the San Juan Mountains. It flows through Las Cruces as well as being the source of the resevoir described above. I always picture the Rio Grande as providing a welcome respite from the hot sun in the arid desert areas of the southwest. In reality most of the places we met up with it, the river looked very little like that description and more like the picture below. And we were visiting in March and April not during the heat of the year. But I did read that southern New Mexico is affected by the North American Monsoon Season (NAMS) from June 30 – September 30. I had no idea there is a monsoon season in the United States!

We’ve spent quite a bit of time in the southwest over the past few years, southern California, Arizona, Texas and now New Mexico. We are often befuddled by the number of border security stations we encounter. No where along the northern borders have we seen anything that resembles that. As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, I continue to be confused about their purpose. If it’s to prevent human trafficking that’s one thing, but it sure seems like the quick way the authorities do a visual scan as you pass through, that it’s more like profiling. And again as I’ve mentioned before, if I weren’t caucasian, I’d be really frightened.

We’ve had a wonderful six weeks in New Mexico. The weather has been great and we’ve had a lovely stay in a wonderful spacious condo. Our original plan was to head from here up the west coast of California ending up in Seattle for June but we’ve decided to take a detour. Bob has known for a while that he needs to get a pacemaker so we’re going to head from here to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, just a slight detour and then continue on our way west. Hopefully, the weather will cooperate as we make our way across the plains!

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