Did you know that Rhode Island, the smallest state, can fit into Texas 221 times? No wonder that it seemed to take forever to us to drive from Mission, Texas to Las Cruces, New Mexico, a distance of 850 miles. Driving along US-281 to I-37 to I-10, miles and miles of flat prairie land dotted with an occasional ranch changed to dramatic craggy mountains jutting from a distant horizon the further west we went. Jeesh, what a huge state! Since we only like to drive about 200 – 250 miles per day, it took us four days of driving with four overnight stops to reach New Mexico from Mission, TX in the Rio Grande Valley. Easy on/off access along I -10 for our overnight stays at Rockin’ J Campground in George West, South Llano River Park in Junction, Fort Stockton RV Park in Fort Stockton and Desert Willow RV Park in Van Horn, TX. Reviews of all these campgrounds will be forthcoming.
Fortunately our drive was pretty uneventful except that we would occasionally have to stop at a border checkpoint manned by the Border Patrol. Not a big deal, usually we were just asked if we were US citizens, then told to have a good day.
Finally we passed through El Paso, TX in “the borderlands” and crossed the Texas state line into New Mexico. A short time later we arrived at Hacienda RV Resort (review coming) in Las Cruces. Known as the “City of the Crosses”, named after three crosses on a hillside marking the graves of bandits, Las Cruces (elevation of 3900+ feet), is the second largest city in the state after Albuquerque.
Seemed like once we arrived here all we did was ooh and aah and say wow! Everywhere we looked, there were magnificent mountains. Even though our plans were to stay here for only four nights, somehow we managed to squeeze in a lot of sightseeing and visits to a few popular restaurants. Here are the highlights:
Located within minutes of the resort, Old Mesilla (Meh SEE uh) which means “Little Table” is a historic town where the Gadsen Purchase was signed making New Mexico a part of the United States in 1854. It was also a favorite hangout of some famous outlaws such as Dutch Hubert, Nicholas Provencio, and Billy The Kid. In fact, it was at the jail and courthouse on the southeast corner of the main plaza that Billy The Kid was tried and sentenced to hang. With it’s interesting history as well as the 40+ shops and 11 restaurants (more about that in another post), Old Mesilla is definitely well worth a visit.
Dripping Springs Natural Area
After spending so many days riding in the coach, we were desperately in need of some exercise, so the day after our arrival we headed for Dripping Springs Natural Area which is administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) whose mission is “to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.” At Dripping Springs, there are several hiking trails, but the first one we decided to tackle, The Dripping Springs Trail, had historic ruins located at the end as well as the Dripping Spring itself.
It was a 3.5 mile (round trip) “moderately easy” trail from the Visitor Center. We were told the trail only had a rise of 500 feet. That didn’t sound too bad! HA! Wrong! Although the distance wasn’t an issue, the altitude sure was for those of us who are not used to it. The trail started at about 5500 feet above sea level and rose to almost 6100. Within the first few minutes we were both huffing and puffing but we continued on just stopping at the frequent benches to rest and catch our breath.
The trail leads to a narrow secluded canyon with towering 1500 foot high granite walls of Baldy Peak located on the western side of southern New Mexico’s Organ Mountains. The Dripping Springs are aptly named and the waterfall was in fact just a bit more than dripping when we visited. At times it dries up completely. It was here in the late 1800’s near the “weeping wall” that Colonel Eugene Van Patten chose to build Van Patten’s Mountain Camp resort which had 16 rooms, a large dining room and a concert hall. To get to the resort, visitors would board a stagecoach and endure a seven mile ride up the mountain. In 1917, Van Patten went bankrupt and Dripping Springs was sold to Doctor Nathan Boyd who would decide to convert the resort into a tuberculosis sanatorium because his wife had contracted the disease. Read more about the history here. Interesting seeing the ruins scattered along the canyon and reading about the history.
In any case the scenery on this wide well maintained trail is spectacular, both the distance views and the flora and fauna along the trail. Highly recommended!
Going down was significantly easier than going up! There was another trail which sounded interesting, La Cueva but we were too tired to tackle that on the same day.
La Cueva Trail
The next day, despite feeling a little sore from the Dripping Springs hike, we decided to return to the same area to hike the La Cueva Trail (cueva means cave) to the La Cueva rock shelter which is an archaeological site located at the foot of the Organ Mountains. One of the trail heads for this hike is located near the Dripping Springs Visitor Center.
In the mid 1970’s approximately 100,000 artifacts were recovered here by the University of Texas at El Paso who determined that the shelter was occupied from almost 5,000 BC through the historic period that followed the arrival of the Europeans and in the 18th and 19th centuries by roving bands of Apaches who frequented the area.
In the 1860s, the cave was reportedly home to one of the more eccentric figures of New Mexico’s history, Giovanni Maria Agotini, known to local folks as “El Ermitano,” the Hermit. The story goes that he was found lying face down on his crucifix with a knife in his back in 1869. He was 69 years of age when he died, having lived as a hermit for 49 years.
Although this trail wasn’t quite as challenging as the Dripping Springs trail, one section required walking up a steep smooth rock. Not too bad going up but a little difficult (for me at least) walking down it.
Whenever we arrive in an area, we always check roadsideamerica.com to see what unique and quirky attractions there are to see. It was on their website that I learned about the Recycled Roadrunner and knew that even though it was out of our way, we had to see it. This 20 foot tall and 40 foot long iconic “sculpture” made of “junk” is currently perched in a rest area on the south side of I-10. I didn’t get that close to it but Rob did. Here is his description “body feathers are sneakers, wings have crutches, keyboards and other crap and its butt hole is a round floor scrubber brush.” Pretty creative! Now if we could only see a real living (and much smaller) road runner!
Every Wednesday and Saturday from 8:30 AM to 1:00 PM, Main Street in Las Cruces is turned into a Farmer & Craft Market. The market specializes in locally hand-crafted items and seasonal local produce. Particularly interested in the fresh produce, we decided to add this to our agenda on a Saturday. Fairly large market with a lot of lovely hand crafted items but probably because of the time of the year the offerings of fresh produce were lacking.
We did a lot more during our stay here but we’ll save the rest for another post!