Editor’s note: As The Royal Tour grows, and more destinations want to work with me, it is impossible to find time to go everywhere myself. After meeting the amazing staff of Visit Las Cruces at a convention, I suggested they might want to work with our writer Tamara, who is a bit closer, being based in Phoenix. Together, they came up with this awesome family itinerary showing off a truly spectacular destination I’ve had the pleasure to visit twice before. This is part one of two describing the trip Tamara and her family took, with part two including reviews from her three children in their own words. It is not to be missed! For more of Tamara’s writing, please click here to visit her index page.
I was fortunate to be able to visit Las Cruces with my family. Living in Phoenix, Arizona, it was only a six hour drive, which is something we have done many times driving to California. On our way to Las Cruces, we decided to take the more scenic route, driving through Globe and eastern Arizona on Highway 70. The mountains were picturesque in the cool crisp morning air, the sun shining down making the most beautiful shadows. As we drove further east, we passed numerous farms. This was a great sight to see for several reasons. We got to see the seemingly endless cotton fields as we drove by. My kids and husband both said the cotton fields looked like a giant snow blanket covering the ground. It was so fluffy and soft looking. It was also an opportunity to see all the “mighty machines,” as my two-year-old calls them, harvesting the cotton. Even as an adult, I found it fascinating to see the combine harvesters, tractors, piles of hay bales, and more. We even pulled over to grab some fallen cotton balls from the side of the road. But enough about driving to Las Cruces.
As we approached the city, we stopped at the famed Recycled Roadrunner. This giant roadrunner statue was created by a local artist completely out of recycled materials, like shoes. It resides at a rest stop on the hills overlooking Las Cruces. This was our first look at the valley and city itself, and it was a beautiful sight! Las Cruces lay before us, a mix of buildings surrounded by nature, and we all felt the excitement of exploring a new place after a long drive.
To start our visit, we stopped at Pioneer Women’s Park to get some energy out and eat lunch. This community park was near downtown, but far enough away to be peaceful and relaxing. It was not only a convenient location for us, but also a beautiful tribute to founding pioneer women. We played frisbee in the large field, picked some multicolored leaves from the ground, and played on the playset with the neighborhood kids. After our lunch, we headed over to the Railroad Museum, only a block or two away. The Railroad Museum was small, but full of train related history and fun. It is located in an old train depot along the Santa Fe railroad line. Outside, we got to see an actual train on the railroad and a historic caboose car. Inside, there were historical items from the 1800s on display. My children loved seeing the model trains, pushing the buttons to make them move, and playing with the train toys, too.
Our next stop was Downtown Las Cruces. We walked along Main Street, stopping into a few shops and museums along the way. One of our favorite stops was the Museum of Nature and Science. This museum was ideal for my children, with multiple interactive exhibits. We all learned about the natural history of Las Cruces and saw some native turtles, snakes, and other creatures. We would have loved to spend more time there, but it was getting close to closing time and we had more places to see. My husband peeked into the adjoining Museum of Art and I stopped into the Branigan Cultural Center, but we did not spend much time there for a number of reasons, the primary one being that my children were not interested.
As we made our way through downtown, we found COAS Books. This large bookstore resides on the site of the historic Hotel Don Bernardo, a pueblo style hotel built in the 1870s. I’m a hardcore book lover, and this was a remarkable bookstore. As the largest new and used book store in New Mexico, it has a variety of hard to find, out of print, and just plain awesome books. We decided to get a few books and a puzzle while we were there. We also stopped into Rad Retrocade to play some games. My children were especially excited about this stop. We bought some tokens and divvied them up, letting everyone choose their games to play. The arcade had a huge selection of video games in stand-up consoles that made my husband and me nostalgic of our childhoods. They had a wall of pinball machines, which we did not get a chance to play, but also had the classic skeeball – family fun for everyone! After a few games and lots of laughter, we decided it was time to make our way to the hotel, Staybridge Suites, for the night.
A notable aspect of Las Cruces was the displays of public art. Driving, we saw water reservoirs painted with southwestern themes sprinkled throughout the city. Near parks and city squares, we saw statues. In downtown, wall murals were painted on buildings. All of these were created by local artists honoring the culture and history of their city. It made a simple drive in the city an experience!
Thursday began early with a drive out to White Sands National Park. White Sands National Park was a highlight for the whole family. About 45 minutes outside of Las Cruces, this national park had it all. We arrived in the morning, having been warned that the wind can pick up later in the day, reducing visibility. We stopped at the visitor’s center first. Outside, a few rangers had a telescope set up and pointing at the sun. We had the unique opportunity to watch solar flares through a special filter on the telescope. Once inside the visitor’s center, my older boys asked the park ranger why the sand was white. We learned a lot about the gypsum sand dunes and the surrounding mountain ranges. The informational exhibits brought the history and challenges of living in the vicinity to life; after all, living in the sand dunes requires special adaptations. Only select plants and animals now remain in the dunes, becoming more scarce the further in you travel. Our first hike in the park gave us an opportunity to see the plants and animals native to the dunes. One particular tree stood out to us since its roots were exposed from the constantly changing landscape. After our hike, we went to a picnic area with good access to sledding. (Sleds to use on the sand dunes are available for purchase at the visitor’s center.) We climbed to the top of the dunes and slid down, dug in the sand, and enjoyed the almost alien landscape.
On our way back into Las Cruces, we stopped at the Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum. I will admit we did not spend as much time as I expected there, but that was because my children were pretty tired by this time. Even so, we had fun walking around the animal pens seeing the cows, sheep, horses, and donkey. My youngest son, who loves seeing the different tractors and machines, pointed out several historic machines on display as we read about their individual uses. There were also several fascinating exhibits inside. I particularly like seeing the art display of Las Cruces born photographer Wayne Suggs and the evolution of farm life in New Mexico. We were wowed with actual wagons, blacksmithing tools, home essentials, and more on display. There were even some original video clips and rockets related to the change from farm to military testing grounds. We learned about Billy the Kid and the beginning of cattle ranching, and got to see actual millstones used in local flour making. There was so much to learn and explore here, and we only scratched the surface during our visit.
Friday was more relaxed. We visited Mesilla Bosque State Park and Old Mesilla. The road to the state park was lined with local pecan, alfalfa, and cotton farms. The state park sits alongside the Rio Grande river bed in the Mesilla Valley with picturesque mountains in the background. The day we were there was particularly windy and cold, so we did not see as much of the area as I expected, but we learned a lot about the local plants, animals, and history. One of my boys pointed out that the river was dry, and we discovered that the course of the river has changed over the years due to damming and other factors. It was interesting to compare maps of the past to the present. The visitor’s center was a wealth of knowledge and activities for the kids. We did do a short hike and saw many different types of trees, grasses, and bushes with berries.
We continued to the beautiful tree lined Mesilla Plaza. My wind-chilled family was willing to take a look at the market and a few shops. The brick buildings around the plaza were once hotels and shops, some of which displayed the original oven-baked bricks used to build them. The buildings definitely had the feel of history and culture as you crossed the threshold into the shops. In the center of the plaza square was the bandstand commemorating the signing of the Gadsden Purchase in 1854. The market was filled with local vendors, which we were all too happy to support, especially the local raw honey. While we did not stop to eat lunch in Mesilla, we did sample some locally grown pistachios from Heart of the Desert. Of course, we came home with several bags of these Alamogordo grown pistachios.
Saturday was mostly a relaxing day at the hotel since it was the Jewish Sabbath. We had hoped to walk to the Alevy Chabad Jewish Center of Las Cruces, but it was a little far for us. We did have the opportunity to visit after the Sabbath concluded for some pizza, games, and Jewish learning. During the day however, my kids and I were determined to complete the puzzle we purchased at COAS Books our first day. We sat in the hotel lobby beginning after breakfast, and worked on the puzzle throughout the day. We took some breaks, put our feet in the jacuzzi, and ate some lunch, but always came back to the puzzle. We did indeed finish it before sundown. On one of the breaks, I took advantage of our hotel’s location and went for a relaxing hike along the Las Cruces Dam Trail. One trailhead was across the street from our hotel, making it an ideal start location. It was an easy hike along the top of the dam, with a stunning view of the city all around me. If nothing else, it was the perfect walk to relax and reflect on our trip thus far.
We spent our final day, Sunday, visiting Dripping Springs Natural Area and the renowned Farmer’s Market. We began the day at Dripping Springs enjoying the drive to the base of the Organ Mountains. We chose a short trail called La Cueva which leads to a cave once used by native peoples from varying time periods. Native peoples were not the only residents, however. The park ranger told us the story of a hermit who lived in the cave for many years. With its blackened, soot covered ceilings, it was interesting to stand inside and look out at the mountain range imagining living there. We did not stay long, since my husband and one of my sons did not join us on the hike. Once we returned to the car, we headed out to the Farmer’s Market in downtown. It is important to note that the farmer’s market is usually on Saturdays, but was delayed a day because of Veteran’s Day celebrations. This was to our advantage. While smaller than normal, we got to see local art, produce, and musicians. There were still a lot of people enjoying the market, and overall, it was a great way to end our trip. We got some snacks for the road, some gifts for family and friends, and enjoyed the beautifully hung ristras (dried chili arrangements) on display. Our stay seemed to end too quickly, but we piled back in the car and headed for Arizona.
There are definitely other attractions and areas we would like to explore more, but the benefit of a quick trip is that it leaves plenty more for us to do again. Next time we hope to see the Museum of Space History in Alamogordo, White Sands Missile Museum, and more hiking trails. And of course, we would love to spend more time at several of the museums and trails we visited already. We hope to come back and visit soon.
Can you believe there is more to tell? Click here to hear all about our family favorites from my kids and husband, in their own words!
Note: this amazing trip was made possible by the kindness and assistance of Visit Las Cruces. Thank you for hosting us and sponsoring our activities.
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