Easy & Inexpensive Holiday Getaway
by Dan Davis
Las Cruces, New Mexico may not sound like dreamland, but it could be a great choice for you if you’re looking for a family getaway over the Holiday break. Since not all families ski, and San Diego has more appeal in summer, the Las Cruces area is a logical, easy and practical choice.
I know, I know, the Las Cruces area of southeast New Mexico looks just like Phoenix and yes, that’s pretty much true. But after I took a press tour in November with about 20 other travel writers, I can say without hesitation, point that car east on I-10 and get ready for a big surprise.
Without question your first stop should be the White Sands National Monument about 54 miles northeast of Las Cruces. Wow! Bring your sunglasses with you because the sand is WHITE and the sand is BRIGHT. But the most surprising thing I discovered is that no matter how hot it gets, you’ll never burn your feet. That’s because this isn’t your common Mission Beach, California quartz sand; this is rare gypsum sand and it doesn’t hold heat. Gypsum is an abundant underground mineral used in products like the drywall in your home. What makes White Sands a National Monument is that the gypsum is on the surface, runoff dissolves the gypsum and it all flows in to a basin, which doesn’t have an outlet. The net result is a world record 275-acre beach of shifting dunes and the look of a winter wonderland without the freezing temperatures…except on rare occasions. In fact if you’ve ever seen pictures of bikini clad models sitting or lying on the cold snow, the pictures were likely taken at White Sands.
Yes indeed my friends, it looks like snow and it sleds like snow…almost. Saucers work best and are available in the visitor center, and yes, it was great fun even for adults. Info: www.nps.gov/whsa
White Sands Missile Range
This is also a “must stop” spot on your Tour de Cruces, and it’s on your way back to town from the White Sands National Monument. And please note families: it looks like a “guy’s stop” but the women on our trip were just as fascinated with the museum and history of this unique place.
The White Sands Missile Range will forever be a place of world history because of the Trinity Project. This is the place where the world’s first nuclear bomb was built and later dropped on Japan during WW II.
After the war, German V-2 rockets and the famed German rocket scientists were brought here and America soon entered the space age. Besides the missile testing done here, other top-secret projects include developing better defenses against IEDs, or roadside bombs as they’re often called.
The museum is free, but you will need your driver’s license, proof of insurance and vehicle registration to go on base.
And there’s more!!
Southeast New Mexico is famous for it’s rich variety of chilies, especially the Hatch Chile. Chilies are such a big part of cooking life here, there is a Chile Pepper Institute on the campus of New Mexico State University. It’s free to visit and you can get more info at chilepepperinstitute.org
If you’re a sports fan, New Mexico State University has a home basketball game on December 28th against Prairie View A&M and you can have your own pre game meal at The Game, the official sports bar of the Aggies.
Speaking of good eats, check out the bar at the Double Eagle in Mesilla. The bar itself was pulled out of the old Drake Hotel in Chicago around 1900 and made it to New Mexico by way of a New Orleans warehouse.
The Double Eagle specializes in fine beef, and even has its own aging freezers to make sure the bovine makes for fine dining.
You should also save a night for eating at the legendary Posta restaurant. Its been in the same family for 70 years and serves wonderful Mexican food, with an accent on the locally grown chilies.
Artistry in motion
Las Cruces and neighboring Mesilla has a thriving art community. The new, modern Preston Contemporary Art Center includes a highly regarded Digital Imaging teaching laboratory.
And there are a host of small shops where the artists work in back and sell their work in front. One of my favorites was The Potteries, where we met two wonderful, longtime area pottery artists who have carved a well-earned reputation for their work.
Jeanne Rundell works her magic on a pottery hanging.
If You Go: