Discover Las Cruces’s heritage in Old Mesilla Village (575-647-4767, oldmesilla.org), a traditional adobe community that’s played a prominent role in Southwestern history since 1848. Follow fifth-generation Mesilla Valley native, Preciliana Sandoval, on a La Morena walking tour (575-647-2639) to see landmarks like the Basilica of San Albino (575-526-9349, sanalbino.org) established in 1851. Lunch at La Posta de Mesilla Restaurant, Cantina & Chile Shop (575-524-3524, laposta-de-mesilla.com), a world-renowned destination for Mexican food and quality tequila. Any souvenirs you don’t find there can be found at Billy the Kid Gift Shop (575-523-5562), located in the courthouse where Billy the Kid was sentenced to hang. Recharge with a coffee from Wild West Exspress-O (575-523-5562) before driving back to the present day, and out of town.
1) Las Cruces sits at the center of an ancient agricultural floodplain of the Rio Grande. Explore the valley’s unique geographic features and petroglyphs as early pioneers would have seen them at the Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument (organmountains.org), then head to the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum (575-522-4100, nmfarmandranchmuseum.org) to learn about their formation. Round out your day of discovery with a stop at Fort Selden State Monument (575-526-8911), original home of the Buffalo Soldiers, then check in at Lodge on the Desert (575-523-9605, lodgeonthedesert.com) to soak in the views of the Chihuahuan Desert from your private suite. Head back to town for signature tacos at La Casita Café (575-523-5434, lanuevacasitacafe.com) and a film at the circa-1920s Fountain Theater (575 524 8287, mesillavalleyfilm.org). No matter what’s playing, the century-old murals and the real butter on the popcorn never disappoint.
2) Start your day sampling local produce, crafts, and flare at the Las Cruces Farmers Market (575-201-3853, fcmlc.org), host to more than 300 local southwestern vendors every Saturday. Grab an apple or two for your saddlebags before hitting the trails with Corralitos Trail Rides (575-640-8184, corralitostrailrides.com). You’ll explore old ruins, vistas, hills, and canyons, all on the back of a trusty horse or mule. For those prone to saddle sores, Frontier Adventures (575-526-2164) offers an assortment of horseback alternatives, from stagecoach to buckboard, to carry you on your old west excursion. Refuel on authentic Mexican cuisine smothered in green chile at Nellie’s Cafe (575-524-9982), then choose your afternoon activity: the White Sands Missile Range and Museum (575-678-2121, wsmr.army.mil), site of the first U.S. atomic bomb tests; Dripping Springs (575-522-1219) for a 1.5-mile hike to the ruins of a 146-year-old mountain camp resort; or the Zuhl Museum (575-646-4714, zuhlmuseum.nmsu.edu), home to a renowned collection of rocks, geodes, and petrified wood.
For the ultimate stay, time your trip accordingly. Come to town in March for Cowboy Days (575-522-4100, nmfarmandranchmuseum.org), an annual event honoring Las Cruces’s frontier era. Wait for June and attend the 17th oldest rodeo in the country, the Southwestern International PRCA Rodeo (elprodeo.com), just across the Texas border in El Paso. Or, for a spicier taste of southwestern history, wait for Labor Day weekend and the Hatch Chile Festival (hatchchilefest.com), a celebration of the Mesilla Valley staple.