Las Cruces is an excellent hub for exploring the local area as well as visiting areas farther out such as El Paso or Truth or Consequences! Here, I’m highlighting three of the fun and amazing gems to explore in or near Las Cruces.
What? Hahaha! It’s a pink elephant with purple spots! Whoa! That’s a huge chile! I know there’s a roadrunner around here somewhere too!
Words heard while driving into Las Cruces our first day. I’m growing to love all these towns that have statues spread throughout. Some are historical and educational; others are quirky and fun, like these in Las Cruces.
Gem #1 – The Roadrunner
The biggest, and most popular, sculpture in Las Cruces is the Roadrunner, by Olin Calk and Dan Smith. It’s on the hill above Highway 10 at the rest area. Just enter Roadrunner sculpture into your navigator, and you should easily find it. The Roadrunner sits on a perch with the most amazing view of the valley and surrounding mountains, so try to go on a mostly clear day for the best photos.
The artists made the Roadrunner from reused items and originally placed it at a city landfill to draw attention to consumption and recycling. It has since been refurbished twice and placed in its current location as a Lac Cruces landmark. The Roadrunner needs to have regular maintenance because many of its parts (like the tennis shoes) wear down under the elements, and because humans have taken pieces from it. Please don’t be one of those humans: Look, but don’t take.
Tip #1: Visit the Roadrunner on the way to Mesilla (keep reading for information on Mesilla.)
The Pink Elephant
The pink elephant is in front of the Elephant Ranch Bar on Picacho Avenue just outside of town. We never made it to the bar, but it seems like a pretty popular place and advertises live music. It’s also next door to the Mesilla Valley Maze if you want something more family-focused to do, though it’s only open during the Fall. If nothing else, there’s plenty of room to pull over and take a quick selfie as we did.
The Big (Red) Chile…and More
The Big (Red) Chile is in front of the Big Chile Inn on the same Picacho Avenue – just closer into town. Since I’m an RVer, I can’t really say much about the motel; but the chile is fun! From there, peek toward the intersection and you’ll see an unobtrusive smaller yellow chile. Look kiddie-corner from there, and you can see the horse above the Western Mercantile.
Farther up Picacho is a funky metal sculpture I wish I’d taken the time to get a photo of. It’s a woman about four feet tall in front of a shop on the south side of the street. Unfortunately, I can’t find anything online about her; so, she’s going to remain a mystery for a while. Do me a favor? Stop by when you’re there and send me a pic. Thanks!
Tip #2: Coming from the Las Cruces KOA, plan an hour or so to drive up West Picacho Avenue until it becomes Spruce, then turn around at Trivitz and head back down. Stop at La Llorona park on the Rio Grande and read the sign to learn why the river is so low. You can add some time and go for a meal or do some shopping while you’re on the east side of town. This route allows you to easily pull over at each of the sculptures and murals you want to see. There are plenty more around town, especially at some of the city and church buildings.
Gem #2 – Dripping Springs
Look to the east from the Roadrunner and you’ll see the Organ Mountains and Desert Peaks. These beautiful spires were our “front yard” view while staying at the La Cruces KOA, and I was excited to finally be able to explore them even if only for a short while. We’d left this until the very end of our time in Las Cruces due to weather and being busy with other things, so were now heading up there after work with only a couple of hours before sunset. We wish we’d taken more time for exploring the area.
Tip #3: Even for a quick trip to Dripping Springs Natural Area, give yourself at least 2-3 hours before sunset!
As you move toward Dripping Springs, you drive through the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. The sun might turn the rock into brilliant golds and yellows, or low clouds may lay over the craggy mountains like soft blankets. Either way, it’s gorgeous. You continue slowly up and up, with beautiful views of the mountains, passing signs for picnic areas and trailheads until – suddenly – you’re at the Dripping Springs Natural Area Visitor Center.
There, a nice gentleman told us we really only had about an hour before we had to be out of the park and gave us a couple of excellent suggestions: Hike La Cueva (Cave) trail from the larger picnic area back down the road, then drive to the other side of the parking area (outside the gate) for the best place to watch the sunset. So, we did just that.
Tip #4: Start at the visitor centers in parks. You’ll learn a little about what you’re going to see and hear in the area, and the volunteers/rangers are typically good at recommending the perfect trail and places for you to explore.
La Cueva Trail
The La Cueva trail also starts at the visitor center, so you can start at either end if you give yourself more time. According to the volunteer we spoke with, it’s faster getting to the cave if you start from the picnic area’s trailhead.
We hiked along the trail in the cool autumn air, geeking-out over new plants, admiring the gorgeous geology, and waiting patiently as a family of deer warily edged by us in the brush. Mom and Dad were keeping their eyes on us! I’m sure Dad would have rushed us, antlers down and hooves flying, if we’d taken one step toward their babies. He stood staunchly on guard as they moved behind him.
Of course, we were taking so many photos that we realized we weren’t going to make it to the cave and back before it got dark. It’s not far; there’s just a lot to see. It truly seems that every couple of steps, and certainly every twist in the path, brought new sights and perspectives. We explored the rocks a little where we’d stopped, then turned around.
We returned to the parking lot just as the sun was starting to set and drove the 30 seconds to the other side where the picnic areas are located. From there, we had a sweeping view of the valley and city of Las Cruces, with the Dona Ana Mountains off in the distance.
Even though we had a truly fleeting time in Dripping Springs, we didn’t feel rushed and just relaxed into the wilderness around us. What a way to finish off our time in Las Cruces!
Gem #3 – Mesilla
Ah, Mesilla! You will forever hold a place in my heart.
Day of the Dead
Mesilla, a small suburb of Las Cruces just 10 minutes from the KOA, is a quaint small town with historic buildings, shops, amazing restaurants, and a picturesque plaza in front of a beautiful Catholic church. This town, this plaza, is where we took part in our first Día de Los Muertos celebration (Day of the Dead.) We were particularly excited to attend and experience another culture’s traditions and celebrations of loved ones who’ve crossed over. It was beautiful!
Families brought altars to the plaza, which were filled with photos of departed loved ones. Around the altars were flowers, candles or lights, their favorite food and drink, and the traditional Pan de Muertos (bread of the dead), skeletons and sugar skulls. The crowd wandered around reading the notes, looking at photographs, and talking to each other about those who’ve moved on. Live musicians were in the gazebo and women showed some of their traditional dances. Canopies surrounded the plaza, filled with various foods, jewelry, and art. Brian and I just had to get our faces painted!
After sunset, they handed out candles (or you brought your own) and we walked from the plaza to the church’s cemetery about a half-mile away. There, someone gave a prayer then we placed our candles on the ground at the cemetery’s gate. In my understanding, carrying these candles from the celebration to the cemetery is about bringing light into the darkness for those who’ve crossed over. It was lovely and moving.
Dining in Mesilla
Earlier in the day, we enjoyed a scrumptious meal at La Posta. The restaurant was vibrantly decorated for Día de Los Muertos with an altar in the waiting area – along with their normal floor to ceiling bird cages and piranha tanks! It was packed full of people and the hostess confirmed it’s often that busy, so make reservations before you go! The restaurant has been around since 1939 and is still in the same family. Imagine all those old family recipes being handed down all those years!
Another lovely restaurant just outside of Mesilla is at the Lescombes Winery and Bistro. There, you’ll want to at least wear a nicer shirt or even dress up a little. It’s a great date night restaurant serving what I’d call elevated comfort food – Chicken Picado, meatloaf with a mango-chipotle glaze, beautiful ribeye steaks, various pastas, a number of seafood options, and more – all served with delightful wine (or beer if you wish.) I’d suggest reservations here as well.
Tip #5: Las Cruces is a good-sized town, so you’ll find the full range of restaurants there from mom and pop cafes to steakhouses and bistros to your typical chain restaurants. Mesilla has a few restaurants, all of which seem popular. We ate a café and a grill in Las Cruces both of which were good, but La Posta and Lescombes were memorable.
Walking around the shops in Mesilla doesn’t take long. Most are within a two or three-block area of the plaza. It’s small and lovely. You can also tour the old courthouse where Billy the Kid stood trial. Take a day and head over to Mesilla. Walk around a bit, sit in the plaza and people-watch, listen to live music if there’s a band in the gazebo, then grab a bite at one of the restaurants. If you’re there during a festival, be respectful and take part if you can. Enjoy!
Tip #6: Mesilla has many events throughout the year, most of which happen in the plaza. Their website is extremely helpful!
Tip #7: Visit Las Cruces! And don’t miss Mesilla and Dripping Springs while you’re there. We work, so two weeks didn’t give us as much time as we’d have liked especially when the sunset was around 5:30 pm. If you don’t work, a week or two would be time for some good exploring in the local area. Stay longer if you want to use Las Cruces as a hub for going on farther day trips. If you do work, visit when the sun sets later in the day or stay for a few to several weeks if you can. There’s much to see and do around Las Cruces!
Thanks, friends, for following along as we live the journey…