Las Cruces: Home of Country Music Fest and so much more
There’s a town in southern New Mexico known for its crosses. Las Cruces is even referred to as the “crossroads” because it’s located where the southern terminus of I-25 meets I-10, the major north/south and east/west roads in the state. El Paso, Texas is only 48 miles away, the Mexican border at 46 miles away in Santa Teresa, and Albuquerque is 225 miles north.
Las Cruces is the state’s second largest city after Albuquerque. Known as “The City of Crosses” it’s a popular place for culture, cuisine, nature, and recreational activities. This is where you find a mix of Mexican traditions and Spanish influence, as well as ranching and farming roots that define the early history of the area.
Agriculture is big business and the surrounding Mesilla Valley produces bumper crops of pecans and chile peppers. The area also has some of the best authentic New Mexican cuisine available. And this is where history comes alive for kids since Las Cruces and Old Mesilla were hangouts for notorious renegades like Billy the Kid and Pancho Villa.
Las Cruces Country Music Fest
Las Cruces hosts an annual Country Music festival in late April with stars like Kenny Rogers, The Charlie Daniels Band, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.
The city recently marked their 5th anniversary on April 28-30, 2017 with headliners Kacey Musgraves, The Eli Young Band, Travis Tritt, Tanya Tucker, the Marshall Tucker Band and my favorite – hometown Las Cruces sweetheart, Bri Bagwell. You simply gotta hear her song, “Banned from Santa Fe.”
Nowadays, Bri Bagwell is often on the road, having been named Texas Female Vocalist of the Year every year from 2013–2016. When I asked what she misses about her hometown, Bri promptly replied: “Although I’m tempted to say the food is the best part of my hometown (because it is THAT good!), I know that it’s the people that I love most about Las Cruces. They are a loving, supportive, vibrant group of people who make you feel at home whether you are a native or a visitor.” She makes it clear that her heart still belongs to the City of Crosses.
Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum
The New Mexico Farm & Ranch Museum is a top-notch museum part of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs. Spread across 47 acres, it tells the story of a 3,000-year history of farming and ranching in New Mexico.
The museum building is over 24,000 square feet and is rich in the stories of the people who settled and helped shape New Mexico: from Mexicans, Hispanics, and Europeans to Native Americans and Blacks. The grounds contain orchards of apple, pecan and pistachio trees as well as livestock pens of horses, sheep, burros, dairy and beef cattle. You might even catch a milking or blacksmith demonstration. In the distance, you can see the distinctive Organ Mountains – the beautiful backdrop to Las Cruces.
Las Cruces Farmers Market & Crafts Fair
The Las Cruces Farmers Market & Crafts Fair is open every Wednesday and Saturday morning from 8 a.m. – noon. This is a great downtown market with about 300 booths offering edibles and crafts ranging from pottery, jewelry, photography, and hand-crafted arts to local food products such as pecans, honey, organic greens, ristras, and freshly-baked artisan breads. Food trucks dot the street, serving everything from bagels and fried mini-donuts to sopapillas, hot dogs, and Navajo tacos.
I stocked up on fresh pecans and splurged on an artisan-crafted wooden fir bowl carved by Woody Hoffman of Hoffman Studios. It’s now a cherished possession.
Afterwards, head over to the Pecan Grill & Brewery for a famous Lava Burger or aged steak. Executive Chef Arturo Tovar is taking their cuisine to new heights and worth the detour.
Ask anyone about important historical New Mexican communities and chances are
they will mention Old Mesilla. While technically located within Las Cruces, it has a distinctive past with a rich and diverse heritage that melds together Indian, Spanish, Mexican, and Anglo-American cultures.
Located three miles south of Las Cruces on Avenida de Mesilla, it houses over 40 shops and several outstanding restaurants. Many of the 2,000 plus residents can trace their lineage directly back to original colonists of Mesilla.
Use the Basilica of San Albino as a landmark, as it easily marks the town plaza and can be seen for miles around. The Basilica of San Albino was established by the Mexican government in 1851, and then built of adobe in 1855. It is one of the oldest missions in New Mexico that is intact, offering masses in both English and Spanish. Today, it is a beautiful Romanesque style church built over the original 1908 adobe ruins. The bells in the church tower date back to the 1870’s.
Historic Old Mesilla is home to one of the oldest and best Mexican restaurants – La Posta de Mesilla. Many locals say that La Posta has some of the best traditional “New Mexico” Mexican dishes in the region as recipes have been handed down over the years. Order a margarita from what they claim is “the largest selection of tequilas and the best Margaritas in Las Cruces, NM area and throughout New Mexico and the United States.”
The La Posta Compound is on the National Register of Historic Buildings and houses an indoor patio filled with tropical plants, birds, and fish. Though somewhat quirky, it works.
Diagonal from La Posta is the Old Courthouse, once the abode of the state capital when Mesilla ruled the Arizona Territory. It is also said that the Gadsden Purchase details were hammered out in this building. After the civil war, it became a county courthouse and jail until 1882.
Though the adobe building has a special history, today it houses Billy the Kid Gift Shop. Be sure to check out the products and prices as they are some of the best in town. The store clerk told me that the building was supposedly haunted by a little girl.
This is where legendary Billy the Kid, a 19th-century gunslinger notorious for supposedly killing 21 men, was tried and sentenced to death by hanging. The date was April 13, 1881. After sentencing, the Kid was taken back to the courthouse in Lincoln. Along the way, he grabbed a gun, killing the guard. His escape from justice lasted only several months as Sheriff Pat Garrett hunted him down and shot him dead.
White Sands National Monument
White Sands National Monument, home of the world’s largest gypsum dunefield, is located about 50 miles east of Las Cruces on U.S. Highway 70, in the heart of the Tularosa Basin. With 275 miles of desert covered in glistening white gypsum dunes, it’s one of the world’s great natural wonders that must be seen to be believed. Plants and animals have uniquely adapted to this white-washed environment.
Recreational opportunities abound such as white sand surfing, boardwalks, hikes in the dunes, and tables for picnics. Be sure to bring water, wear sunglasses and a hat, along with a compass in case you get lost hiking the dunes. With endless mounds of white sand, it’s extremely easy to get disoriented.
IF YOU GO:
Las Cruces CVB – www.lascrucescvb.org
Las Cruces Country Music Fest – www.lascrucescountrymusic.com
Bri Bagwell, Country Music Songster – www.reverbnation.com/bribagwellmusic