Las Cruces, New Mexico and the beautiful Organ Mountains surrounding the city

Las Cruces, a small town in Southern New Mexico, is a nice base location for exploring attractions in the southern portion of the state. Although the population is just over 100,000, it is the 2nd largest city in New Mexico. Las Cruces is most well known for being home to New Mexico State University, although it is becoming more of a popular tourist destination due to its’ convenient access to many natural wonders and blossoming art and foodie culture.

Las Cruces and Southern New Mexico in general are home to many great space related museums and attractions including the Las Cruces Museum of Nature & Science with a special exhibit honoring Clyde Tombaugh, the discoverer of Pluto, the New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo, and Spaceport America in nearby Truth or Consequences (also home to one of the top ranked mineral spas).

The origin of the city’s unique nickname, “The City of the Crosses,” is a mystery although several theories exist. One theory suggests that multiple crosses were placed as grave markers for the victims of the Apache raids. Another theory suggests that the crosses were erected after 40 travelers from Taos were killed just as they reached the border. Or, the name could simply mean nothing more than its’ Spanish translation of “the crosses.”

An outdoor lover’s oasis

The city is close to 3 natural wonders (Organ Mountain Desert Peaks, White Sands National Monument, and the Prehistoric Trackways National Monument). Silver City is also a hotspot for golf due to the mild climate most of the year. Perhaps, most notable is the city’s gorgeous location. The city is surrounded by the beautiful Organ mountains which offer plenty in the way of hiking and outdoor recreation. As the elevation of Las Cruces is just under 4000 ft and the towering Organ Mountains rise up to 9000, they create a pretty visually stunning backdrop wherever you go. All these factors make Las Cruces a nice vacation choice for outdoor lovers. However, it is best to plan your trip outside of the summer season as temps typically hover in the 100+ degree range for months on end.

Las Cruces is an easy road trip from Albuquerque (3 hrs), Santa Fe (4 hrs), El Paso (1.5 hrs), and Tucson (4hrs). If you are interested in hiking, exploring national parks, or simply enjoy Southwestern culture and food, do add Las Cruces to your Southwest vacation destinations bucket list.

Things to do in Las Cruces

Stroll around Old Mesilla Village

Historic Old Mesilia near Las Cruces NM

Mesilla is a historic community located just minutes from Las Cruces. Founded in 1848, Old Mesilla Plaza is now a National Historic Landmark. The traditional adobe style buildings remain and many are also on the National Historic register. It’s an interesting step back in time for anyone interested in Southwestern culture and architecture. At the plaza, you can browse through local boutique shops, browse art galleries, dine at local restaurants, grab a cup of coffee, or visit a historic museum. Numerous cultural events take place throughout the year including farmer’s markets, art fairs, and a popular lighting of the luminaries festival every December.

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend setting aside a big block of time out for Mesilla, however, an hour or 2 should do. There is a cute little Christmas shop and a great local coffee shop/bakery known as The Bean. There are a few interesting antique shops and lots of places to pick up little gifts, souvenirs, and knick knacks for the house. The restaurants we tried were all overrated, however, La Posta de Mesilla, although just average in the food dept.,offers a nice touristy ambiance with parrots, fish tanks, and a colorful design.

Burritos at La Posta in Las Cruces NM
A Chicken Burrito at La Posta
Fish tanks at La Posta in Las Cruces NM
Colorful fish tanks and parrots at La Posta De Mesillia
The Bean coffee shop in historic Mesilia, New Mexico
The Bean is your best bet for a quality cup of joe.

Old Mesilla village address: Calle De Principal Mesilla, NM

Hike at Dripping Springs Natural Area 

Beautiful views along the Dripping Springs trail in NM

The beautiful Organ Mountains surround the city of Las Cruces, making this small Southwestern city a nice vacation destination for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts. The unique mountain name comes from the fact that the steep needle like spires resemble the pipes of an organ. Although there are numerous hikes around Las Cruces, you will definitely want to plan first and foremost for a hike at Dripping Springs. There are 4 miles of easy trails including the most popular & most scenic, the Dripping Springs trail. This is without question the most beautiful hike in the area. Plus, the drive over is gorgeous in and of itself. As an added bonus, the hike is pretty short and not all that difficult. Really, who wants to go all out on a vacation?!

Pretty mountain views on the Dripping Springs trail in Las Cruces, New Mexico
Peaceful scenery on the Dripping Springs trail in Las Cruces, NM
Mountain scenery along the Dripping Springs trail near Las Cruces, NM
Waterfall on the Dripping Springs trail near Las Cruces, New Mexico
A small waterfall at the end of the trail. Quite small, yet impressive for the desert nonetheless!
Hiking the Dripping Springs trail near Las Cruces, NM
Taking a break to enjoy the quiet views at sunset. We were one of just a handful of people enjoying this gorgeous trail!
Old menstal hosptial on the Dripping Springs trail in Las Cruces, NM
Creepy Boyd’s Sanitorium marks the end of the trail. Once used as a hospital for TB patients and later a mental institution, it’s no surprise that this place is supposedly haunted!

The mountain views are terrific the entire trek and the scenery is quite green for the desert with lots of lush desert plant life in every direction. The trail is very secluded in nature, and thus, you will experience a true out in the wilderness experience. You may even see some wildlife along the route! We saw several mule deer near the end. If you get lucky you may see a coyote or even a mountain lion. Set out early in the morning, both for the cooler temperatures and increased odds of seeing wildlife. Note: set out early in summer – it gets really hot! Bring with extra water to account for the higher elevation.

Dripping Springs hike address: 15000 Dripping Springs Rd Las Cruces, NM 88011

Check out the eclectic Recycled Roadrunner statue

Recycled road runner statue in Las Cruces, New Mexico

Just west of Las Cruces off of I-10 (near milepost 134) lies an interesting art attraction at an ordinary roadstop. This eccentric 20 foot tall, 40 foot long roadrunner statue was made completely out of junk. This really is quite a random sight! Although it is easily visible from the highway, it is worth stopping for to get a more detailed look. Upon closer inspection, you will notice that a diverse range of materials were used in completing this oddball sculpture. As a bonus, the views of the mountains are pretty great!

Roadrunner statue in Las Cruces, New Mexico
A closer look at some of the materials used. Look at all the old shoes!

Roadrunner statue address: I-10 rest area just west of Las Cruces near mile marker 134

Worthwhile day trips from Las Cruces

If you are willing to drive again after finally arriving at your destination (which is a bit of a hassle I admit), there are some interesting places to explore within a few hours of Las Cruces. You might as well take the opportunity to see these unique places while you are within driving range. Who knows if you will ever be back in the region again! Here are a few of my top picks within 3 hours.


The world's largest pistachio in New Mexico
World’s largest pistachio is found in Alamogordo at Pistachioland, a quirky roadside attraction.

Alamogordo, a small community bordered by the Chihuahuan Desert, is a little over an hour north of Las Cruces. Interestingly, the city was the site of the first atomic bomb test. Also it is the site where over 800 Atari games were buried in the desert back in 1983. These games where eventually dug up in 2015 and sold for over $107,000!

Algamordo is conveniently located nearby the White Sands National Monument (the big must visit in Southern New Mexico), and although not worthy of the hour drive in and of itself, is a good stop for anyone visiting White Sands as it is just an extra 10 minutes away. Although tiny, the Alameda Park Zoo is worthy of a visit as it is the oldest zoo in the Southwest. For just a few bucks, you can get out of the car and stretch a bit and enjoy seeing a surprisingly diverse selection of animals for such a small space.

Alameda Park Zoo the oldest in the Southwest
Bald eagle at the Alameda Park Zoo - the oldest in the Southwest
Ocelot at Alameda Park Zoo - the oldest in the Southwest

Another offbeat site of interest is Pistachioland, a quirky little roadside attraction where you can see the world’s largest pistachio (30ft tall), tour a pistachio farm, and sample all sorts of weird pistachios flavors and even treat yourself to some pistachio ice cream on a hot day! You can also shop for all sorts of homemade gourmet goods, sample local wines, and even try some homemade fudge – basically you can do about anything here! If you love stopping at weird roadside attractions to break up your drive, this one will surely please. Really, it is just a nice little break to get out of the car for a bit before continuing on to Cloudcroft. Or a way to break up the long boring drive to Las Cruces.

Pistachioland in New Mexico
A peak inside Pistachioland. The space is massive. A fudge counter, a pistachio sample bar, gourmet foods, a wine sampling area, and all sorts of quirky knick knacks. A great break after all that driving!
Pistachioland in New Mexico
A view of the pistachio farm – take the tour if you have an extra half hour available!

Distance from Las Cruces: 1 hr, 15 min

Alameda Park Zoo address:  1321 N White Sands Blvd, Alamogordo, NM 88310

Pistachioland address: 7320 Hwy 54 70, Alamogordo, NM 88310


Mexican canyon trestle viewed from the scenic drive US 82 in New Mexico
The abandoned Mexican canyon trestle as seen from Hwy 82.

Cloudcroft is a tiny little town located within the beautiful Lincoln National Forest. Contrary to the surrounding desert landscapes, Cloudcroft (thanks to its super high elevation of 8600 ft )- is one of the highest located cities in the US). The cooler summer temperatures at this high of an altitude make it a popular place for NM locals to escape the heat. Also, it is home to the southernmost ski resort, so it’s popular come wintertime with both New Mexico and Texas locals. While nearby towns typically see temps well above 90 on a constant basis come summer, Cloudcroft sits at a comfortable 70 degrees on average.

Cloudcroft is a great choice for cooling down after exploring White Sands in the summer (where temps easily reach the 90’s early on in the morning hours). The extremely picturesque drive up US 82 is enough to warrant a visit. There are numerous scenic overlooks and lots of trails to enjoy. In Cloudcroft, you will find a number of local restaurants and more trails. Check out the Trestle Recreation area featuring a variety of trails from a 1/2 mile to 8+ miles. A few pics below of the scenic drive!

Pretty desert scenery along US 82 in New Mexico
Pretty desert scenery on US 82 in New Mexico
Mountain tunnel on US 82 in New Mexico
The only highway tunnel in New Mexico! Pretty cool to drive through!
Pretty overlook on US 82 near Cloudcroft NM

Cloudcroft Visitor’s Guide

White Sands National Monument

Lost in the sand dunes at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico

White Sands is the top thing to do on your visit to Las Cruces. This unique national monument is unlike any place you’ve seen before. And it is absolutely worth the hour drive from Las Cruces. In fact, most people visiting Las Cruces stay here just to get up and drive to White Sands.

Seeming popping out of the middle of nowhere in the Chihuahuan Desert of New Mexico are the strikingly beautiful & rare white gypsum sand dunes that make up White Sands National Monument. You can toss off your shoes and walk bare feet on the sand even on the 100 degree summer days as gypsum sand does not absorb heat. It feels as if you are walking on the soft white sands of a Florida Gulf coast beach. Although, instead of sunbathing, you will see tourists sledding down the hills! This is really fun! Do bring your own sled to save a few bucks over the expensive gift shop. Or check with your hotel (some hotels in Las Cruces have sleds available so check the front desk!).

Standing atop a large gypsum sand dune at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico
Enjoying the weird sand dunes at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico
Rare white sand dunes at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico
The gorgeous soft white gypsum sand dunes of White Sands National Monument in New Mexico

White Sands is definitely one of the strangest places I’ve visited out West – you really feel as if you are somewhere not of this world.  As one of the country’s most unique destinations, White Sands is totally worth a detour if you find yourself vacationing in southern New Mexico.

Directions to White Sands


UFO Museum in Roswell, New Mexico

Roswell is a bit further away than the other day trips on this list at a lengthy 3 hour drive. However, it really is worth visiting for the strange & unusual UFO museum. It’s one of those places you just have to visit once, especially with the strange history revolving around the supposed UFO crashes of the 1950’s. As you are just a few hours away, and who knows if you will ever be driving in this area again, you may as well take the opportunity to check out this eclectic museum while you are in close proximity.

At the UFO Museum, you can read through all sorts of evidence and arguments surrounding the UFO controversy. It’s fun and educational at the same time. Really, it’s a quirky one time attraction worth going out of your way for. Downtown Roswell is really out there, with all sorts of weird UFO murals, UFO themed light posts, and eclectic shops. You will find all sorts of weird alien souvenirs to add to your collection. There are lots of spots to take your picture with aliens. It’s worth a stroll around if you are into alien memorabilia.

UFO and alien gift shop in downtown Roswell, New Mexico
Alien decor in downtown Roswell, New Mexico
Roswell UFO photos at UFO Museum
Alien evidence at the UFO Museum in Roswell, New Mexico
UFO Museum in Roswell, New Mexico

Before hitting the museum, check out Stellar Coffee – they serve some of the most delicious espresso drinks I’ve ever had! Bottomless Lakes State Park, just 15 minutes south of Roswell, is also worthy of a visit. This pretty natural area consists of unique shallow lakes (17-90 foot deep) which appear deeper due to the bright greenish blue color of the aquatic plants. The funny thing is that these bottomless lakes are neither bottomless, nor lakes as they are actually sinkholes. Nevertheless, you can hike, swim, fish, take out your kayak or canoe, or rent paddleboats for the day. These bottomless lakes are a source of many spooky legends. These include creatures lurking at the bottom and stories of items mysteriously disappearing!

UFO Museum address:  114 N Main St, Roswell, NM 88203

More info on Bottomless Lakes State Park