Las Cruces, a small town in Southern New Mexico which has been nicknamed “the city of the crosses,” is a nice base location for exploring attractions in the southern portion of the state. The origin of the name is not known 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.”
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 an increasing dedication towards becoming a destination for art lovers and foodies. Las Cruces and Southern New Mexico in general has a number of great space related museums and attractions including the Las Cruces Museum of Nature & Science with a special exhibit honoring Clyde Tomabugh, the discoverer of Pluto, the New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo, and Spaceport America in nearby Truth or Consequences (also known for its’ relaxing natural mineral spas).
The city is close to 3 natural wonders (Organ Mountain Desert Peaks, White Sands National Monument, and the Prehistoric Trackways National Monument), is a hotspot for golf due to the mild weather most of the year, and 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 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, you many want to add Las Cruces to your list of Southwest vacation destinations.
Things to do in Las Cruces
Stroll around Old Mesilla Village
Mesilla is a historic community located just minutes from Las Cruces. Old Mesilla Plaza was found back in 1848 and is now a National Historic Landmark. The traditional adobe style buildings remain and many of them are also on the National Historic register. It’s an interesting step back in time for anyone interested in Southwestern style culture and architecture. At the plaza, you can browse through local boutique shops, check out the many art galleries, dine in one of several dozen 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., has a nice touristy ambiance with parrots, fish tanks, and a colorful design.
Old Mesilla village address: Calle De Principal Mesilla, NM
Hike at Dripping Springs Natural Area
The beautiful Organ Mountains surround the city of Las Cruces, making this small Southwestern city a nice vacation choice for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts. The unique name for the mountain range 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?!
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. It is secluded in nature and you really get the feeling like you are out in the wilderness. You may even see some wildlife! We saw several mule deer near the end and if you get lucky you may see a coyotes or even a mountain lion. Your best bet is set out early in the morning, both for the cooler temperatures and increased chance of seeing wildlife. Note: it can get really hot here in the summer so be sure to set out early if visiting at this time! Bring with extra water to account for the higher elevation.
Dripping Springs hike address: 15000 Dripping Springs Rd Las Cruces, NM 88011