Las Cruces NM: Exploring the White Sands
By Steffi Porter
Las Cruces, New Mexico is a town full of Mexican culture, authentic Mexican food, beautiful scenery, hot chile peppers and spicy margaritas. From dining at The Shed for breakfast, to taking in the beauty of the White Sand Dunes, there is never a dull moment in Las Cruces.
Sledding in the Desert
Everything is white—the sandy earth beneath my feet, and hilly landscape that pans out for miles before me. I stand at the top of the dune, round plastic sled in hand, squinting in the desert sun. And then I begin my descent.
Seated on the sled, legs out straight, hands gripping the sides to stay put, I whiz down through the bleached white snow, Ninety degree air and fast wind whipping my hair around my face, until I come to a peaceful landing at the bottom of the dune.
Then I climb back to the top.
A person could probably do this many times before getting tired of it. The White Sands National Monument goes on for miles, and attracts many tourists because of its truly unique history and layout. There are not many places you can go to see nothing but white, sandy hills, with the occasional tiny lizard scurrying under shrubbery to keep cool. And although it may not sound like it, visiting the white sand dunes can be an adventure.
Not Just a Winter Activity Anymore
Sledding may typically be a winter activity, but in Las Cruces, a desert city with a boasted 350 days of sunshine per year, the chilly weather activity has been revamped to accommodate a warmer climate.
And so sledding in the dunes was invented, and grew into a pretty popular activity for those visiting this attraction. And it is exactly as it sounds. Seated on a sled at the top of the dunes, you can sled down just as you would in snow, without all the warm clothing and without getting wet.
“We have a really unique geography here,” said Rebecca Wiles, Chief of Interpretation for White Sands National Monument. “There is a surprising amount of wildlife out here too.” That wildlife consists mostly of many species of birds and lizards, and bobcats as well.
The gypsum dunefield covers 275 square miles, and White Sands National Monument protects 41% of that dunefield, making that percentage open to tourist exploration.
The monument stretches on for 73,000 miles of explorable space. The rest of the 143,000 acres of land is on White Sands Missile Range or Holloman Air Force Base property.
A Popular Place to Spend the day in Las Cruces
With 490,000 visitors to White Sands in 2013 alone, the dunes offer a lot more than just sledding.
“Sledding is very popular,” said Wiles. “Visitors can also hike, bird watch, take pictures, picnic, star gaze, backcountry camp, and enjoy a ranger-led sunset stroll or other program.”
Welcome to Las Cruces
Nestled between the Rio Grande River and Organ Mountains, Las Cruces sits in the Mesilla Valley and is a hub of Mexican culture and a draw for American tourists.
There is no shortage of unique experiences to have in Las Cruces, New Mexico. You can sled down the white sand dunes, dine in one of many authentic Mexican restaurants, sip margaritas, and visit Historic Old Mesilla. In April, 2014, another attraction drew crowds to this unique New Mexican city—the Las Cruces Country Music Festival.
The festival roared on every night, the weekend of April 25. During the day tourists drawn in by the appeal of famed country performers could explore the historic city of Las Cruces. Whether strolling through a weekly farmer’s market or going to a chili pepper tasting, there is always something to do in Las Cruces.
Jars of Honey
Every Saturday on Las Cruces Avenue, there is a farmer’s market with an abundance of hand-made, unique items for sale, food to eat and stores to browse around.
It was while walking around this market on a sunny, blustery Saturday morning, that I met Thomas Gibson, selling simple jars of homemade “wildflower honey.”
Gibson, 68, has been harvesting and selling honey since 1987, and says he doesn’t add anything to the honey, or heat it, and that really, the bees do all the work.
“I do excellent business here,” he added. “I’m here every Saturday.”
Not too far from Las Cruces, is Old Mesilla, a historic, old town with authentic mexican restaurants and locally owned businesses.
While exploring Old Mesilla, I happened upon Tres Manos Weaving of New Mexico, who boast “the most beautiful hand-woven shawls, scarves, and light jackets you can imagine. A luxury that’s affordable and will last a lifetime.”
Tres Manos Weaving of New Mexico, Inc. is a nonprofit organization helping low income people of southern New Mexico increase their income through free weaving training and sales of hand woven items.
“We help low income women, but helping them to get off welfare,” explained weaver Irene Hernandez, who has been with Tres Manos for eleven years.
Chile Peppers in Abundance
Established in 1992, the Chile Pepper Institute holds chili tastings in Las Cruces, “educating the world” about chile peppers.
So what is a chile pepper tasting exactly?
It starts with a table and some bottles of hot sauce, ranging from mild to extremely hot. Though, to the less experienced taster, even the mild is hotter that most hot sauce you find in stores.
With its home base at New Mexico State University, the Chile Pepper Institute is the only international, nonprofit organization devoted to educating people on and researching chile peppers.
Las Cruces Country Music Festival
Each Day in Las Cruces drew to a close with performances by Chase Bryant, James Wesley, Cassadee Pope, Bri Bagwell, Casey James and Charlie Daniels Band.
The festival drew crowds, as music blared through the streets of downtown Las Cruces, and people danced and sang along.
The festival was put on by the Las Cruces Convention and Visitors Bureau, calling it a “three-day celebration of country music in downtown Las Cruces,” featuring performers from Nashville and all around the country.
In Las Cruces, you can come for the country music festival and stay for the food, and the kind of tourist experience you cannot get anywhere else.
Steffi Porter is a creative writer and journalist who has written for The Daily Hampshire Gazette, Hearst Newspapers and the Houston Chronicle. She is a former writer and editor for her college paper, the Massachusetts Daily Collegian and a graduate of the Institute for Political Journalism and the Fund for American Studies
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