This is a living post, which I’ll come back and update as needed.
Hi, I’m Scott. I’m From New Mexico.
New Mexico? That’s part of Mexico, right? You must speak Spanish well, then.
Yes, New Mexico. No, not Mexico; it’s part of the US and has been since 1912. It’s between Arizona and Texas. And no, just because I live near the border doesn’t mean I speak Spanish well – just important words, like tacos, enchiladas, tacos, y cerveza.
Oh okay … I think I’ve driven through there before.
Probably. Lots of people take I-10 or I-40, which run right through New Mexico. In fact, my hometown Las Cruces is on I-10. It’s just that all you really see or smell is our waste facilities. Good planning, that.
Yeah, you guys must not have much out there. It’s all desert.
I guess that depends on what you’re looking for. New Mexico is called the Land of Enchantment for a reason. We have fantastic sunsets, great landscapes, and awesome food. Sure, lots of it is desert, but we also have mountains with pines and skiing as well as fertile farming valleys. It’s a unique place, and we’d just as soon keep it to ourselves.
Sounds interesting. So, would I want to fly into Albuquerque?
If you’re planning on seeing Santa Fe, Taos, or flying JetBlue, sure. But if you’re coming to the southern part of the state (where I live), you’re much better off flying into El Paso, which is only about an hour away.
El Paso, isn’t that in Texas?! How can you be so close?! I don’t understand …
You know how Texas has that little tip on the left hand side? El Paso is at the point of that tip. If you drive I-10 westbound about 40 minutes, you’ll end up in Las Cruces (the second largest city in the state).
What is there to do?
New Mexicans live on two things: food and the outdoors. There’s more to do in the northern part of the state than in the south, but we all love food. I’ll tell you more about that later.
Surrounding Las Cruces is the recently formed Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. Kind of a long name, I know. The jagged Organ Mountains are the most prominent feature of this new monument. They’re really fantastic; people who leave here always miss them. They offer a few hiking options. Dripping Springs will take you to some old buildings such as a sanatorium. Aguirre Springs is on the other side of the range and has over 50 campsites. You can also hike to the summit. For the especially adventurous, there’s the Potrillo volcanic field about 22 miles away.
Mesilla is a small town adjacent to Las Cruces. In the distant past, it was the larger of the two, but once they decided they’d rather not have a railroad, Las Cruces took it and took off. Regardless, Mesilla is one of the more expensive areas to live in (we joke that it’s a “Little Santa Fe”), and has a few things to check out.
- The Plaza, a nice place to hang out with some shops. including Nambe.
- Fountain Theater shows independent films.
May through September, Southern NM Speedway (at the Southern NM Fairgrounds), has weekly races. The season is concluded during the annual fair, which can be fun. There’s also a local wine festival in May, with surprisingly good offerings.
1 Hour Away
An hour northeast of Cruces is White Sands National Monument, which consists of several square miles of gypsum dunes. There’s no shade here, but it’s a fun place to get together with friends for a picnic or cookout. Usually we play games, sled down the dunes, or hike the trails. In the evenings, they sometimes have special events for the full moon or stargazing.
Hatch, NM is where Hatch green chile gets its name. They have a chile festival every year (never been to that) and an awesome little place called Sparky’s. Sparky’s offers a classic green chile cheeseburger as well as good barbecue. Definitely worth going; there’s pretty much always a line out the door.
Truth or Consequences is a dinky little town about an hour from Las Cruces. It’s main attraction is hot springs in the area. Spaceport America is not too far away, though, and they recently opened their Visitors Center.
2 Hours Away
Cloudcroft and Ruidoso are mountain towns about 2 hours away (and an hour from each other), in Lincoln National Forest. In the winters, people come here to ski or tube down the slopes. Cloudcroft is smaller, but there are some old wooden train trestles in the area that are pretty cool, as well as some observatories in an area called Sunspot.
There’s an Apple Festival each Labor Day weekend in Hillsboro, and a Cherry Festival the 3rd full weekend in June in High Rolls.
City of Rocks is a 1 square mile state park of crazy volcanic formations. It’s a neat place to just wander around, but also provides campsites and trails. The Visitors Center even provides restrooms with hot showers (NM is moving into the present)!
Hueco Tanks is outside El Paso to the east. There are rock formations and petroglyphs to check out.
3 or More Hours Away
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is not the best preserved specimen of caverns, but it has been open for over 100 years and is a cool place (literally and metaphorically).
Gila National Forest is a few hours away. Besides camping and hiking, there are Native American cliff dwellings here (I still haven’t seen them).
Bandelier National Monument: cliff dwellings and hiking.
The Ice Caves and Bandera Crater are near Grants, west of Albuquerque. Water trapped in a portion of a collapsed lava tube froze, and the temperature never reaches above freezing.
Albuquerque is the largest city in New Mexico. I’m sure there’s stuff to do (for example, the Paseo del Bosque multi-use trail along the Rio Grande), I just don’t go here other than to visit family.
Santa Fe is the state capital. It’s also the state capital of artsy and expensive. Some people love it; my favorite feature is that trains can’t blow their horns inside the city limits. The old downtown also neat to walk around.
Taos is supposed to be a beautiful area; I’ve never been here.
Roswell is 3-4 hours away from Las Cruces in the eastern part of the state. Of course, you can find all kinds of quirky things there.
Food & Drink
What, food doesn’t deserve a huge heading? It most certainly does! Let’s focus on food in Cruces (since that’s what a Las Crucen does).
This is not Mexican, and it is not Tex-Mex. You can get green chile on just about anything here. The essential question in New Mexico is, “red or green?”
La Nueva Casita – my favorite homey Mexican place. Small but big enough, in the original part of town, with always good food.
La Posta – huge Mexican restaurant in Mesilla, special mainly for its atmosphere (the food is just decent).
Breweries, Bar & Grills, Wineries
High Desert Brewery – local brewery with food. Packed out on Friday nights.
Bosque Brewery – brewery from Albuquerque. The Las Cruces location is across from the university and doesn’t serve food.
The Game – sports bar very close to Bosque Brewery. This place has an amazing concoction called the Corked Bat Burger: a bacon cheeseburger with pecan encrusted green chile strips. I don’t think you’d find that combo anywhere other than Las Cruces.
Farley’s – Sports bar meets Texas Roadhouse, maybe? Neat atmosphere, with a rocket hanging from the ceiling and billiard tables.
Double Eagle (Pepper’s Grill) This place is two restaurants in one facility, and they have an amazing bar. Seriously. The food is good, too, and Pepper’s has the less expensive version of the menu.
Vintage Wines is small but has a nice selection of beers, wines, and tapas.
Coffee! (and breakfast)
Milagro Coffee y Espresso – This is the best coffee shop in town, hands down. My favorite drinks are the iced Americano and the cappuccino. Other good things include their bagels with flavored spreads and their pastries (the almond croissant and peanut butter cookie are awesome).
Cafe de Mesilla – good, well decorated coffee shop in Mesilla, now with a full breakfast menu (and it’s all good).
Mesilla Valley Kitchen – home of fantastically large cinnamon buns that go quickly. They have other good food, too.
The Shed – Quite small, with good breakfast food. I’m not sure about the coffee, though.
Desserts and Pastries
Le Rendez-vous Cafe is run by a French pastry chef and his wife. Good for breakfast and lunch, also.
La Fiesta Bakery is the best place to get donuts, empanadas, filled croissants.
Caliche’s Frozen Custard is a great local must-try. They have all kinds of great stuff made out of your choice of vanilla or chocolate frozen custard and add-ins. I particularly like a Straw-anna out of chocolate with almonds. In the fall, they have one with chunks of pumpkin pie. Mmm…
Pho A Dong – some say it’s the best Vietnamese restaurant in all of Las Cruces AND El Paso.
Thai Delight or Renoo’s Thai – Rumor is there’s a rivalry between these two. All I know is, it’s good to have Thai options (even if they are on the expensive side).
Mediterranean and Middle Eastern
Sheba Grill – A Middle Eastern restaurant that seems to always be empty, but has fantastic food. I keep getting the gyros and shawarma, but other things are quite good, too.
Santorini – Mediterranean restaurant across from the university. I haven’t been in since they expanded, but I think their gyro sandwich beats Tiffany’s, and for a while their tzatziki sauce was better.
Tiffany’s Greek and Pizza – So why go to Tiffany’s? Because Santorini doesn’t give seasoned fries with their sandwich, and sometimes I just gotta have some seasoned fries with my gyro, ya know?
International Delights – excellent fresh hummus, decent coffee and espresso drinks, and some other good food items. But I wish they served the bagel with lox all day.
Zeffiro Pizzeria Napoletana – Awesome Naples-style pizza; I especially like the lemon asparagus one. They have pastas and salads, too. Pizza is sit down only. It’s the only place in town with house seltzer water to my knowledge.
Zeffiro New York Pizzeria – near the university, they have a $6 special: 2 large slices (or 1 slice and a salad) and a small drink. Good stuff; the white pie is fantastic.
Valley Pizza is a great option when you just want a good, greasy pizza. The Enchilada pizza is my favorite. Delivery is inexpensive.