Miles of uninterrupted desert landscape rimmed by dramatic mountains, quirky attractions, spicy chilies and 350 days of sun a year make southern New Mexico my kind of place. And Las Cruces, New Mexico's second-largest city, is the perfect home base for checking out the southern part of the state.
The New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum in Las Cruces is a 47-acre interactive museum that chronicles 3,000 years of rural life in New Mexico. The main building boasts 24,000 square feet of exhibit space. Besides rotating exhibits covering various aspects of farming and ranching life throughout the ages, the building has meeting spaces, a gift shop and a theater.
The museum's outside area includes corrals filled with various livestock, several gardens and a blacksmith's shop.
Periodic demonstrations offered include, weaving, blacksmithing, cooking and crafts. Group tours are offered from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Monday through Friday and 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday.
Chili peppers are a big deal in these parts, and at New Mexico State University's Chile Pepper Institute Center for Chile Education visitors can learn scientific and fun facts galore about these hot little numbers. Take a stroll through the CPI's demonstration garden and see more than 150 different varieties of chilies, from the mildest bell to the hottest habanera, in a range of colors ranging from bright green to deep purple.
Mesilla, a tiny town located right next to Las Cruces, was incorporated in 1848 and has a lively history. Murders, drunken brawls, shootings, hangings and incarcerations were the norm back in the day, and even Billy the Kid spent some jail time there.
Today it is best known for its historic downtown and a couple of great restaurants. At both La Posta and the Double Eagle you can sip killer margaritas and feast on dishes featuring the area's famous chilies while hearing about various ghosts that are said to haunt the premises.
There is something appealing and otherworldly about the undulating miles of constantly shifting snow-white sand dunes at White Sands National Monument. It is touted as the largest gypsum dune field in world, with the sand here engulfing 275 square miles of desert. There are several ways to enjoy the experience.
Dune Life Trail is a one-mile loop hike on a family-friendly trail that is moderate in difficulty due to a couple of steep dune climbs. The 650-yard-long, fully accessible, Interdune Boardwalk snakes through the fragile interdune area for a look at the desert vegetation and geological features, which are explained on interpretive signs. More ambitious hikers might want to try the five-mile Alkali Flat Trail, which goes over unbroken dunes marked by posts.
Established in 1945, the White Sands Missile Range is America's largest overland military test range, spanning more than 2 million acres. The White Sands Missile Range Museum recounts the history of this 3,200-square-mile parcel of land from prehistoric times to rocket technology.
At the museum's Missile Park there's an outdoor display of 50 rockets and missiles once tested on the range.
Golfers looking for a unique venue can tee off at the nine-hole White Sands Missile Range Golf Course, the only course in the United States located on an active missile range.
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