New Mexico's second-largest city boasts an award-winning farmers market, a thriving performing arts scene, and a national monument that affords scenic views — and endless opportunities for outdoor adventure — in all directions.
Cruising north along Interstate 25, it feels as though El Paso and Las Cruces flow into each other. In many ways, they are knitted together. With a 46-mile downtown to downtown commute, the cities have distinct identities but share climate and culture. Indeed, one of the best parts of visiting El Paso is having three cities — El Paso, Ciudad Juárez, and Las Cruces
— and three states — New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico's Chihuahua — at your fingertips.
Home of New Mexico State University, Las Cruces is a bustling city with a youthful spirit. Families flock to New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum, which explores 4,000 years of the state's agricultural history through life-size displays of pit houses, canning rooms, and general stores. The twice-a-week Farmers and Crafts Market of Las Cruces is also a popular spot for families, as they wander the downtown, year-round market among artisan booths and those overflowing with seasonal crops. The 1926 Rio Grande Theatre is the centerpiece of downtown Las Cruces. The 426-seat theater hosts three to four events each week, from modern classic movie nights to touring cello virtuosos.
The outdoors draws visitors to New Mexico's second largest city. Established in 2014, the 496,000-acre Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument protects lands where Billy the Kid and Geronimo roamed, including the iconic Organ Mountains whose pipe-like peaks play backdrop to the nearby city. Divided into four discrete areas, the monuments' Chihuahuan desert and alpine hiking trails give a sampling of the diverse landscapes, wildlife, and geology here. Hikers and horsemen head to the Dripping Springs Natural Area and Aguirre Spring Campground, two popular destinations. The terrain is similar, though the routes are gentler at the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Park, in the Dona Aña Mountains to the northeast of Las Cruces.
A stone's throw away, at the Prehistoric Trackways National Monument, hikers can walk alongside dinosaur footprints dating back 280 million years ago. Also 25 minutes from Las Cruces, Leasburg Dam State Park also offers nature trails, camping, and picnicking along the meandering Rio Grande as it wends its way south to the Gulf of Mexico.
Plaza de Las Cruces
The downtown plaza features a pedestrian walkway, a working large-scale sundial, a stage for community concerts, and a splash pad for kids. It's also a fitting jumping-off point for exploring the city's fascinating museums: The Branigan Cultural Center showcases 400 years of local history, while the Museum of Art houses changing contemporary art exhibitions displaying the work of regional and national artists. Or discover prehistoric life and the intricacies of the Chihuahuan Desert at the Museum of Nature and Science.
Organ Mountains–Desert Peaks National Monument
This monument protects wild Chihuahuan Desert habitat, Native American petroglyph sites, and stops along the Butterfield stagecoach trail. Immerse yourself in the land's natural beauty by hiking 4 miles of trails at the Dripping Springs Natural Area — or pitch a tent at the popular Aguirre Spring Campground, a popular spot for hiking and horseback riding.
New Mexico State University Chile Pepper Institute
Housed on the campus of New Mexico State University, this international nonprofit organization is devoted to chile pepper education and study. University researchers discover and create new chile pepper varieties here. See some during a tour of the demonstration garden — just don't sample before asking.
HERITAGE, ARTS AND CULTURE
Rio Grande Theatre
Built in 1926, this theater is much more than a historical landmark; it's thriving once again as a stellar performance venue. The 426-seat theater hosts three to four events each week, from modern classic movie nights to touring cello virtuosos. The fully restored two-story adobe theater is the only one of its kind still operating in the country and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Farmers and Crafts Market of Las Cruces
The year-round market takes over downtown on Saturday and Wednesday mornings. In 2011, during the market's 40th anniversary, America's Farmland Trust named it the No. 1 large farmers market in the country. In addition to fresh seasonal produce, you'll find a healthy harvest of arts and crafts vendors ranging from skilled artisans who carve chandeliers out of reclaimed tin cans to fine oil painters.
Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum This city museum celebrates 3,000 years of the state's agricultural history through life-size displays of pit houses, canning rooms, and general stores. Catch a demonstration on quilting or blacksmithing or meet some of the livestock that call the 47-acre campus home, such as Navajo-Churro sheep (whose fiber is used for weaving) and longhorn cattle.
Las Cruces Country Music Festival Now in its seventh year, this music palooza attracts classic country acts like last year's headliner Dwight Yoakam, rising Nashville stars such as Randy Houser, and local bands. The performers rotate across two outdoor stages during the three-day festival held Oct. 11–13, 2019.
Did You Know?
In 1629, Franciscan monks smuggled vines into New Mexico and planted the first grapes along the Rio Grande — making the state the oldest wine-growing region in the country. That tradition continues today with dozens of wine growers, all family-owned and -operated, many of which have vineyards in southern New Mexico.
Photo courtesy NM Wine Association.