Las Cruces and Old Town Mesilla, NM
November 30, 2007

Las Cruces, NM, Day Three in Sunny Acres RV Park, HH.

Six months in our bus.

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 27. DRIVE TO LAS CRUCES.

In Santa Fe, after solving our heating problem on the bus, we sat back and relaxed.  We never went out all day on Monday.  We did small chores around our home and enjoyed feeling comfortably warm.

On Tuesday we left Santa Fe at the relaxed hour of 9:45 in the morning.  High cirrus clouds covered half of the blue sky.  There was a white haze in the distance.  It looked sunny but chilly — ranging between 28° and 38° (shade or sun).  We drove on a flat plateau beside buttes with mountains on the southern horizon.

It was an easy drive as we passed through Albuquerque and headed southwest into new (for us) unknown territory on I-25.  We ran parallel to the Rio Grande along sagebrush and grasslands.  The land was flat.  The sky was mostly white with flat sheets of high clouds.

At 12:30 PM we stopped at a very odd rest stop just north of Socorro.  It was made of wood and was on stilts above the desert.  To the south, the Magdalena Mountains stretched ahead of us.  By 1:00 PM temperatures were up to 54°.  We were traveling on a high plateau looking down on a valley to the east.  There were high mountains on the horizon on all sides and there were still heavy clouds.  In a land of chaparral we seemed to stay at 4,500 to 5,000 elevations.

At about 1:30 PM we began to drop down into and then climb out of gigantic ravines.  They seemed to be wide riverbeds that flow east to the Rio Grande.  They are deep, wide washes — totally dry but obviously major during flash floods.  As we came to the bottom of these ravines there were signs warning us to slow to 65 mph and to watch for gusty winds — and the winds were very gusty.  It is a very strange landscape.

At 3:15 PM we pulled into Sunny Acres RV Park in Las Cruces, NM.  We drove 273 miles and it was an easy drive.

We didn’t know that we were driving smack dab into the middle of the gigantic Chihuahua Desert. As it dominates all of the terrain and all of the history in these here parts, I thought I might stop to take a look at the extent of this desert.

Sunny Acres is a nice RV park.  It is spacious and well kept.  Sites are gravel but many have a piece of lawn.  There are lots of trees.  The hosts are very nice.  Many stay here for long periods of time.  It feels like a very nice suburban neighborhood.  The dogs are happy.  Lots of territory to explore with little traffic and many doggy smells.

Las Cruces is located in south-central New Mexico in the Mesilla Valley.  Turns out it’s the second largest city in the state — larger than Santa Fe.  And it’s loaded with as much history as Santa Fe.  This was a very, very Wild West town where adventurers, hustlers, and murderers such as Kit Carson, Roy Bean and Billy the Kid romped through the area.

The city of Las Cruces encompasses a number of historic districts.  There are the original downtown national historic areas of the Alameda Depot as well as Mesquite Street, which became the town’s original 1849 settlement.  And there were the neighboring historic towns of Dona Ana and Mesilla.  Nearby was Fort Selden.

On the day we arrived, I immediately learned about a famous restaurant called La Posta located in the old town of Mesilla. We both felt like celebrating our escape into a warmer climate as well as our newly revived gas heat. So I suggested we find Mesilla and have dinner at La Posta that very evening. What a discovery! It was dark so all we saw of Mesilla town was the restaurant.

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 28.  EXPLORING OLD TOWN MESILLA PLAZA.

We came back the next day to explore La Mesilla and we went back into La Posta for lunch. This time I took plenty of photos of this marvelous building. We thought the food and service as well as the decorations were all wonderful. The menu was unusual and is another example of “New Mexico cuisine.”

We had a wonderful time walking around the old Mesilla District. We did not know anything of it’s history so we found surprises at every turn.

After the Civil War, Mesilla emerged as the commercial, transportation and social center for the region. It attracted legends like Kit Carson and Pancho Villa, promoters like Albert Fountain, gunfighters like Sheriff Pat Garrett and outlaw Billy the Kid, and hustlers like future Langtry, Texas, judge Roy Bean. It staged fandangoes (dances), bullfights, cockfights, theater and some pretty entertaining gunfights.

Roy Bean spent time in Mesilla but it doesn’t sound like he was exactly a reliable business man who settled down to help his brother operate a freight and passenger service line at La Posta. He and his brothers all sound like pretty bad hombres to me. I recall the movie, “The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean” with Paul Newman and I wish I could watch it again. I can’t remember much about it. I don’t know if it was supposed to be located in Las Cruces or Langtry, TX.

Las Cruces is popular for shooting a variety of movies. One of the earliest films ever made near Las Cruces was the 1911 feature “The Dude.” During the 1990s, “Mad Love,” “Homage” and “Lolita” were filmed in and around Las Cruces. The music videos of Toby Keith, John Michael Montgomery and Boys II Men have also been produced in the area. Most recently scenes from the Michael Douglas movie “Traffic” were filmed in Las Cruces.

Mesilla Plaza, Las Cruces, NM

Mesilla Plaza, Las Cruces, NM

In 1854, The Gadsden Purchase declared Mesilla officially part of the United States. As Mesilla was the most important community in this parcel, the treaty was consummated by the raising of the American flag on the town plaza with much ceremony on November 16, 1854.

 

La Mesilla Sign_smMesilla sign on the Plaza: “After the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which concluded the Mexican War in 1848, the Mexican government commissioned Cura Ramon Ortiz to settle Mesilla.  He brought families from New Mexico and from Paso del Norte (modern Ciudad Juarez) to populate the Mesilla Civil Colony Grant, which by 1850 had over 800 inhabitants

 

 

 

Mesilla Church on the Plaza.

Mesilla Church on the Plaza.

Mesilla Plaza: “In Mesilla, New Mexico, about 40 miles north of El Paso, you will discover one of the most charming and authentic Hispanic- and territorial-style plazas on the trail today. It has been the scene of territorial negotiations between Americans and Mexicans, stagecoach stations for Butterfield’s operations, a brief conflict between Confederate and Union troops, a trail and incarceration of Billy the Kid, visits by Kit Carson, a feud between local powers, a theft by the infamous Texas judge Roy Bean, and some dandy stories about local ghosts.” http://www.desertusa.com/mag03/trails/trails10.html

 

Butterfield Sign_sm“On a time line, the two and one-half year operation (1857-1861) of the Butterfield Overland Mail was but a flash in the history of transportation in the United States.  But this short-lived operation captured and held the imagination of Americans because it stitched together the growing country from sea to sea.” — Joann Mazzio

 

Cantina Sign_smEl Patio Cantina, Established 1934

Located in one of the most historic buildings in the town of Mesilla.  The cantina has been operated continuously by direct descendents of the legendary Colonel Albert Jennings Fountain, soldier, journalist and lawman.

These adobe walls have housed the Butterfield Overland Mail (1858) The Mesilla Times (1860), Sam Bean’s Saloon (1860), a Blacksmiths forge (1850), the Albert Fountain Mercantile (1929), US Post Office (1931).  This transportation block dates from 1854.

Courthouse in Mesilla.

Courthouse in Mesilla.

A colorful local character of this Wild West timeframe was Henry McCarty, a.k.a. William Bonney, a.k.a. Billy the Kid. During the Lincoln County cattle range wars in 1878, Billy the Kid killed a county sheriff, for which he was captured and sentenced to hang. Remarkably, he escaped from the Mesilla courthouse. Within a couple of years, however, he was tracked and killed by the Dona Ana County Sheriff, Pat Garrett. Ironically, the well-known sheriff was later shot outside Las Cruces by an unknown gunslinger; Garrett’s body was buried in the local cemetery.”
http://las-cruces.com/html/history_of_las_cruces.html

In April of 1881, Col. A. J. Fountain was Billy the Kids defense lawyer here in Old Mesilla.  On January 31, 1896 Col. Fountain and his eight year old son Henry were murdered by cattle rustlers near White Sands, their bodies were never found; and to this day remains a story rich in southwestern lore.

Sign at La Posta Restaurant.

Sign at La Posta Restaurant.

“This is the original La Posta. The only station that remains standing on the Butterfield Trail. For more than a century and three quarters, these old adobe walls have withstood attack of elements and men and have sheltered such personalities as Billy the Kid, Kit Carson and Pancho Villa. Now Mesilla sleeps, but La Posta still offers its traditional hospitality and fine food to all who wander here.”

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