Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Trippin: Doña Ana County


Sky islands burst from the expansive desert landscape of the Northern Chihuahuan desert. Endless acres of pecan orchards bloom in late spring, alongside about 3,000 other species that grow here. The Northern Chihuahuan Desert is alive and full of opportunities for visitors of all tastes. Las Cruces, Mesilla and Hatch are oases lying along the Rio Grande, rewarding any visitor with an unforgettable experience.

 Doña Ana County is a cultural and natural treasure. The Organ Mountains offer world-class scrambling and hiking, while the culinary arts thrive in former Spanish towns along the Rio Grande. For the hiker, foodie or history buff, Doña Ana County is prime territory.

Surrounded by fields of green chile and a favorite location for New Mexico True ads, Hatch should be on your chile punch list. The town has branded its fame as the Green Chile Capital of the world, with nearly every building and business featuring the iconic veggie. Hatch also serves as a fueling point before you venture into the vast desert and rugged ranges of the county.

Like any outdoorsman, the Organs have been high on my list to explore. Geologically distinct from the San Andres Mountains to the north and the Franklin Mountains to the south, which are more in line with other fault ranges along the rift, the Organs are giant granite spires that rise dramatically east of Las Cruces and the surrounding desert.

The Needle is the most famous and dangerous spire among the dozen that make up the range. For the brave scrambler or climber, The Needle is a worthy climb that rewards anyone who is able to summit with unparalleled views of the Chihuahuan Desert and White Sands National Monument to the east. The San Andres Mountains carve a spectacular backdrop in the haze that chronically hovers above this arid region.

Forgotten stands of Ponderosa rise on the sheltered east side of the range. These stolid spires offer refuge to a variety of flora and fauna in a seemingly inhospitable region. Jaguars are an occasional and rare visitor to this unforgiving range.

After a day trip or an overnight in this southern range, a traveler will seek to recover and reflect in the laidback and quirky village of Mesilla. Located in the lush Mesilla Valley, home to forests of cottonwood and almond orchards, Mesilla is the cultural heart of Doña Ana county.

Officially incorporated in 1848 after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildago ceded more than 50 percent of Mexico to the United States, Mesilla has the best-preserved Spanish Plaza in the state and even the country. A bustling Farmers' Market takes place on Sundays, and the plaza is lined by galleries, restaurants, coffee shops and a host of artisanal businesses.

The sound of live music attracted me to The Bean, located just across the street from Basilica San Albino. The Bean, a laidback coffee shop and bakery offering everything from savory to sweet (I opted for a lavender goat cheese toast) and the best coffee in town, is the place to enjoy a cool spring morning beneath ancient cottonwoods. Live music provided by Ezra Snow perfectly captured the eclectic community of Mesilla.

It wouldn't be a proper trip to Doña Ana County without exploring New Mexico's second-largest city, Las Cruces. Sometimes overshadowed by El Paso, its larger and livelier neighbor in Texas, Las Cruces shouldn't be overlooked.

Boasting nationally renowned museums such as the Las Cruces Museum of Art and the Museum of Nature and Science, the city offers big-city amenities in a small-town atmosphere. The Railroad Museum is a quirky destination for anyone with a love for 19th-century locomotives.

Neon lights and warm nights await anyone lucky enough to have a night out in Las Cruces. Nightlife is centered on Main St. Little Toad Creek Brewery and Distillery was recommended by several locals and for good reason. With satisfying brews, delectable cocktails and a menu with an emphasis on grease and protein, it's the place to be on a Saturday night in Las Cruces. Easygoing and filled with locals, it's the obvious choice to begin any night in the city. Just next to it is Rad Retrocade, a relatively new bar and arcade that has stirred up significant buzz among the Downtown crowd. Go there.

Trippin' is a monthly roadtrip column written by The Paper. staff, highlighting the best and off-the-beaten-path places the Land of Enchantment has to offer.


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