New Mexico has launched a new $2 million campaign to bring visitors to the state. Using the slogan “New Mexico True” it aims to draw in visitors seeking adventure activities. However, there has been some criticism that the as primarily focus is on the northern part of the state where the more popular Albuquerque and Santa Fe are located.

What about Las Cruces?

As the second largest city in the state, Las Cruces is a vibrant home to more than 23,000 New Mexico State University students and is an agricultural center for the production of pecans and chile peppers. It is located in Doña Ana County, just about an hour from El Paso International Airport.
Agriculture aside, there are several things to do in Las Cruces, especially for outdoorsy types.

Hiking abounds with several locations around the city serving as starting points for afternoon treks. Dripping Springs has an easy trail perfect for families and a few interesting sites including historical structures dating back to the early 1900s. Aguirre Springs is another trail that starts out with a spectacular, curvy drive through the Organ Mountains and offers several shaded picnic areas. Camping is also allowed here. Both provide vast vistas of New Mexico landscape.

If more interested in “the local scene” then visit the award-winning farmers market, located on the newly renovated Main Street. Las Cruces Farmers Market draws in over 100 vendors each week on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Crafts, plants, jewelry, and national curiosities such as petrified wood are some of the items available for sale. A local favorite is Osito’s Raspberry Habanero Biscochitos, a sweet shortbread cookie sprinkled with sugar that packs a surprising heat. (They are seriously good – but not for the faint of heart. A few East Coast family members got a little teary eyed when the heat was released.) Look for the Osito’s food truck on Saturdays. The Farmer Market is open Wednesdays & Saturdays, 8 AM -12:30 PM during the summer and 9 AM – 1:30 PM during the winter.

Though not as sweet, but easily as pleasing is a trip to the White Sands National Monument. Located 52 miles east of Las Cruces, just on the other side of the Organ Mountains, White Sands is a break-taking natural wonder. With 275 miles of desert covered in gypsum dunes, it is home to guided moon-lit tours, camp grounds, a balloon festival, a film festival, and a favorite in winter for those missing snow: sledding. Sleds are, surprisingly, available for rent or purchase in the gift shop for sleigh-riding down the dunes.

If visiting New Mexico, Las Cruces has unique sites and delectable local cuisine that will please any party.

Where to Stay

There are several options for lodging in Las Cruces with many of the national chains. However, Hotel Encanto is one that provides a little more of the local culture. Decorated in a Spanish Mission-style, the lobby is decked out in cool Mexican tile and chunky wooden furniture. It is centrally located with easy access to popular destinations. When booking, ask for a room facing the city for nice view of Mesilla Valley at night (Ok, just look past the mall – the lights are just beyond it and are quite pretty). The hotel is located at 705 South Telshor Boulevard in Las Cruces.

Where to Eat

Paisano Café, located in Mesilla, serves up creative Latin-inspired dishes unlike anywhere else in town. Try the Mole Verde o Pipian, a toasted pumpkin seed and tomatillo mole sauce with a hint of hoja santa (root beer plant) or the Caper Tequila Lime Shrimp Fettuccine. Though they serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner, it is worth visiting for dinner to try one of the best tomatillo salsas available anywhere. The Paisano Café is located at 1740 Calle de Mercado in Mesilla.

A Few Other Fun Things to Do

If three things aren’t enough to whet your appetite, here are a few others:

  • Visit historic Mesilla for shopping and adobe architecture
  • Go for dinner at Double Eagle and ask them to tell you the history of the supposedly haunted building
  • Watch the sunset along the Las Cruces Dam (there is no water, just a ridge that offers an excellent walk transversing town – and if you need motivation, there is a Starbucks on either end.)
  • Visit for the Day of the Dead Festival, The Whole Enchilada Festival, or Salsa Festival
  • Get a guided tour of the Farm & Ranch Museum to learn about New Mexico’s farming, ranching and rural life

For photos – visit this article on Examiner.com.