Day 1: Meaning “the crosses,” Las Cruces was named for the crosses erected in the memory of an ambushed frontier party. Start your exploration of the Mesilla Valley by visiting the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum, which features 3,000 years of New Mexico’s farming, ranching, and rural life. New Mexico’s most important crop, the chile and its 150 varieties, is showcased at New Mexico State University’s Chile Pepper Institute. Grab lunch at De La Vega’s Pecan Grill and Brewery, and try thier fresh green chiles wrapped and roasted in crushed pecans, paired with one of their dozen crafted beers. Spend the afternoon at the Las Cruces Museum of Art. This is also the oldest wine-producing region in America—dating back to the 1500s, when the Spanish established missions here—so make sure to visit wineries like the St. Clair Winery & Bistro and the La Vina Winery.
Day 2: Across the Rio Grande to the west, Billy the Kid, Geronimo, and conquistador Don Juan Onate left their marks in the town of Mesilla. Two-hundred years before the Declaration of Independence, Mesilla was already an important crossroads. Originally built of adobe in 1855 and rebuilt again in 1906, the San Albino Bascilla remains central to the town square. At the Double Eagle Restaurant on the Plaza, try the delicious aged steaks and watch out for the resident ghost. At La Posta’s, try their famous “Chile Rita” margarita, made with blackberry and habanero sauce. Walk off lunch with a stroll through the Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park, 900 acres of woods and Chihuahuan Desert. Then visit the Gadsden Museum for historic and religious artifacts and art.
Day 3: Ten miles north of Las Cruces, visit the ruins of Fort Selden State Monument, built in 1865 to protect settlers and travelers from desperados and Apache Indians. East of town, the Organ Mountains rise to 9,000 feet, and at nearby Dripping Springs Natural Area, hike to a refreshing desert stream. West of Las Cruces, Corralitos Ranch offers trail rides on 1,000-plus square miles of Chihuahuan Desert, laced with ruins, American Indian rock art, abandoned homesteads, and old mines. Once home to the Warm Springs Apache tribe, conquistador and colonial governor Don Juan Onate also passed through here in 1598 on his way to what would eventually become Santa Fe.