That, dear readers, is always a promising way to start the day. I stayed at the Big Chile Inn, an older place formerly run by a family but now owned by a corporation. Its interior courtyard was lush, and I would end my stay in Las Cruces by lounging happily under palm trees and reading a silly book I discovered while roaming. But the day began with overcast skies, in Old Mesilla.
Mesilla — Old Mesilla, La Mesilla, varying on the sign — seems to have been a pueblo that has since been enveloped by the city of Las Cruces itself.
I found it in the early am to be deserted and gloomy, as the rest of the tourists were still slumbering and the shops were empty of even their owners. The smell of cooking tortillas, the faint sound of strings and cymbals, and the happy clamor of visitors lost in admiration — an ambiance shared by both Albuquerque and Santa Fe’s old town plazas — wasn’t here, not yet. After exploring a bit I decided to head for downtown, to take in the science and nature museums. I really should have returned to La Mesilla, to see it with its eyes open, but the later plazas would give me plenty of that atmosphere, and Las Cruces had its own attractions.
When first entering Las Cruces, I unwittingly previewed my route downtown as well. The road I’d expected to follow to my motel took me instead to a downtown roundabout, the lanes splitting in opposite directions. This time I followed it, relying on my ‘trip book’ (a binder fulled of highway and street maps I’d compiled in the months previous) to guide me to the museum. I arrived just as it opened and was immediately awed by a spinning globe — a model of Jupiter, I thought. I stood in admiration watching it rotate, and then realized a screen below allowed me to change it to any planet and most moons in the solar system. The museum was just getting started, though! Among its princely attractions: a large expanse of dirt, preserving or modeling trackways of prehistoric creatures. (I would think it’s merely a recreation of an archaeological site!), stuffed Chihuahuan predators (that’s the desert, not the noisy mouth with legs), and several live animals. Their reptiles were captivatingly active; as I told one of the staffers, I’ve never actually seen a snake MOVE inside a zoo. But here, I witnessed lizards clambering about, snakes prowling, and….best of all…a MASSIVE snapping turtle.
Carts: a filling and nutritious snack for your fossil on the go.
There were also little hands-on science experiments; a tube filled with fluid and some material, presumably iron shavings, for instance. There were magnets nearby and they could ‘pick up’ a ball of the shavings. I put two magnets on either side of the vial and discovered that if I altered the distance or the angle of the magnet, I could see shavings streaming from one ball to the other, looking like galactic intercourse or something.
This was the highlight of Las Cruces. A nearby art museum featured a display on Japanese art and radios. I attempted to type a message in Morse code, which appeared on a little screen. I tried “What Hath God Wrought?
“, but it was too ambitious. I settled for “Hello”.
After this, while trying to find a place to eat, I found COAS books. I’ve never been inside an independent bookstore before, though I buy most of my books at them through the amazon marketplace. I asked for their Edward Abbey section, hoping to find a copy of The Brave Cowboy, but no dice. They did have a few Asimov books I’ve never heard of, and as someone who actively trolls Amazon for used Asimov books, that’s saying something. I only had one suitcase, though, so I settled for The Ends of the Earth, a natural history book by the good doctor on polar regions. On display I saw a copy of The Night of the Living Trekkies, picking it up for $3. It made my night!
All the while downtown I’d asked people about the local lunch options, figuring I’d see if one place was named more than the rest. That place was Rosie’s, a little Mexican restaurant that was packed at 11. I enjoyed a meal here, then wandered away.
I left downtown and drove toward the Rio Grande, where I knew I’d find a small park by the river. I didn’t linger here long, as some college kids were there blasting AC/DC’s “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution”. Sometimes it is.
The Organ mountains from the park.
Not too far away was the Las Cruces Railroad Museum, housed in the old passenger depot. This was the first train station I’ve been to not
connected to the Louisville and Nashville; instead, it was part of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe. I know this when I asked what AT stood for, the staffer sang the song for me
. And then, when a train rolled by, she ran outside screaming and we yelled and identified all the cars together. I can’t say I’ve ever nerded out about trains with a woman before, but that’s the magic of New Mexico.
An interesting mural across the street, a depiction of transportation with an ATSF train smack in the middle.
A shot of the Sandias again.
After the train museum, I retired to my motel to read my funny little book under the palms, excited about tomorrow’s trip: Nerdvana.