Not far from White Sands Missile Range is Las Cruces, the largest city in southwest New Mexico, a leading agricultural center and home of New Mexico State University. The New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum includes displays of live animals and demonstrations of blacksmithing and other skills. The museum hosts an ongoing farmers market (closed on Monday and Tuesday) and stages a Cowboy Weekend in October. The Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino near Las Cruces has live horse racing several nights a week mid-November to early April, with simulcast racing and slot machines available every day.
Southwest of downtown Las Cruces is La Mesilla, a village founded in 1848 by Mexican settlers just as the U.S. took over New Mexico. The old buildings, which surround a plaza, have been restored and now house galleries, boutiques and restaurants. The village is especially beautiful at Christmas.
Another historic site is Fort Selden State Monument, 15 mi/25 km north of Las Cruces, a frontier military post dating from 1865. A museum is open year-round and, in spring, the Frontier Days Celebration takes place, with pioneer games and other activities. In October, Las Cruces cuts loose with its Whole Enchilada Festival, a celebration of the annual chili harvest. November brings the sounds of the International Mariachi Conference. And in December, don't miss the Our Lady of Guadalupe Fiesta, with a pilgrimage to Tortugas Mountain, a special Catholic mass and Native American dances.
The ruins of cliff dwellings inhabited by the Mimbres people can be seen at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument (150 mi/240 km northwest). The Mimbres are known for their distinctive pottery and their mysterious disappearance in the 1200s. The mountains in the area also offered refuge to the Apache, including the legendary Geronimo.
A little closer to Las Cruces is the Old West town of Silver City, the boyhood home of Billy the Kid. The Silver City Museum, built in 1881, has artifacts from settlers and Native Americans. The Western New Mexico University Museum houses a collection of Mimbres pottery. The ghost town of Pinos Altos is 7 mi/11 km north of the city. Las Cruces is 200 mi/320 km south of Albuquerque.
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