Almost Mexico. Las Cruces and Mesilla, New Mexico and El Paso, Texas
After the Balloon Fiesta our next flagship destination is Austin Texas, for the Formula One Grand Prix on Nov 2nd. Last time we were in Austin we only stayed a few days and never really got to know the city. This time we want to spend some quality time there so we decided to take a couple of weeks to get there, and then hang out in the city for a couple of weeks.
After a brief stop at Elephant Butte Lake, we moved onto Leasburg Dam State Park about 13 miles north of Las Cruces. My mother and her partner, Trevor, were visiting us, so we needed to be near a town that offered hotels. Plus we wanted to explore White Sands National Monument, so this seemed like a good spot. Our couple of stops in New Mexico state parks have left us very impressed. They are some of the least expensive state parks we have stayed at, and have great facilities, like electric hook ups, water, WiFi and good quality shelters and tables. All this for less than you would pay for a dry camping spot in other state parks (yes California and Oregon I am talking about you!). We didn't have enough time to truly appreciate the parks, but vowed to come back to New Mexico next year to spend some quality time here.
White Sands National Monument was well worth the hour drive to get there. We stopped at the visitor center to buy a couple of sleds so we could try sliding down the dunes. You can buy used sand disks, and then return them to get some of your money back; you are effectively renting them. Good deal for people like us who don't want to accumulate any more stuff. You can drive around the park and get a great sense of the endless sea of white sand dunes. The gypsum is talcum powder soft and is fun to walk across and feel between your toes. The weather patterns that give rise to the dune phenomenon also produce wonderfully sculpted clouds that add to the beauty of this place. We sledded down the dunes for a little while until Iain got fed up that I kept beating him. The pictures show some of the magnificence of this area, but the great expanse of white is better seen in person.
Las Cruces is an interesting town. At first glance it is just another urban sprawl, with Applebees, Target, Walmart etc dominating the landscape. But like many towns we have seen in this sun belt, it is growing rapidly and artists and retirees, looking to find somewhere they can afford to live, are moving in and changing the culture somewhat. Mesilla is the historic town that neighbors Las Cruces. It feels like a Mexican town because it was one until they moved the border! Now it's a pretty tourist spot with boutiques and galleries.
On Saturday we went along to the Las Cruces Farmers and Craft market. We have visited many of these kinds of markets around the country and know to temper our expectations. When we lived in San Diego, we were a few blocks from the Little Italy Farmer's Market. This is a truly wonderful market, blessed with a wonderful location, climate and year round produce. We now know that we can't expect the same every where and instead we should appreciate every market for what it offers to its local community. That's why we were especially surprised and pleased that the Las Cruces market was one of the best markets we have been to. The market is mostly crafts, with just a little produce, but the products were high quality, lots of stalls and the friendliest stall holders you can imagine. The quality of the market is even more impressive when you realize they run the market year round twice a week.
My mom and Trevor wanted to check Texas off their list of states visited, so we headed to El Paso for the day. I knew I wanted to buy cowboy boots when I was in Texas and after doing some research it seemed El Paso was one of the best spots in Texas to buy them. So we headed across the state line for the day for a shopping trip. There are a number of boot outlet stores in El Paso. We started out at Tony Lama, then went onto Luchesse a more high end outlet, then to Cowtown, which is more of a bargain basement place. We finished at Justin Boots (which is actually really the same as Tony Lama) and as is often the case I settled on the pair I had tried on first thing in the morning. We also visited Saddleblanket. This is a large store that sells all kinds of Mexican products. I particularly wanted a couple of blankets that we could use to sit on at campground picnic tables. As well as finding these at a bargain price we had fun looking around the store at the funky cowboy paraphernalia.
El Paso and Juarez are right next to each other. Living in San Diego we were used to being close to the border but there is a good 15 miles between downtown SD and Tijuana. That is not the case here, the two cities are basically one urban area and the fence runs right through the center. This is especially evident when you see the city from the vantage point of Franklin Mountains State Park. You can take the Wyler Aerial Tramway to the top of the peak and look across 2 countries (US and Mexico) and 3 states (Texas, New Mexico and Chihuahua). El Paso is not pretty and honestly doesn't seem to have many redeeming qualities to it, other than the novelty of being attached to Juarez, but we had a really fun day shopping and riding the tram to view the joining of two countries.
At the end of the week, we said goodbye to my mom and Trevor who were heading off for a road trip to explore Arizona while we continued East towards Austin. We will briefly pass through New Mexico in November, but we definitely want to come and spend more time there in 2015.