Years ago, on a college road trip, I drove through Las Cruces … but I had little memory of the town. In my mind, it’s been just another little freeway stop and not much more. So, when my family planned this year’s summer vacation, which consisted mainly of driving around New Mexico, I thought of Las Cruces mainly as a rest stop.
In reality, Las Cruces is the second largest city in the state and boasts a lot of incredible outdoor adventure opportunities. If you’re a hiking or mountain biking fan, the stunning Organ Mountains overlook this entire part of the state, offering plenty of recreational options.
We had a lovely stay at the Hotel Encanto de Las Cruces, part of Heritage Hotels and Resorts, an up-and-coming hotel chain with almost a dozen charming properties across the state of New Mexico.
Encanto was a delight for numerous reasons. The hotel staff was incredibly friendly and helpful, taking customer service to new heights. Once, when asking where the fitness facility was, the front desk associate walked me there to make sure I didn’t get lost (her suggested shortcut wasn’t easy to describe, so it was appreciated). The property has an on-site Garduño’s restaurant, one of the best local chains, so there’s no need to leave the grounds for a great, authentic New Mexican meal.
What else? How about a passion for environmentally safe practices, which are detailed in every guest room? Or the pool area, studded with mature palm trees, that reminded us of something out of a Vegas or Orlando resort. And while the style is definitely focused on an old Southwestern vibe, I found it charming, and some of the furniture pieces in the common areas were lovely antiques.
If you’re a fan of water, that can be found even here in the desert; head over to Southwest Expeditions, where you can book a four-mile Rio Grande float, choosing from kayaks or tubes. Southwest also runs a variety of decidedly drier options, including hikes, haunted history tours, World War II bombing targets, zombie-focused events, wine and food events, Jeep off-road tours, a Western stagecoach ride, and even Billy the Kid expeditions.
We were also pleasantly surprised to find that Las Cruces is a place that’s big into the arts, with numerous art galleries, exhibitions, theater and more. There are more than 200 murals strewn across the city, from the very traditional to the uber-modern. New Mexico State University is located here, and like most any college town, the infusion of young people also keeps a place more vibrant feeling.
Don’t forget to check out the Art Obscure Gallery near Mesilla Park, see a show at the modern NMSU Center for the Arts, or catch a performance of the Las Cruces Symphony Orchestra. You can also visit the Branigan Cultural Center, Museum of Art, and Museum of Nature and Science in downtown, or head over to the Las Cruces Railroad Museum.
The city’s parks and rec department hosts regular “Sunday Night Music in the Park” and “Thursday Night Music on the Plaza” events, featuring an eclectic mix of artists, local, regional and national scope.
We also enjoyed the local cuisine, with green chiles served atop nearly everything: breakfast foods, hamburgers, and even ice cream! All in all, for a queer family visiting this dusty corner of the Southwest, we felt surprisingly accepted — and even quite at home.
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