Las Cruces, NM
Chile peppers are one of the top agricultural products of New Mexico. The New Mexico chile is a unique group of chile peppers initially developed by pioneer horticulturist, Dr. Fabian Garcia, in Las Cruces at New Mexico State University in 1894 (this blog always has such useful information!). So when a visit to the Las Cruces Visitor Center yielded a brochure describing the Chile Pepper Institute at nearby NMSU we (or one of us) was eager for a visit. One windy afternoon we arrived at Thompson Hall, parked in the one spot in the lot reserved for visitors to the institute, and made our way to room 265.
The institute turned out to be one room mostly filled with chili products for sale. But the person on duty was very knowledgeable and gave one of us a great explanation of the development and uses of the New Mexican Chili plant.
Just a few blocks from Thompson Hall is the New Mexico State University Visitor Center. Inside the visitor center is the Zuhl Museum, a two room display of the Zuhl Collection containing over 1,800 beautiful specimens of petrified wood, fossils and minerals.
In 1970 on vacation in Arizona from their New York City home, Herb and Joan Zuhl, saw a rancher removing a petrified log from his land. Intrigued, the Zuhls dug up a log and shipped it home, beginning a new passion and successful business. Cutting and polishing pieces of petrified wood produced assorted museum quality specimens and art objects soon in high demand in their Manhattan gallery. The Zuhls retired to Las Cruces in 1991 and sold their business, keeping more than 2,000 of the most impressive pieces of their collection for themselves. In 2000, the Zuhls allowed their personal collection to be displayed at the university.
The day after our visit to NMSU we drove about 50 miles to the northwest on US-70 to visit White Sands National Monument.
The monument comprises the southern part of a 275 square mile field of white sand dunes composed of gypsum crystals. It is the largest gypsum dune field in the world.
Gypsum is rarely found in the form of sand because it is water-soluble. Normally, rain would dissolve the gypsum and carry it to the sea. White Sands is in an enclosed basin, meaning that it has no outlet to the sea, and rain that dissolves gypsum from the surrounding mountains is trapped within the basin. Water either sinks into the ground or forms shallow pools which subsequently dry out and leave gypsum in a crystalline form on the surface.
In the gift shop at the visitor center you can purchase a new or used saucer-type sled to enjoy a ride down the many steep dunes. We watched several families enjoying a day on the slopes.
The dunes constantly change shape and slowly move downwind. Sometimes the moving sand creates interesting patterns along the face of the dunes.
After enjoying our visit to White Sands National Monument, we drove a few miles north to Alamogordo for a visit to McGinn’s Pistachio Tree Farm. Who can resist a giant pistachio? (and they have a great sample table!).
We have a few more things on our list for the Las Cruces area so look for one more post from here. More on that later . . .