CPI, Zuhl Museum, and White Sands NM

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.

Cross section of a huge petrified tree trunk from Oregon

Petrified palm tree

Amethyst from Brazil

Closer look at the amethyst

Chrysocolla with Druzy Quartz Coating

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.

Sierra Blanca Peak (11,981′) north of the sand 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 . . .

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33 Responses to CPI, Zuhl Museum, and White Sands NM

  1. Debbie L says:

    Oh, the places you go!!! Such beauty and interesting! Rocks, chili 🌶 and white sand!

  2. Stephanie and Bill Bowker says:

    We have been following you guys for several years. We are former full timers, who live in Las Cruces. If you have any questions about this area, please let us know. If you haven’t eaten at La Posts in Old Mesilla, I would recommend it. Bill and Stephanie

    • placestheygo says:

      Thanks, Bill and Stephanie! We really enjoyed our nine days in your beautiful town. We moved on this morning to Naco, AZ. The blog is a couple days behind. We certainly found lots to keep us busy:)

  3. Gay says:

    Yiu are sure finding a lot of fun and interesting things to do in/near Las Cruces. The Zuhl’s collection of petrified wood is so pretty…so cool how they came back to the place where they first discovered it to retire!

  4. Jodee Gravel says:

    That Zuhl collection is outstanding!! So glad you told us about it. That Oregon “slice” is one of my favorites. Love those beautiful white dunes. I always wonder how they keep a road through them. Great pic of you two :-)))

    • placestheygo says:

      Glad you got to visit the Zuhl collection. I found it so fascinating. Now I just need a house and a few of those slices and a bench! It looks like they plow the road in White Sands. They had a decent little bank on the side when we were there. I imagine the road drifts closed at times.

  5. geogypsy2u says:

    Very cool rock collection. I’ve always wanted an amethyst geode big enough to sit in. You two, or one, do find some obscurely interesting places to visit.

    • placestheygo says:

      Gaelyn, I couldn’t help but think how much you would enjoy this collection as we walked through. The fossils were amazing, as well, but they didn’t make the blog. Sometimes John isn’t real excited about some of the places I find (the Chili Pepper Institute)!

  6. Gerri Jones says:

    Love the Zuhl Collection!! The White Sands Monument is quite interesting!! Did you guys slide down the dunes?? Looks like fun ☺ Cool giant pistachio!! Can’t wsit to see what you guys find next!!!

  7. pmbweaver says:

    Loved all these places. Funny, the day we went we didn’t see any kids/adults sliding down the dunes. The Zuhl Museum is just amazing. I hope anyone visiting Las Cruces takes advantage of this wonderful place.
    You look like a midget compared to that Pistachio, Pam.

  8. Sandra Silva says:

    I love the pistachio best of all. Thanks for the smile.

    Did I send you our travel schedule for this year? If not I will try again. Sure hope we get close enough to meet sometime this year.

    Sandy and Bob Silva

    Sent from my iPhone

  9. Sue says:

    I’ll have to keep that Museum on my list when we move through Las Cruses this spring. I never thought about a petrified palm tree….neat! I bet the young man in the Chili Institute was thrilled to have someone to talk to! Nice selfie in the sand.

  10. Maxxtrails says:

    That sand is pretty cool, it’s like sledding on snow only much warmer 😊

  11. Jim and Barb says:

    Framed right you could certainly make some of those white sand shots look like snow!

  12. When we were there they just happened to be having the monthly ranger-led tour to Lake Lucero. A long drive over the missile range but a really interesting hike to the origin of the white sand dunes with crystals everywhere. Very cool, and well worth the drive.

  13. Sherry says:

    I had no idea there were so many great things in Las Cruses. Just LOVE that giant pistachio and any samples available as well as the beautiful petrified wood. An amazing story about the collection. I’m not much for hot things so I know New Mexico would frown on me. We used a big piece of cardboard to sled down the dunes at Great Sand Dunes NP in Colorado. I like the idea of the sleds at White Sands another place I’ve always wanted to visit. You too sure are making me envious with your travels.

    • placestheygo says:

      Sherry, Las Cruces does have plenty to keep everybody busy. I had several hikes also planned but our weather didn’t cooperate…too cold and very windy. Luckily, we got in two:)

  14. I butt sled while there and I had a great time. Did not realize there are other museums other than the Space and Missile down the road. We missed the Pistachio 🙂

  15. Laurel says:

    That little museum in Las Cruces looks like something we would enjoy. White Sands is still on our list—it was too windy when we were passing by last time and we weren’t in the mood to get sandblasted. I’m surprised you guys didn’t try sand sledding—we did at Monahans Hills State Park in Texas and it was a blast! We didn’t even get too much sand in our pants. :-))

    • placestheygo says:

      You and Eric would really enjoy the Zuhl Museum. It was the perfect size to enjoy each piece. There are also several of their pieces throughout the University in various buildings. Sledding in the sand didn’t look like fun. All I could think about was all that sand getting all over me!

  16. girlonahike says:

    My family loves WSNM! Grew up going “sledding” there as a kid. I remember we got sand literally everywhere – I remember having to clean my ears out it was so sandy. Good times!

    Alicia @ http://www.GirlonaHike.com

    • placestheygo says:

      I’m sure it was a wonderland of warm “snow” for you as a child. Watching the kids sledding on and off sleds made we think about all the sand they had inside their clothes!

  17. LuAnn says:

    We really had some nice weather when we were at White Sands. Such a unique place to hike.

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