I remember the first morning I woke up in our new home in Las Cruces, New Mexico, about forty miles north of El Paso, Texas and the Mexican border with Ciudad Juarez on the other side of the Rio Grande. I had come from Connecticut, and I was seeing to the installation of our pool and a few other things to get our house ready for move-in. My immediate impression was how delightful and inviting the sunshine pouring into the bedroom felt. It was a first, and lasting, impression of life in New Mexico. Outside, the fabulous Organ Mountains loomed above the desert mesa, blue sky opened to the heavens, and the morning sun painted cacti and greasewood in soft pastels. What a wonderful way to start the day!
Down from the mesa lay the busy and growing city of Las Cruces, and over the Rio Grande sat La Mesilla, a collection of adobe structures around a public square with an ancient church at one end. The stores in Mesilla had discovered the value of selling to tourists. One of them touted Billy the Kid’s presence in the early days of the old west. Las Cruces is not far from Lincoln, where Billy the Kid escaped from jail, and Silver City, where Billy grew up.
New Mexico is a great place to explore old cow towns, ancient Puebloan ruins and abandoned mines. One of the most memorable ancient ruin for me was El Morro. This ancient way-point boasts a deep spring that has drawn desert travelers to its waters for ages. El Morro is a great sandstone bluff rising above the desert floor. Visitors can walk up a trail to the top and view the ruins of Ancestral Puebloans. The most fascinating feature of the walk are the inscriptions, ancient graffiti—petroglyphs left by Native Americans and messages inscribed in the soft stone by early Spanish Conquistadors and later American travelers heading westward. I remember camping at El Morro in a primitive campground, with only twelve campsites. As the sun went down, the soft evening air drifting across the desert seemed offer a tangible connection to El Morro’s romantic past.
Another, and much deeper, spring lies north in Santa Rosa, called Blue Hole. This desert wonder is reportedly connected to an underground labyrinth of caves, inaccessible to the scuba divers who come to enjoy Blue Hole’s depth of more than eighty feet. Santa Rosa is near Tucumcari, the setting for my first novel, Murder on Route Sixty Six.
When I wrote my book, Lesley accused me of choosing the setting to give me another excuse to travel back to New Mexico. I can’t say she was entirely wrong about that. When the book came out, I rode my motorcycle out from New York to do a book tour along old Route Sixty Six. Of course, I had to sneak off the route for a visit with the buddies I rode with when we lived in Las Cruces. I remember a ride where we climbed a twisting road through the Gila National Forest, and another, riding along the Rio Grande on our way to breakfast at a favorite restaurant in Hatch. Hatch is known for some of the best chili in the world, and the thought of breakfasts of sausages and juevos rancheros smothered in green chili and topped with fried eggs still makes my mouth water.
New Mexico is called The Land of Enchantment, and for good reason. It’s rugged beauty and (sometimes) lonely vistas are steeped in a romantic and colorful past. Sunsets are spectacular, and mornings are fresh and inviting. There’s lots to explore, and much to enjoy, but be careful—you could end up discovering the joy of ice cream with green chili syrup and toasted pecans, and find yourself looking at houses for sale.
Glenn Nilson, Author Of Murder On Route 66, www.glennnilson.com, Mainly Murder Press, LLC, and a native of California. Glenn grew up in the Sierra Nevada foothills doing farm chores, hiking, even panning for gold. After earning his doctorate, he moved east to teach sociology. Upon retirement, the West drew him back, this time to New Mexico, the setting for his first novel, Murder on Route 66. Currently Glenn divides his time between living in rural Florida and up-state New York, refurbishing an 1870’s era creek-side cottage and writing. When he’s not writing, Glenn loves the outdoors, especially camping and riding his motorcycle. He also enjoys cooking. He loves working with sourdough, and has even taken his starter with him on cross-country trips.
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