Did You Know / Did You Care #4
Nancy and I were surprised to see this field while driving near Mesilla, N.M., a small town that borders Las Cruces. It’s cotton. Did you know / did you care that New Mexico produced 71,500 480-lb bales of cotton in the production year that ended May 1, 2021? Where does New Mexico rank among all cotton-producing states? Not very high. Texas led all states with 4.75 million bales in 2020, and then it dropped off quickly: Georgia had 2.18 million, Arkansas had 1.3 million, and Mississippi had 1.2 million. The no. 10 state, North Carolina, had 540,000 bales – 7.5 times as many bales as New Mexico in 2021. Still, it’s kind of neat to see cotton fields in the desert. We’ve since also seen them south of Deming, N.M., just a few miles north of Mexico. (Apologies for the blurry photo; as I wrote, we weren’t expecting to come across a cotton field.)
Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks National Monument
November 28, 2021
The Organ Mountains, situated 10 miles northeast of Las Cruces, are visible from nearly every part of the city. They’re really distinctive, and, while always beautiful, look their best in the evenings as they catch the setting sun. The range extends north and south for a distance of about 20 miles, and the highest peak reaches 9,006 feet in elevation. The Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks National Monument, in three different regions, spans almost 500,000 acres of BLM-managed land and surrounds the city of Las Cruces. The Desert Peaks part of the monument is west of Las Cruces and includes the Doña Ana Mountains, the Robledo Mountains, and Sierra De Las Uvas, and the Potrillos Mountains 30 miles southwest of Las Cruces. Nancy and Gunther and I visited the Organ Mountains region of the monument in late November and enjoyed a nice 3.6-mile hike – the monument has a total of 48 miles of hiking trails.
One of the first features we encountered on the trail was La Cueva (“the cave” in Spanish), at the base of a huge rock face. It started being inhabited by the Jornada Mogollon natives about 5,000 years ago. Excavations in the 1940s and 1970s uncovered fragments of ceramic pots as well as projectile points and stone scrapers. There are 243 known archeological sites in the monument. La Cueva was later used as an outlaw hideout.
We both grew up and spent most of our lives in Colorado, so it’s been exciting to learn about all of the animals and plants of the southwestern desert region. Despite the rugged and arid environment of the monument, almost 150 different grasses, ferns, cacti, trees, shrubs, and herbs have been identified in the area.
I took the grass photos toward the end of our hike. Although it was relatively short, the hike afforded an opportunity to see a huge variety of plants. We didn’t see very much wildife, but the area supports dozens and dozens of native and migratory bird species, including seven species of hummingbirds and 23 species of towhees and sparrows.
Several historic persons of note, including William H. Bonney (“Billy the Kid”) and Geronimo, are known to have passed through what is now the monument. Twenty-two miles of the Butterfield Overland Trail, which, from 1858 to 1861 ran between St. Louis and San Francisco as a forerunner of the Pony Express, passed through the region. Areas of the monument, prior to coming under BLM management, have also been used for bombing practice by the U.S. Air Force and for astronaut training (not at the same time).
We’ll definitely return to the Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks National Monument, and next time we’ll leave Gunther in the Goddard so we can visit some of the features that (understandably) are off-limits to dogs. I’d especially like to see the area in the spring during the wildflower blooming season.
Las Cruces Museum of Nature & Science
November 27, 2021
The City of Las Cruces operates two museums that are co-located on Main Street: a natural history museum and an art museum. Nancy and I visited both in late November after strolling through the Farmers and Crafts Market. The Museum of Nature & Science has several very interesting and well-designed permanent exhibits. I think we appreciated the reptilian and amphibian wonders of the Desert Life exhibit the most, and Nancy made friends with a common snapping turtle named Zilla.
One of the first exhibits is this fine cast of a dimetrodon, which is not a dinosaur but a species of animal (it’s more closely related to mammals than reptiles, but it is not an ancestor of modern mammals) that went extinct 40 million years before dinosaurs came on the scene. Fossils of dimetrodon have been found in what is now the Robledo Mountains area northwest of Las Cruces. Theories differ on the purpose of the spined sail along the back, ranging from use as an actual sail while swimming, to assisting with controlling the temperature of the animal, to helping support the back of the animal while it walked in a side-to-side motion.
Here’s a mounted skeleton of a western diamondback rattlesnake. These reptiles can have up to 300 vertebrae, and their rattles are modified scales. They get a new rattle each time they shed their skin, which is three or four times each year. Adult diamondbacks commonly grow to 4 feet in length. This species is responsible for the greatest number of snakebites in the United States, and is found in the southwestern region of the country as well as the northern half of Mexico.
We enjoyed the visit to the Museum of Nature & Science. We both learned a lot about animals that live in New Mexico (now and tens of millions of years ago), and Nancy left with her heart warmed by meeting Zilla.
The Farmers & Crafts Market of Las Cruces
November 27, 2021
The city of Las Cruces, New Mexico, dates back to 1849, when it was founded after being surveyed by the U.S. Army. The land on which the town sits was ceded to the United States as a result of 1848’s Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican-American War (1846-1848). The city was named after three crosses that used to be located north of town.
The year 2021 marks the fiftieth anniversary of a farmers market in downtown Las Cruces. The Farmers & Crafts Market of Las Cruces, a nonprofit organization, conducts a market along seven blocks of Main Street each Wednesday and Saturday morning throughout the year. Nancy and I enjoyed visiting the vendors on Saturday, Nov. 27. There are more than a hundred vendors selling everything from fresh tomatoes (we bought some) to pistachios (we bought some) to bread (we bought some) to handcrafted pottery and glassware (we didn’t buy any; we live in a home that moves down the road at 65 MPH every couple of weeks).
To be honest there weren’t a lot of people selling actual farm goods, but the growing season, even in southern New Mexico, is nearing its end. I was impressed with all of the good smells (mostly from breakfast burritos) and incredibly vibrant colors of the clothes that some of the people were wearing.