Mesilla, New Mexico: Discovering A Different Side Of The Southwest

Alex Briseño, Flickr

A couple of weeks ago, I traveled to El Paso on short notice for a magazine assignment. I found it enjoyable, but on my final day, I was itching to get out of the city limits and explore before my evening flight. Every local I talked to gave me the same response: go for a scenic drive out to Mesilla.

Located just 44 miles northwest of El Paso on the fringes of Las Cruces, Mesilla is a historic village established in 1848. Perhaps best known as the location for Billy the Kid’s trial, Mesilla has also played an integral role in the development of the Southwest, in part because it was along the Butterfield Stagecoach Line. I’m obsessed with all things New Mexico, but despite numerous visits to the northern part of the state, I’d never been south of Albuquerque. I was an easy sell.

The drive to Mesilla presents a dramatic contrast in topography. About 30 miles past the arid plains and stark Franklin Mountain range of El Paso, the Rio Grande grows from a trickle to substantial enough to support lush vegetation. I’d never seen a pecan tree before, and suddenly I was passing thousands of acres of them, in all their towering, leafy glory (after Texas, this region – Dona Ana County – is the nation’s largest producer). There were fields of onions and chiles (Mesilla is just 42 miles away from Hatch), and vast dairy farms. As a former ranch kid, I instantly felt at home.

mesilla, new mexico
Courtesy of Cisco Photography

As you enter Mesilla off of Highway 10 West, there are indications you’re approaching someplace special. Walk a couple of blocks down to the historic Plaza, and it’s impossible not to be charmed. Despite the inevitable souvenir shops, of which there are only a few, a number of buildings are on the historic register. The vibe isn’t one of touristy kitsch, but rather, small-town Southwest. There are coffee houses, cafes, boutiques, antique stores, galleries, wine tasting rooms and museums. A chocolate shop sells small bags of dipped pecans, while Solamente!, a specialty food boutique, offers tastes of the region in the form of green chile-spiked pecan brittle and salsas.

I whiled away a few hours by strolling the Plaza and talking to the handful of vendors who sell their wares from tables around its perimeter. This is the place to buy a bag of pecans and homemade bizcochos (buttery little cookies), or a pair of earrings. The Basilica of San Albino dominates the north end of the Plaza, and is open to visitors from 1 to 3 p.m. daily, except on Sundays. Afterward, I sipped an icy horchata and read on the shady patio of a coffee house. It’s unthinkable (to me, at least) to be in New Mexico and not eat. The region’s most famous restaurant, La Posta, is around the corner from the Plaza. This stunning 19th-century compound was once part of the Butterfield Stagecoach Line, but today it’s better known for its green chile enchiladas and signature Tostada Compuesta.

mesilla, new mexico
Courtesy of Ken Stinnet

Before heading to the airport, I drove the few miles down a back road to Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park. Unfortunately, it was still closed for the season, but the drive meanders past pecan orchards, crumbling adobe homesteads and tranquil farmhouses. Horses graze in verdant pasture, and fields of onion with their flowering lavender heads intersperse the orchards. It’s lovely, and a side of New Mexico I’ve never seen, used as I am to the dramatic ochre landscape, canyons and severe mesas of the north.

At the end of a business trip, I’m often content to just get to the airport early, and spend the time people watching and reading. My jaunt to Mesilla was a reminder that sometimes it’s worth the extra effort to hit the road instead.

New Mexico Tourism launches Billy the Kid-themed scavenger hunt featuring $10,000 reward

billy the kid, new mexicoThe Land of Enchantment just became the Land of Advancement. “Catch the Kid,” a new summer travel promotion launched by New Mexico Tourism Department, has turned the entire state into a “real life video game,” with the prize being $10,000 in cold, hard cash. “The Kid” in question is one William H. Bonney, aka “Billy the Kid.” Participants (it’s geared toward families) try to track down this most iconic of New Mexico outlaws by finding clues hidden throughout the state.

Now through September 24th, you can register your family online at to create a “posse profile,” as well as gain access to exclusive New Mexico travel deals and weekly vacation giveaways throughout the summer. The reward money is the inflation equivalent of the $500 reward offered by Governor Lew Wallace in 1881 for the Kid’s head.

If you have a smartphone, you can download the “Catch the Kid” smartphone app. Alternatively, you can play by taking pictures or you or your family posing next to clue posters placed throughout New Mexico, and upload them to your profile page. Designated locations around the state will unlock clues that lead to the Kid’s New Mexico hideout. The more clues you collect, the more information you’ll gather on when and how to capture the wily criminal. The first posse to present the Kid with an arrest warrant will win their handsome reward.

Players using a smartphone to play can unlock additional New Mexico travel deals and win prizes, because the app allows players to find Billy’s money bag loot which is virtually placed and hidden in every county in New Mexico. You’ll have the chance to use this loot to buy vacations, deals, or meals online in the general store section of the “Catch the Kid” website. Good luck, pardners.

Watch New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez announce contest details, below