Spreading along the eastern banks of the Rio Grande, at the foot of the angular Organ Mountains, the country’s newest National Monument, Las Cruces (pop. 101,047) is the commercial center of a prosperous agricultural and recreational region. Named for a concentration of pioneer grave markers, Las Cruces was first settled by Spanish missionaries but is now a thoroughly modern, American-looking place, with all the motels you could want, and a youthful vitality made possible by the presence of the large New Mexico State University campus. One place worth searching out is Nellie’s Cafe (1226 W. Hadley St., 575/524-9982), a Mexican restaurant famed for spicy salsas and delicious green-chile rellenos, housed in a little brown box off Valley Boulevard on the northwest edge of downtown.
One more rare treat: West of town along I-10, the Las Cruces rest area is home to a giant-sized statue of the New Mexico state bird, the roadrunner, crafted entirely from recycled material (or what used to be called “trash”).