Sometimes, when you’re traveling through Southern New Mexico on a tight schedule, you don’t even think about stopping to sample some of the local color, local flavor and local journeys.
So, here’s a smattering of sights, sounds and tastes I have been exposed to in the Southern New Mexico desert during the 25 years of Desert Exposure.
Bear in mind, you or I could do this same list 100 times and come up with 100 different recommendations. Southern New Mexico has so much to offer, and such variety, there’s no way to pin it down in one column. But here are some delicious single bites, things to do in one hour, and some add-ons if you’re still on a roll.
Most of these opportunities remain available to some extent even with pandemic restrictions but be sure to check first. As we’ve learned this past year, almost everything is “subject to change.”
ONE BITE: When I moved to Alamogordo in 1995, it was a delight to find Daylight Donuts, and that unmistakably delicious glazed donut. It’s still the same, 26 years later, and the lines are still as long. Often as not, you’ll get one so fresh it’s still warm.
ONE HOUR: There’s nothing like wandering up and over a few dunes at White Sands National Park to make you feel you’ve left the world behind, even if for just a few minutes. Make sure you take your shoes off first. Tip: Get your annual pass, so you don’t have to pay each time you go.
BONUS TIME: If you have a young child, make a point to ride the Toy Train at Alamogordo’s Alameda Park. The miniature train cars can seat adults and children comfortably and take you on a pleasant loop around the park among the signature cottonwoods.
ONE BITE/ONE HOUR: There are lots of cool things to do in and around Cloudcroft, but if you only have one hour and you do want a bite, consider Mad Jack’s Barbecue, right on U.S. Hwy 82 in the heart of town. You typically have to wait an hour for your ‘cue, but no one ever regrets it. Wash it down with a cold Big Red.
BONUS TIME: Visit the highway stop just west of Cloudcroft to look at the Mexican Canyon Trestle, showing remnants of the train tracks that once amazingly wound their way through the Sacramento Mountains.
ONE BITE: Travel about 12 miles east of Deming on N.M. Hwy 549 and turn south on Lewis Flats Road. If you’re lucky, you will find the Adobe Deli. If you’re like me, it might take you a couple of turnarounds. If you’ve been to Adobe Deli, then you know. If you haven’t, it’s difficult to describe. It’s an old schoolhouse turned into something that’s part deli, part museum, part pool hall, part steakhouse, part cigar bar, part library and part kitchen sink. Everything on the menu is good, but if we’re narrowing down to one bite, their French onion soup is among the best I’ve ever had. And I’ve had it in France.
ONE HOUR: Shop for Western wear. We are in the old West, and Deming reflects that by having not one, but two, very good Western wear shops. There’s J.R.’s Western Wear and there’s also Circle S Western Emporium, which conveniently doubles as a dry cleaner if you need to get your Wranglers pressed.
BONUS TIME: There is a lot about Deming and Luna County’s history you wouldn’t expect. The Deming Luna Mimbres Museum details much of it in nice fashion.
ONE BITE: The per-capita number of unique, quality restaurants in Silver City and Grant County makes it a mini-Santa Fe in terms of New Mexico cuisine. So, you can’t go wrong eating anywhere here. One of the neat things about Downtown Silver City is the feeling of timelessness. Some places feel like the future, and other places feel like right now. Nancy’s Silver Café feels like stepping back in time to the classic downtown diner. Order the red enchiladas with an egg on top for breakfast and you’ve got a timeless New Mexico meal.
ONE HOUR: Every time I wander around the cool formations at City of Rocks State Park, I feel like I’m in an episode of the original “Star Trek” TV series. While you can camp here and spend all day and all night, I don’t think I’ve ever stayed for more than an hour. Tip: “Star Trek” fans will get this; don’t wear red.
BONUS TIME: Gallery hopping downtown. Silver City has so many different styles of artists, with so much changing work, you can make this tour many times and always have a different experience.
ONE BITE: Mesilla’s Double Eagle has always been a destination, with unique atmosphere and unique cuisine. A favorite appetizer is East meets Southwest meets Hawaiian. You need to try (or try again) the green chile wontons with a tangy pineapple sauce.
ONE HOUR: Either before or after your wonton fix, take a stroll on the Mesilla Plaza. Whether you’re shopping or just walking, it’s always a pleasant scene.
BONUS TIME: Take a walk in the park. Las Cruces has many parks, and a wide variety of sizes and sceneries. A nice getaway for a walk, or a picnic.
Truth or Consequences
ONE BITE: Los Arcos steakhouse turned 50 in 2020. I helped them celebrate their anniversary by getting their famous blackened prime rib to go. Add some green chile and their delicious sauteed mushrooms, and you will be completely satisfied after the first bite. You’ll probably go ahead and eat the rest of the steak, though. Damn near impossible to resist.
ONE HOUR: You can’t drive across it anymore, but there are plenty of spots northeast of T or C where you can park your vehicle and marvel at the engineering wonder that is the Elephant Butte Dam, which was built on the Rio Grande in 1916.
BONUS TIME: A beverage and conversation (and sometimes live music) at T or C Brewing Co. downtown.
Richard Coltharp is publisher of Desert Exposure. For 25 years, he has been endlessly fascinated by the food, flavors, fauna and friends of Southern New Mexico.