By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Late May in the Mesilla Valley of New Mexico
Placeholder Image

A bright sunny waning afternoon in late May, I had just rolled down the west side of the Organ Mountains into the Mesilla Valley of the Rio Grande. The city of Las Cruces basks in late afternoon sunshine as I pass through familiar streets and on to old Mesilla.

Across the plaza, I cross the irrigation ditch that is normally flowing with water for the pecan groves and fields of cotton, chile, onions, and alfalfa. The ditch is dry; the reservoirs upstream of the Rio Grande are once again low on water.

I turn on to Calle de Los Huertos, lined with traditional adobe houses. I'm grateful that old Mesilla has maintained strict zoning and building standards - no ketchup palaces in this neck of the woods - living proof that unrestricted "freedom" is not freedom at all, but license for degrading chaos.

I roll into my driveway. The tenant of the main hose is not home, but my adobe guesthouse awaits me, along with a lot of dust and cobwebs.

I toss my gear into the guesthouse, plug in the refrigerator, sweep out the place and make it semi-habitable. Although the outside temperature is in the 90s, it is early enough in the season that the thick adobe walls have not yet heated through, and the inside temperature remains comfortable.

I check out my email and make some phone calls to my friends. As the evening temperature cools down, I stroll across the plaza and up the street to enjoy some Mexican food at Andele's. The salsa bar, offering a variety of salsas and jalapenos, is a nice touch.

Next morning I wake up to the call of mourning doves and a few stray roosters announcing the dawn. After showering I stroll out to examine the landscape. It had been a weird spring, but it looks like the two apricot trees are bearing, though less than usual.

Winter temperatures in that neck of the woods occasionally dip below freezing but don't remain there long. However, two winters ago the temperatures uncharacteristically got down to zero and remained there, rendering considerable damage to plant life. The Lady Banks roses that adorn the front of the main house and cover the veranda with beautiful yellow blossoms in spring took a real hit. Half of them are dead. The rest are once again climbing up the posts of the veranda, but have a ways to go. The ice plant in front of the house is completely gone.

I have a few errands to run, but first it's off for some "health food" at La Fiesta Bakery that has been voted the best in the Mesilla Valley, and with good reason. The owner recognizes me and asks me where pal Willie is. I tell her that I just blew into town and we'll be back on another occasion.

As I drive around I note that some of the palm trees that are not native to the area have had the course, victims of that unusually cold winter. Some look like they will survive.

The fire in the Gila Wilderness area of Southwest New Mexico, billed as New Mexico's largest ever, is still raging. The westerly winds are carrying smoke to the east, severe enough that the Organ Mountains that provide a scenic backdrop to Las Cruces are barely visible.

I wander over to the campus where I had made my living for 11 years. Classes are over and things are quiet. So I head over to the Agricultural Experiment Station and pick up some onions, a product of NMSU's onion breeding program.

With friends, over the next several days we enjoy huevos rancheros at the Village Inn, breakfast at a coffee house on Avenida de Mesilla, munchies and beer at the Irish Pub in Picacho Hills, lunch with my neighbor, Blanca, at Andele's. A trip to the Mesilla Valley is always incomplete without a junket down to La Mesa and Chopie's. And a beer with friends at the Double Eagle Bar on Mesilla's plaza is always fun.

A prime attraction at the Double Eagle Bar and Restaurant is the haunted Carlotta Room. Mysterious things happen there - chairs and tables inexplicably moved, wine glasses mysteriously broken, curtains fluttering when there is no breeze, and unused chairs showing worn upholstery. Freaked out employees, recounting ghostly experiences, resign in panic.

It was a secret forbidden love affair -two lovers murdered when discovered by a jealous domineering mother in a blind rage. Ghosts of the two lovers occasionally return, harmless, but mischievous. What's a murder without accompanying romantic intrigue?

Never having experienced mysterious deeds at the Double Eagle I can't vouch for these ghosts. But neither do I wish to question the veracity of these stories. Why put the kibosh on a good story - especially when it attracts tourists?

One pleasant morning I'm having breakfast at El Comedor and grab a table outside. A young woman at the next table pulls a sweater over her shoulders, informing her companion that she is cold. She is obviously not from the North Country, as these temperatures in the low 70s with low humidity are perfect, and in a couple of hours will be in the 80s or 90s.

Water gurgling over a stone fountain provides a nice backdrop. An occasional bird perches on a stone, enjoying a drink of cool water before fluttering happily off. The proprietor comes out, asking me how my huevos rancheros are.

A colorful local Mesilla character that for at least the last 20 years has been waving cheerfully to everyone enters the courtyard and starts watering flowers. Every town and village has at least one such local character.

So, once again, errands completed and friends visited, it's time to leave the beautiful Mesilla Valley. Instead of my usual route, I'll head north, along I-25, El Camino Real.

- John Waelti's column appears every Friday in the Times. He can be reached at