As mentioned in our last post we had hoped to visit Big Bend National Park before leaving Texas but the government shutdown closed access to this park and many others. Everyone is entitled to an opinion but not paying federal employees because of a politically-induced government shutdown is totally WRONG and just plain STUPID !!! Like us, I am sure many people have family members and friends who have been negatively impacted financially and in many other ways by the government shutdown. We hoped it would end quickly for those struggling through the consequences.

Ten years ago, we visited northern New Mexico and thoroughly enjoyed it. We wanted to visit the southern end of the state and participate in another Habitat for Humanity build. Las Cruces seemed to fit the bill plus Bonnie found out she had cousin living in the area. Finding decent campgrounds during the winter in the Southwest is challenging. Bonnie was able to find us an open spot at Sunny Acres RV Park in Las Cruces. This campground had clean RV sites and a nice sized laundry room. Unfortunately, we had to settle for a “scenic view” of two dumpsters at the back of a Dollar General Store because of our short stay. Bonnie and I joked that it seems like many of our campsites end up near a dumpster which doesn’t really bother us as long as it don’t smell bad or attract wild animals to our campsite. There was a major highway construction project underway right in front of the RV park so we heard a lot of construction noise each day but got a discounted rate in return. Also, each morning we were awakened at about 4:30 am when the two dumpsters were emptied by the waste management service truck. Nice wake up call !!! Check out the “dumpster view” from our site:

We signed up for (3) days of volunteer work on a Habitat for Humanity (HFH) project in Las Cruces. The local HFH chapter was busy building (5) new houses in a nice neighborhood where they had previously built other homes mainly using Care-a-Vanners. The local team leader, named Meghan, was truly amazing as she successfully managed this project where multiple houses were being built simultaneously. She immediately made us feel welcome and put us to work on whatever tasks needed more people. I worked with two other guys and we installed windows in one house while Bonnie worked with another crew hanging drywall on the ceiling and walls of another one. Bonnie’s shoulders were sore the next day but she hung in there (no pun intended) and continued to work with drywall. I went up on the roof of another house and nailed roofing paper in preparation for shingle installation. Bonnie and I both love learning how to do different jobs when constructing a HFH house. Here are a few pics from our volunteer experience:

In Las Cruces, we had planned on visiting nearby Carlsbad Caverns National Park, White Sands National Momument and Dripping Springs Natural Area but again the government shutdown prevented us from visiting those parks due to forced closures. We made the best of the situation and focused on exploring some of the interesting places that Las Cruces had to offer. The Zuhl Museum is located on the New Mexico State University campus and offers a huge collection of petrified wood, fossils, and minerals that were donated by the Zuhl family. We learned that each color in petrified wood indicates the presence of certain minerals or radioactive elements such as uranium. Check out these incredibly beautiful pics of petrified wood in the Zuhl collection:

The Zuhl collection also displayed interesting fossils of ancient dinosaurs that roamed the earth millions of years ago. It is believed that a large meteor hit our planet 65 million years ago and caused a mass extinction of almost all dinosaurs. Only crocodilians (alligators & crocodiles) survived this mass extinction along with birds that many scientists consider as descendants of avian dinosaurs. Here are some of the dinosaur fossils that we viewed:

Next, we visited the Chile Pepper Institute which is a non-profit dedicated to the cultivation and production of different chile peppers and their beneficial use in various products. The institute was located in an office on the university campus and offered many delicious products for sale. New Mexico is considered the Chile Pepper Capital of the World and there are lots of delicious spices, sauces, and cooking oils made with green and red chiles that are promoted by the Chile Pepper Institute. We purchased several items to sample their products and support the institute. Here is a link if you are interested in learning more about the Chile Pepper Institute: . Below are some interesting facts about chile peppers…

We traveled to the nearby town of Mesilla which was originally created by Mexican government decree in 1848. It was designated as a place to receive Mexican citizens who sought to remain on Mexican soil after the United States took possession of the northern parts of present-day New Mexico. The main plaza in Mesilla was the site of an official flag-raising ceremony on November 18, 1854, that confirmed United States sovereignty over the New Mexico Territory after the Mexican-American War had ended and a treaty was signed. I learned there was a long history of border disputes between the United States and Mexico which resulted in the addition of considerable U.S. territory in present-day western states of New Mexico, California, Texas, and Arizona. This historic area was full of interesting sites, great shops, and several restaurants. We stopped for lunch at Andele’s Restaurant and sampled a delicious soup, called posole, that was made of shredded pork, hominy, onion, and red chili peppers. Here are a couple of photos that Bonnie took when we visited Mesilla:  

Melanie and James Mixon are friends stationed at nearby Holloman Air Force Base who invited us over for some food, football, and a tour of the base. James is an F-16 fighter pilot who attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and now instructs new fighter pilots in training. Melanie is an accountant that Bonnie worked with in Columbia, SC. They had kept in touch over the years as her family grew with the addition of two sons (Ely & Murphy) and they were transferred to different bases with the Air Force.

James graciously took us on a tour of his F-16 “Black Sheep” squadron and Melanie fed us some delicious chicken wings and pizza while watching the AFC Championship football game. We really enjoyed our visit with the Mixons and thanked them for their generous hospitality. Walking around the F-16 aircrafts and discussing the avionics systems brought back lots of memories for Bonnie of her time in the Air Force working flight-line maintenance on A-10 aircraft. Bonnie also enjoyed me, the Navy guy, being out numbered by Air Force peeps. We couldn’t photograph any of the F-16 aircraft or flight line facilities but here are some snapshots of the “Black Sheep” squadron insignia along with the awesome Mixon family:

Bonnie recently found out she has a cousin who lives Las Cruces. We meet Bonnie’s cousin Amber and her husband, Taylor at a nearby restaurant called The Shed and had a delicious brunch. We chatted for hours and enjoyed getting to know each other. We met again for dinner at a local Japanese restaurant before leaving the area. Amber and Taylor gave us multiple hiking, event and food suggestions for the area. One suggestion was the weekly farmer’s market on Main Street in downtown Las Cruces. We were lucky with a sunny Saturday afternoon and enjoyed the large number of vendors selling produce, honey, baked goods, and handmade items. Bonnie and I were both impressed with the vibrant downtown area which offered museums, theaters, and a cultural center to visitors like us. Unfortunately, we waited until almost the last day of our stay to walk thru the farmer’s market and downtown business district so we ran out of time to explore it further. Here are some photos of the farmer’s market and downtown area in Las Cruces:

Prior to leaving Las Cruces, we hiked trails in Soledad Canyon which is part of the nearby Organ Mountains as suggested by Bonnie’s newly found cousin Amber and husband Taylor. The trail was well worn and marked and mountain views were spectacular as we made our way through an arid desert landscape. The Organ Mountains are part of the national parks and monuments and we were both very glad to hear that the shutdown was over and the national parks had been reopened just in time for us to get this one visit in before leaving the area. The next destination for us is St. Clair Winery in New Mexico on our way to Arizona. Check out the beautiful scenery we experienced while hiking in the Organ Mountains: