Heat and history await, just four hours south. Following the longest winter in Santa Fe’s memory, we chilly citizens crave the heat. Not the sunnywith-a-cool-breeze kind of sissy warm, but the dry, blazing am I in a wood oven? kind of baking. Lizard hot. Temperatures-that-will-warm-the-marrowof-your-bones hot. I-want-to-be-naked-eventhough-my-body-is-not-so-lovely-to-look-at hot.
My advice? Jump in the car and head south, blowing by Albuquerque and all those hipsters whining at the Frontier; Socorro and the New Mexico techies pretending they know how to golf; don't even stop in T or C this time because who wants all those spaceporters and yoga freaks messing with your jones?
Just drive four hours straight south to the border of New Mexico and Texas. Yell it from open windows: Las Cruces, baby!
After close to 300 miles in a car, most doctors or pretend doctors (read: chiropractors) would advise you to get out and stretch your legs. Don't. Drive right over to Roberto's (908 East Amador Ave., 575- 523-1851) and pull up to the drive-through window. Roberto's is owned by the legendary Roberto Estrada, the heroic man who holds the 2004 Guinness World Record for the largest flat enchilada (diameter: 10 feet, 6 inches). This man knows his chile and doesn't weaken it to please no stinking tourists. Try the green-chile-with-meat burrito (my favorite) and the chile relleno burrito (my wife's second love). Not only is the chile the freshest you've ever tasted (and some of the spiciest), but your bill will be about as much as you'd pay for chips and salsa at some of Santa Fe's finest eateries.
Haul your bag of fiery goodness over to Mesilla Plaza, one of the sweetest and most historical spots in southern New Mexico. You can get out of your car now, feel the sun warming your winter face and sit on one of the many benches facing a square originally built to defend against Apache raiders threatening the settlement. If you're a history buff (who likes to push your buffness on your kids) there's lots to learn about this historic link between the Spanish settlements of El Paso and Santa Fe: the Gadsden Purchase, the Civil War, land grants, and how the people of this little hamlet fought the railroad so Mesilla could keep its charm. There are plenty of shops along the plaza, but my family and I like to wander the miles of acequias (some locals call them canals) along the orchards and farmlands of the Mesilla Valley. Here you can see rows and rows of fruit trees, sprawling cotton fields and fertile chile farms all under the watchful gaze of the Organ Mountains, so named because their granite "needles" resemble the pipes on a pipe organ.
There are many great hikes in the Organ Mountains, the most botanically diverse mountain range in New Mexico, boasting more than 870 vascular plant species. The best hike in the summer is Aguirre Springs, 21 miles east of Las Cruces. The Pine Tree Trail located there is a four-mile loop that climbs to the base of the Organ Needle and provides breathtaking views of the Organ Mountains and Tularosa Basin. This hike is higher in elevation, so it will be cooler and you won't get trampled by horses, since the trail is designated as hiking only.
After a day on the trails, a good way to cool off would be a stop at the High Desert Brewery (1201 W. Hadley Ave., 575-525-6752) and grab a pint of its India Pale Ale, Extra Special Bitter, or Peach Wheat (if you roll that way). They serve up tasty cheeseburgers, giant nachos, and red and green jalapeño poppers, and most nights you'll hear live bluegrass or some kind of cool old-timey music. If you're lucky, you'll catch the Deming Fusiliers, which plays the best Appalachian string-band music this side of the Mississippi.
One of my favorite memories of summer in Las Cruces is the drive to Chope's Bar & Café (16145 S. Hwy. 28, 575-233-3420) in La Mesa. When the City of Crosses gets too hot and noisy, you can cruise down Hwy. 28 through the airy pecan orchards (New Mexico has more than 30,000 acres of them). Pecan farmers irrigate their fields by flooding them and that, along with a full canopy over your head, provides a giant swamp cooler for you to enjoy. Roll down those windows and let the moist air fill your car (and mouth and nose). Just a little ways more is what some consider the best place for chile in all of New Mexico. Chope's is named after Jose "Chope" Benavides, whose mother started the business in 1915. Chope's is currently run by Benavides' wife, Lupe, and their talented daughters. The 150-yearold building is the Benavideses' family home. When I first went there back in the day, you could see the Benavideses making food in a kitchen no bigger than my own. They've upgraded in the last few years, but the food is still amazing and absolutely authentic. People drive miles for the chile rellenos, but just as many enjoy the pitchers of margaritas and 40-ounce beers ferried over from the bar next door. The place is almost always crowded and has odd hours, so it's always a good idea to carve out some chill time and call ahead.
OK, OK, you are on fire inside and out, and you need some relief. Head over to the Laabs Pool, located at Lions Park (750 W. Picacho Ave., 505-524-3168).
Built in 2008, this new facility has a zero-depth entry (similar to a beach), figure-8 slide with splash area, cool deck, lap lanes, shade structures and is ADA accessible. And, like most pools in our fair state, Laabs is extremely affordable.
The cool winds will occasionally howl in Santa Fe even in the summer; greet the heat in sunny Las Cruces.