Editor’s Note: Strolling Our Streets is a continuing series focusing on local history and ambience during one-mile ambles in neighborhoods around the Mesilla Valley.
MESILLA - It’s a Mesilla gathering place, a popular parade route and the scene of a lot of activity for the colorful town that is best known for its historic plaza.
Avenida de Mesilla is the town’s “other Main Street.”
The Mesilla Plaza is the place that’s notorious for gunslingers and ghosts, stagecoach stops, political rallies and gatherings for transitions in a place that has been home to ancient Mansos, Pueblo people and Apaches, Spanish Conquistadors and Mexican Settlers. The 1854 Gadsden Purchase made Mesilla part of the United States, where it has remained except for a brief period in 1861-62 when it was the occupied capital of the Confederate Arizona Territory.
“After the Battle of Glorieta in March of 1862, being short of supplies, the Confederate troops retreated to Texas. This ended the Civil War conflict in New Mexico,” according to oldmesilla,org.
All those indigenous peoples, cowpokes, stagecoach drivers, modern presidential candidates, and, of course, Billy the Kid, had to find a way into the now-legendary plaza, and chances are many of them set foot (human or horse), wagon wheels or tires on what is now Avenida de Mesilla, also known as New Mexico Highway 28.
“All those people would have had to traverse that way when it used to be the route that ran right next to the Rio Grande River, before it moved three miles to the west and became nothing but a mud bog most of the time,” said Preciliana Sandoval of La Morena Tours, a native Mesillera (resident of Mesilla) artist and educator who has been leading tourists around the her home territory for decades.
Spring is a perfect time to stroll the route yourself, and you may be surprised at all that’s happening along a few bustling blocks.
In a less than one-mile stretch between Calle de Mercado and West University Avenue, you’ll find little shopping plazas, including two with outdoor market areas that will put you in mind of south-of-the-border emporiums: Ristraman Chile, 2531 Avenida de Mesilla, and Casa Bonita, 1900 Avenida de Mesilla. There are two schools: Las Cruces Academy and Rio Grande Preparatory Institute, and some of the territory’s most popular restaurants and watering holes, including Palacio Bar (popular with poets and open mic aficionados), a brewery (Spotted Dog) and a winery and restaurant (St. Clair’s).
A good place to start your walk is right across the street from St. Clair’s in the picturesque Calle de Mercado area, where you’ll find a complex of buildings that look old, but aren’t. The Boldt family commissioned structures reflecting characteristic New Mexico architectural styles by renowned artist and sculptor Kelley Hestir, who created the moving sculpture of a trio of Bataan Death March soldiers in Las Cruces Veterans Memorial Park.
Now, the complex includes more recent additions that sometimes unite for joint art openings: Adobe Patio Gallery, the fanciful RokokoArt Gallery and Las Cruces Academy, at the site of what was once Preston Contemporary Art.
Foodies can also start a tour that begins Paisano’s, known for their selection of savory molé sauces. Other places to linger for coffee, a snack or meals (sometimes with outside tables) include The Bean, Thai Delight, Café de Mesilla, NM Grille & Bar in Hotel Mesilla (formerly Meson de Mesilla), Chala’s Wood Fire Grill, and Andele! Opening soon, according to signs, will be Salud! De Mesilla next to LuLu, 1800 Avenida de Mesilla.
Keep an eye out for entertaining surprises. You won’t find anything to eat at the Old Tortilla Factory, at the corner of Calle Parian, which houses art and crafts shops including the Tres Manos Weaving Studio. But, according to paranormal investigators, you might encounter the ghosts of those who once worked at the factory. (Not to be confused with the ghosts of Christmas Past, presumable more likely to hang out across the street at ‘Tis the Season, which offers holiday décor all-year around.)
As you amble, try to find time to peek in the window of Valley Plumbing, 2800 Avenida de Mesilla, to see vintage models of some of Mesilla’s most famous landmarks, including the plaza gazebo and San Albino Basilica, all handmade by Pedro Peña.
If you feel like stopping along the way, you can pause at benches and enjoy the fountain at a little park near Andele!
“It’s Veteranos Park, honoring veterans from Vietnam on,” Sandoval said.
Just before you reach University Avenue, you’ll find benches, picnic tables, a swing set and a touching tribute “to those who passed away while serving the town of Mesilla” at Parque Commemorativo.
Newcomers, visitors and natives or long- time residents all might learn something new with a visit to Mesilla Town Hall and J. Paul Taylor Visitors Center, 2231 Avenida de Mesilla. It features historical displays and free magazines and pamphlets about attractions in Mesilla and throughout the region. For information, visit the center, mesillanm.gov or oldmesilla.org.
S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at 575-541-5450, firstname.lastname@example.org or @derricksonmoore on Twitter.