That, dear readers, is always a promising way to start the day. I stayed at the Big Chile Inn, an older place formerly run by a family but now owned by a corporation. Its interior courtyard was lush, and I would end my stay in Las Cruces by lounging happily under palm trees and reading a silly book I discovered while roaming. But the day began with overcast skies, in Old Mesilla.
Mesilla -- Old Mesilla, La Mesilla, varying on the sign -- seems to have been a pueblo that has since been enveloped by the city of Las Cruces itself.
I found it in the early am to be deserted and gloomy, as the rest of the tourists were still slumbering and the shops were empty of even their owners. The smell of cooking tortillas, the faint sound of strings and cymbals, and the happy clamor of visitors lost in admiration -- an ambiance shared by both Albuquerque and Santa Fe's old town plazas -- wasn't here, not yet. After exploring a bit I decided to head for downtown, to take in the science and nature museums. I really should have returned to La Mesilla, to see it with its eyes open, but the later plazas would give me plenty of that atmosphere, and Las Cruces had its own attractions.
When first entering Las Cruces, I unwittingly previewed my route downtown as well. The road I'd expected to follow to my motel took me instead to a downtown roundabout, the lanes splitting in opposite directions. This time I followed it, relying on my 'trip book' (a binder fulled of highway and street maps I'd compiled in the months previous) to guide me to the museum. I arrived just as it opened and was immediately awed by a spinning globe -- a model of Jupiter, I thought. I stood in admiration watching it rotate, and then realized a screen below allowed me to change it to any planet and most moons in the solar system. The museum was just getting started, though! Among its princely attractions: a large expanse of dirt, preserving or modeling trackways of prehistoric creatures. (I would think it's merely a recreation of an archaeological site!), stuffed Chihuahuan predators (that's the desert, not the noisy mouth with legs), and several live animals. Their reptiles were captivatingly active; as I told one of the staffers, I've never actually seen a snake MOVE inside a zoo. But here, I witnessed lizards clambering about, snakes prowling, and....best of all...a MASSIVE snapping turtle.