The Mesilla Valley is the ideal place to find endangered species. Here, New Mexico and Texas meet where the Rio Grande cools the desert. The river paints a strip of green in the valley supporting unique life that could not survive in the surrounding harsh desert and mountains.
One species’ population has declined by 65% over the past 60 years in the US. Harmful legislation and subdivisions encroaching on their habitat continue driving the population toward extinction.

The Mesilla Valley lies between Las Cruces, New Mexico on the northwest end and El Paso, Texas 35 miles southeast. Taking Interstate 10 between the two cities, travelers miss everything in the valley below.

Two-lane Highway 28 (Don Juan de Oñate Trail) runs parallel to I-10 through the heart of the Mesilla Valley. Take this scenic route to observe the endangered species in action. Have a great time while you support their struggle to survive.

Help save the American farmer.

Pecan groves, cotton fields, chile peppers, alpaca farms, corn mazes, vineyards, and many crops thrive around the life-giving Rio Grande.

With so many farm activities in this small valley, it’s hard to choose. Though easily accessible, the Mesilla Valley has been relatively sheltered from tourism. As a result, many places are free and owners are often around to share their stories.

The weather is sunny year round, but visit in autumn for harvest activities.

Start your Mesilla Valley morning in the northwest outskirts of Las Cruces. No New Mexico trip is complete without chile picking. Joe Lujan Farms has “all varieties of chile” and for just $0.50/lb you can pick until your fingers burn. Green, red, yellow, orange, and even the occasional black or papery white peppers hang from the plants like festive Christmas ornaments. Everything has a spicy New Mexican flair, even Joe Lujan himself.

Their giant sacks encourage you to pick far more than the few you intended. Once you have enough chiles to try all the recipes at http://chile-recipes.com/, move on to your next Mesilla Valley stop.

As you head southeast through Las Cruces and start on Highway 28, take a two-block detour to the historical plaza in Old Mesilla and enjoy lunch at La Posta.

Ten relaxing minutes down the road after crossing the Rio Grande you enter Stahmann’s beautiful tunnel of pecan trees.

Stop 20 miles later in La Union, NM to see the Alvarezes. Their 1,000 acre farm is completely organic (no chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or altered seeds).

Dosi, a third generation farmer, and his wife Norma began growing organic cotton in 1995. Cotton uses more insecticides than any other major crop, and they worried about chemicals affecting their unborn son. Cotton is their specialty, but they also grow chiles, alfalfa, and pecans.

Norma describes what chemicals can do – kill pests, kill weeds, make cotton grow, make it stop, make leaves fall off for harvest, and much more. Relinquishing control to Mother Nature prevents most from even trying organic farming.

Dosi and Norma face endless challenges to keep crops organic. They must rotate crops often to break pest cycles, use more labor to control weeds, and wait for a freeze to make plants’ leaves fall. Dosi is last to use the local cotton gin. It must be cleaned before processing organic cotton, and the first batch still becomes “inorganic” with residual chemicals.

Norma explains sadly that the most time consuming challenge is in New Mexico’s capitol fighting crippling legislation. Yet they persevere toward a future where their kids can still farm the land they love.

You see their success as Dosi proudly displays a Patagonia shirt and colorful Japanese handkerchiefs made with their cotton.

After their story, admire their farm equipment including a cotton pickin’ cotton picker!

Next, off to the fields to touch that tempting fluff: white Pima, short staple, and even naturally colored cotton! Brown and green puffs match dye-free handkerchiefs you saw earlier.

Cotton flowers resemble little roses. Bouquets for Norma? Dosi smiles. “I wouldn’t want to waste a flower that could become a good boll of cotton.”

In the alfalfa field, Norma explains the tedious process required for baling hay. It must be done precisely as dew forms, which some nights never happens.

Dosi smiles again. “That’s what I bring Norma to make her happy. A perfect bale of hay for her horses.”

So what do you get out of a visit to the Alvarez farm? Inspiration to go organic and to always keep fighting for what you believe in.

Three miles southeast is a different kind of textile farm. The owners, Bruce & Jeri Beatty, worked years in the city before beginning “The Good Life.”

At La Buena Vida Alpacas, Jeri answers all questions enthusiastically. Her fluffy alpacas’ softer-than-cashmere fleece is sheered every April and comes in 22 colors.

Visit their llama, cashmere goat, camel, and 65 alpacas. Pet Sara and receive a camel kiss. Curious alpacas inspect you closely with wide innocent eyes, but their fur always eludes your fingertips.

Next, head into the studio. “Feel the difference” between cashmere, alpaca, camel, and wool. Participate in knitting and weaving activities, or peruse the variety of yarns and books for sale. See and touch a display of alpaca fleece in all stages of production: sheered through finished yarn.

Purchase alpaca clothing or, if you catch Jeri’s contagious enthusiasm for these cute and lucrative animals, purchase your own alpaca.

When you say goodbye, go less than a mile to Zin Valle Vineyards just across the Texas border. Taste up to five wines for free. Then buy a bottle of “Man’s Best Friend” Merlot which helps support the El Paso Humane Society.

After a long day enjoying this valley’s farms, kick back on the vineyard patio, sip your wine, and relax in the company of grape vines and pecan trees.

You reflect on your fun day, then wonder:

Why is visiting Mesilla Valley farms helping save them?

To quote Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin: “Because humans want to save things that they love.”

What and Where:
Joe Lujan Farms (You-Pick Chiles) 1200 Lujan Hill Rd, Las Cruces, NM; 575-526-5918. Open Fri-Tues, 7:00am-4:30pm.
La Posta Restaurant (2410 Calle de San Albino, Mesilla, NM; (575) 524-3524; www.laposta-de-mesilla.com)
Stahmann’s Pecans 922505 Highway 28 South, La Mesa, NM; 1-800-654-6887; www.stahmanns.com)
Dosi & Norma Alvarez, Organic Farmers (La Union, NM; Call ahead to request a tour. (915) 525-6628)
La Buena Vida Alpacas (1090 Highway 28, Anthony, NM; (505) 589-4323; www.labuenavidaalpacas.com)
Zin Valle Vineyards (7315 Highway 28, Canutillo, TX; (915) 877-4544; www.zinvalle.com)

More time? Check out these other great places in the Mesilla Valley:
La Viña Winery 4201 S. Highway 28, La Union, NM; (575) 882-7632; www.lavinawinery.com
La Union Corn Maze 1101 Highway 28, Anthony, NM; (888) 383-MAZE; www.launionmaze.com
Nutcracker Suite Pecan Farms Greenwood Rd off Highway 28, Anthony, NM; (505) 822-3505.

Writer Bio: April Nelson is an engineering manager who commutes across the US/Mexico border daily. She took her first overseas trip to Poland for a college internship and she has been hooked on travel ever since. April especially enjoys understanding other cultures; she is fluent in Spanish and is currently studying Chinese. She aspires to share her passion for travel with the world through her writing. You may contact April at april_m_nelson@hotmail.com