Brilliant Mexican poppies carpet the ground at the base of the Florida Mountains in extreme southern New Mexico. (Photo: New Mexico Tourism Department, James Orr)
Updated: Thursday, 05 Jan 2012, 6:24 PM MST
Published : Wednesday, 26 Aug 2009, 1:44 PM MDT
LAS CRUCES (KRQE) - Before there was a city of Las Cruces the name described a place where crosses marked the graves of travelers killed on the Spanish royal road connecting the interior of Mexico with the remote northern capital of Santa Fe. It would not be until 1849, after war turned the northern reaches of Old Mexico into a territory of the United States, that Army engineers laid out a grid of streets now grown into the state's second-biggest city with an economy rooted in agriculture, education, retirement and space exploration.
For many decades Las Cruces served as a crossroads for travelers and a commercial center for farmers and ranchers. But after World War Two the opening of what is now Whites Sands Missile Range launched rockets into space and the local economy to new heights. The small-town college became New Mexico State University expanding into high-tech fields while continuing to support its land-grant mission to improve agriculture. The growth of the state's chile industry is attributed in large part to research and the development of new chile strains at NMSU.
Retirement opportunities and year-round recreation also
contributed to the growth of Las Cruces which now has a population
of about 90,000 within the city and more than 200,000 in the
metropolitan area. The city offers ready access to winter sports in
the Sacramento Mountains, hunting, fishing and camping in the Gila
National Forest and business and cultural connections to nearby El
Paso, Texas, and Cíudad Juarez, Chihuahua. Among its annual
events is the Whole Enchilada Fiesta offering entertainment, food
and a chance to taste the world's largest enchilada.