With the spectacular Organ Mountains as its background, Las Cruces is the second largest city in New Mexico. Leasburg Dam Campground is only 15 miles away from Las Cruces. It is convenient to go shopping and spend some time in Las Cruces. We took a back road and passed acres after acres of mature pecan trees. There were also expansive fields with newly planted baby pecan trees. Maybe pecan trees love 350 sunny days a year, and the hot and dry desert climate here.
Downtown is small with some low adobe buildings. But it has understated charm with galleries, bookstores, gift stores, restaurants, a theatre, a plaza, and museums. The Rio Grande theatre is a registered national historical building. Its eye catching arch entrance is decorated with reliefs of flowers. Two ornate colored reliefs of violin sit symmetrically on the shoulders of the arch. Glazed tiles wrap around the base of the columns at the entrance. Arches are repeated on the second floor around windows and frieze. The plaza near the theatre was decorated with Christmas trees and light fixtures. Farmers & Crafts Market was open on the plaza. There was only one farmer’s stand selling pecans and dried chili peppers as hanging bundles and wreaths. Other stands were selling jewelry, crafts, clothes, photos, etc. We bought some pecans and a bundle of hanging chili.
The interactive exhibition of nano at Museum of Nature and Science interested me. When things get real small and in the nano size, i.e., a billionth of a meter, they act differently. For instance, static electricity has greater effect than gravity on nano-sized materials. When I spun the disk with small beads inside, the beads floated instead of dropped. Stain-resistant fabric is an example of nano technology used in our daily life. Nanocoating is used in waxing apples. A collection of prehistoric fossil trackways in the Robledo Mountains excavated by the local citizen-scientist, Jerry MacDonal, was impressive. From the fossil trackways, scientist was able to construct the skeletal structure of the Dimetrodon. Turtles, frogs, lizards, snakes, salamanders in the Chihuahuan Desert were also on display. The giant scull of T. rex with a mouthful of sharp teeth was scary looking. A couple of petrified wood and a beautiful giant purple amethyst geode were also on display. The heart shaped amethyst geode had a nick name of a Chinese goddess – “Guan Yin’s Heart.”
After having a delicious lunch of brisket at Borderland BBQ, we went to Zuhl Geological Museum at New Mexico State University. It is a cool museum with a vast collection of petrified wood, fossils, as well as some minerals. A 30,000 pound petrified sequoia tree that grew 50 million years ago was set on a raised base in front of the museum. Several polished petrified wood stumps were displayed outside of the museum. The colors of petrified wood were absolutely beautiful.
Over 1,600 specimens of petrified wood were on display. It is a gallery of nature’s arts. Each slab of petrified wood is a piece of abstract art with rainbow colors and lines. “The soul of a former tree” was how Herb Zuhl, donor of the collections, described the cut up petrified wood. Trees were preserved by burial in volcanic ash. Permineralization fossilizes a tree by replacing living cells with minerals over an extremely long time. Arizona and Utah have some of the most beautiful fossil wood in the world. Locally, petrified wood were found in the Prehistoric Trackways National Monument in the Robledo Mountains. A big table in the center of the gallery was a lengthwise cut up petrified wood. Some benches made from petrified wood invite visitors to take a seat and appreciate the kaleidoscope colors and lines of petrified wood.
The History of Life Gallery displayed fossils spanning from a 3-billion-year old Banded Iron Formation to the nest of Oviraptor dinosaur eggs (65-70 million years old). Well preserved fossils of trilobites, sea stars, nautiloids, crinoids froze the time at Paleozoic Era. Fossils of dinosaurs, turtles, and ammonites were also included in the gallery. A skull of mosasaurus looked like a dinosaur. But mosasaurus is actually an extinct marine reptile and ate anything they wanted. They had two sets of teeth in the upper jaw that would hold their prey tightly. It looked as menacing as a T. Rex!
The most spectacular stone in the collection of minerals was a gem chrysocolla. The blue green gem chrysocolla had a brilliant coating of fine quartz. This druzy Chrysocolla specimen is a world class treasure. The amethyst “cathedrals” and rhodochrosite were also beautiful.
Las Cruces, “The City of the Crosses,” is a charming border city that has a lot more for us to explore.