Rocky Roads

Journey past eerie geological formations and soaring desert peaks as you explore offbeat border towns and the site of Pancho Villa’s infamous raid.

Why Go Now

The state’s sparsely populated 180-mile border with Mexico yields some wonderful curiosities around the Chihuahuan Desert communities of Deming and Columbus, from the site of one of the few postcolonial military attacks on U.S. soil to a state park in which thievery—of a sort—is enthusiastically encouraged. Hikers, history buffs, and rock collectors will find plenty to see and do in this region, which is also home to both a first-rate microbrewery and the state’s largest winery. Be sure to bring your passport—we’ve included a quick stroll across the border into tiny Puerto Palomas, Mexico.

DAY 1: DEMING

Deming’s Attic Start your adventure in historic downtown Deming, which was established as a transportation center in 1881 and named in honor of Mary Deming, wife of rail magnate Charles Crocker. It feels almost as if you’re entering a secret club as you descend the stairs to the basement entryway of the free Deming Luna Mimbres Museum, which occupies a hulking redbrick former National Guard Armory. (Note the tank out front—perhaps a subtle deterrent for an insurrection from some modern-day Pancho Villa?) Exhibits run the idiosyncratically endearing gamut, from shelves of wide-eyed antique dolls to an astoundingly comprehensive collection of priceless Mimbres baskets, bowls, and tapestries, ca. AD 1000–1130. There are also a fabulous assemblage of decorative liquor decanters depicting everything from Bob Cratchit to a fez-capped Shriner, memorabilia documenting the town’s long-gone Harvey House hotel, a photo tribute to favorite son and noted bandleader Nacio Herb Brown, colorful gemstones collected in nearby mountains, and a vintage, wince-inducing dentist’s chair. You could easily spend a full day down here. The museum also provides tours of the Territorial-style Historic Seaman Field Home, the town’s “old custom house”—a reminder that, before the Gadsden Purchase in 1853, present-day Deming sat right on the U.S.–Mexico border.

Beers and Brats Brewmaster Bryan Reedy discovered the robust joys of craft beer a few years ago during a Navy stint in Jacksonville, Florida, and opened Mimbres Valley Brewing Company in a light-filled, high-ceilinged downtown building in 2010. His potent, Belgian Tripel–inspired Liquid Nap, kicky green-chile lager, and velvety Pancho Villa Stout have been earning acclaim from suds aficionados ever since. The convivial taproom is a fine lunch and dinner option, serving fiery Buffalo wings and delicious char-grilled, stout-marinated bratwurst sandwiches.

Overnight A mile west of downtown, the Best Western Mimbres Valley Inn is an economical, meticulously maintained vintage motel with cheerfully updated rooms and a large outdoor pool.

DAY 2: CITY OF ROCKS AND ROCK HOUND STATE PARKS

Riding the Huevos Yes, that’s a trophy swordfish mounted on the wall of Irma’s, an otherwise unassuming downtown Mexican café with red-tile floors and an eclectic mix of framed floral paintings and cheap-beer banners. The food here is hearty and unfussy, the service warm and attentive. The breakfast gorditas, bursting with chorizo, eggs, and cheese, will satisfy for hours.

 

See Rock City Since AD 800, humans have been awestruck by City of Rocks, a field of soaring hoodoos and massive boulders—some as high as a four-story building—that rise unexpectedly from a flat, brushy plain 30 miles northeast of Deming. Mimbres Indians resided for several centuries amid these bizarre-looking rocks, which were formed by the eruption of Emory Caldera roughly 35 million years ago. Today the state park is popular with campers. Some 60 tent and RV sites are scattered among the rock monoliths and desert gardens, which are traversed by nearly six miles of hiking and mountain-biking trails. If you do overnight here, check ahead with the visitor center to see when the next “star party” is scheduled in the park’s observatory.

Wine Stopper St. Clair Winery & Bistro is a 10-minute drive east of downtown Deming, on the way to Rock Hound State Park. You might recognize the name—St. Clair produces a staggering 70 different wines under a variety of labels (Blue Teal, D.H. Lescombes) and has bistros and tasting rooms in Albuquerque, Farmington, and Las Cruces. But production and some of the vineyards are here. Beside the industrial-looking winery—the state’s largest—you’ll find a lawn with picnic tables and an inviting adobe tasting room with a handsome fieldstone counter and racks of wines, plus tempting gourmet coffees, chocolates, and cookies.

Thunder Egg Hunt As you drive south on N.M. 143, the Florida and Little Florida Mountains rise like the jagged teeth of grizzled miners above the Chihuahuan Desert’s endless plains of yucca, creosote, and mesquite. Nestled in the foothills, Rock Hound State Park invites you to hunt for treasure: Each guest may fill a sack with up to 15 pounds of minerals and rocks—if you’re lucky, you’ll spy the sparkling interior of a geode or thunder egg (similar to a geode but formed within a rhyolitic lava flow). Or you can purchase these stunning geological specimens at a couple of well-stocked rock shops just outside the park, including Basin Range Volcanics Geolapidary Museum and the Spanish Stirrup Rock Shop. Be sure to visit the park’s other unit, Spring Canyon Recreation Area, a few miles south on N.M. 198. A narrow road curves and climbs up to a scenic promontory with sheltered picnic areas that afford mesmerizing views across the valley. For even more visual drama, take the relatively steep but short (0.8 mile) trail through Lover’s Leap Canyon.

Overnight On reaching Columbus, check in to the town’s only lodging, Martha’s Place Hotel, a two-story adobe building with six homey rooms, each with private bath and balcony. Enjoy coffee and inexpensive breakfasts in the hotel’s café, or out on the portal, which overlooks a pretty tiered fountain.

DAY 3: COLUMBUS

Pancho Villa’s Raid Until 1916, when the dashing, mustachioed Mexican revolutionary general Pancho Villa led a several-hundred-strong militia across the border to attack the 13th Cavalry Regiment, stationed in Columbus, the U.S. hadn’t been invaded since the War of 1812. Although regarded today by many as something of a scrappy folk hero, Villa was handily turned back, and more than 80 of his “Villistas”—along with 18 Americans—were killed. His troops did burn several buildings, plunder some military equipment, and capture a slew of horses and mules.

Passenger trains no longer call on tiny Columbus’s striking 1902 rail depot, but this wood-frame building now houses the Columbus Historical Society, a trove of railroad memorabilia, antiques, and exhibits about the infamous raid—you can even view a replica of Villa’s death mask.

Across the street, Pancho Villa State Park occupies Camp Furlong, the key target of Villa’s raid. Preserved here are several period buildings, including the old U.S. Customs House. An impressive, modern visitor center contains a wonderfully informative and well-curated exhibit detailing the raid and providing an overview of the tense political climate during the 1910–1920 Mexican Revolution. Check out the full-size replica of a “Jenny” biplane, similar to those used by the U.S. military during its subsequent retaliatory expedition into Mexico. (It was futile; Villa was never captured.) Be sure to walk up the gentle rise to Cootes Hill, the camp’s lookout point, which enemy raiders momentarily held during Villa’s chaotic fiasco.

A Reverse Raid? Relations between Columbus and its neighbor to the south have improved markedly since 1916, and it’s good fun these days to hop across the border for a brief adventure in the small and safe Mexico border village of Puerto Palomas. From the state park, drive south three miles on N.M. 11 to the free parking lot at the border. Once you’ve walked across, it’s just five short blocks south on the main drag, Avenida de Mayo, to reach the Pink Store, a vast emporium of beautiful handcrafted furniture, pottery, glassware, and jewelry priced far below what you’d pay Stateside. The friendly staff offer shoppers a complimentary margarita while they browse, and adjoining the store is a lovely old-world restaurant where you can feast on terrific Mexican food while contemplating the rich, sometimes rocky, histories of Puerto Palomas and Columbus. <

NEED TO KNOW

DEMING

Basin Range Volcanics Geolapidary Museum
6235 Stirrup Rd. SE.
(575) 546-4021

Best Western Mimbres Valley Inn
From $80.
1500 W. Pine St.
(575) 546-4544; bestwesternnewmexico.com

City of Rocks State Park
327 N.M. 61, Faywood.
(575) 536-2800; emnrd.state.nm.us

Deming–Luna County Visitor Center
800 E. Pine St.
(575) 546-2674;
demingchamber.com

Deming Luna Mimbres Museum
301 S. Silver Ave.
(575) 546-2382;
lunacountyhistoricalsociety.com

Irma’s
123 S. Silver Ave.
(575) 544-4580

Mimbres Valley Brewing Company
200 S. Gold Ave.
(575) 544-2739

Rock Hound State Park
9880 Stirrup Rd. SE.
(575) 546-6182;
emnrd.state.nm.us

Spanish Stirrup Rock Shop
6355 Stirrup Rd. SE.
(575) 546-4078

St. Clair Winery & Bistro
1325 De Baca Rd.
(575) 546-1179;
stclairwinery.com

COLUMBUS

Columbus Historical Society
N.M. 9 at N.M. 11.
(575) 531-2620;
columbushistoricalsociety.org

Martha’s Place Hotel
From $60. 204 Lima Rd.
(575) 531-2467;
marthasplacebedandbreakfastcolumbusnewmexico.com

Pancho Villa State Park
400 W. N.M. 9.
(575) 531-2711

Pink Store and Restaurant
Av. 5 de Mayo 113 (Puerto Palomas, Mexico),
(575) 545-5206 (U.S.); thepinkstoremexico.com