Las Cruces is the second most populous city in New Mexico, the county seat of Doña Ana County, and a United States Metropolitan Statistical Area. The city is the the home of New Mexico State University and the center of an agricultural region in the Mesilla Valley irrigated by the Rio Grande
The area where Las Cruces rose was previously inhabited by the Manso people, with the Mescalero Apache living nearby. The area was colonized by Juan de Oñate beginning in 1598, and he became its first governor.
Las Cruces was founded in 1849 when the US Army laid out the new town after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo had ceded the land to the United States in 1848. The settlement was created as an oveflow area from the colony of Doña Ana, located six miles north of the new settlement.
Doña Ana was on the US side of the Rio Grande, and the nearby village of Mesilla had been founded in 1848 by settlers from Doña Ana who wished to stay in Mexican territory. In 1853, the Mesilla region was incorporated into the United States with the Gadsden Purchase.
New Mexico State University was founded in 1888 as Las Cruces College, led by Hiram Hadley. It was established as the land grant college and experimental station by the State Legislature in 1889. Its name was changed to New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts in 1890 and to New Mexico State University in 1958.
Elephant Butte Dam was constructed to provide irrigation water for the Mesilla Valley. The project was approved by the United States Secretary of the Interior in 1895, but the project was in the courts for many years due to a rival proposal to build a dam near El Paso. The dam was finally completed in 1916.
During World War II, both German and Italian POWs worked at Las Cruces in the Emergency Farm Labor Program.
In the 1960s Las Cruces undertook a large urban renewal project, intended to convert the old downtown into a modern city center. As part of this, St. Genevieve's Catholic Church, built in 1859, was torn down to make way for the Downtown Mall.
The origin of the city's name is unknown. In Spanish \"Las Cruces\" means \"the crosses\". (Some have claimed an alternative meaning of \"the crossroads\" but this is grammatically implausible, as \"cruce\", the singular form of crossroad, is masculine and the phrase would be \"Los Cruces\".) Robert Julyan writes, \"Numerous stories attempt to explain why this city is named \"the crosses.\" Some attribute the name to crosses marking the graves of unfortunates massacred by Apaches.\"
Las Cruces is located at (32.319693, -106.765157). Approximate elevation 4000 ft or 1219 m above sea level. According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 52.2 square miles (135.2 km²), of which, 52.1 square miles (134.9 km²) of it is land and 0.1 square miles (0.3 km²) of it (0.25%) is water.
Dona Ana County lies within the Chihuahuan Desert ecoregion, and the vegetation surrounding the built portions of the city are typical of this arid natural setting; it includes Creosote Bush (Larrea tridentata), Soaptree (Yucca elata), Tarbush (Flourensia cernua), Broom Dalea (Psorothamnus scoparius), and various desert grasses such as Tobosa (Hilaria mutica) and Black Grama (Bouteloua eriopoda).
The Rio Grande dissects the Mesilla Valley and Las Cruces proper, supplying irrigation water for the intensive agriculture surrounding the city. Prior to farming and ranching, desert shrub vegetation extended into the valley from the adjacent deserts, including extensive stands of Tornillo (Prosopis pubescens) and Catclaw Acacia (Acacia greggii). Desert grasslands extend in large part between the edges of Las Cruces and the lower slopes of the nearby Organ and Robledo Mountains, where grasses and assorted shrubs and cacti dominate large areas of this mostly rangeland and occasional, large-lot subdivision housing.
The desert and desert grassland uplands surrounding both sides of the Mesilla Valley are often dissected with arroyos, which are dry streams that often carry water following heavy thunderstorms. These arroyos often contain scattered small trees, and they serve as wildlife corridors between Las Cruces' urban areas and adjacent deserts or mountains.
Unlike many cities its size, Las Cruces lacks a true central business district. This is due to the fact that in the 1960s a large urban renewal project tore down a large part of the original downtown. Most Las Crucens would agree that the modern \"heart\" of the city, where most stores and restaurants are located, is the rapidly developing eastside area running north and south along Telshor Boulevard and east and west along Lohman Avenue. Las Cruces' only shopping mall and a variety of retail stores and restaurants are located in this area. However, the historic downtown of the city is the area around Main Street, a six-block stretch of which was closed off in 1973 to form the \"Downtown Mall\", a pedestrianized shopping area. The downtown mall has a farmers market each Wednesday and Saturday morning, where a variety of foods and cultural items can be purchased from a few small stands that are set up by local farmers, artists, and craftspeople. It also contains some businesses, churches, art galleries and theaters, which add a great deal to the changing character of Las Cruces by continuing to exist in the historic downtown.
Plans to re-open the whole mall to vehicular traffic besides the completed one-block example have drawn criticism from people who feel the multi-million dollar project is too costly and from others who enjoy the aesthetics, usually quiet, and the ever inportant shade of the fully-covered area of the pedestrian mall. Nevertheless, the mall's north and south entrances have been torn down. Furthermore, in August 2005, a master plan was adopted, the centerpiece of which is the restoration of narrow lanes of two-way traffic on this model portion of Main Street.
Precipitation is often light from fall to spring, with some winter storm systems bringing steady precipitation to the Las Cruces area. Most winter moisture is in the form of rain, though some light snow falls most winters, usually enough to accumulate and stay on the ground for a few hours, at most. Warm season precipitation is often from heavy showers, especially from the late summer monsoon weather pattern.
There were 29,184 households out of which 30.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 42.3% were married couples living together, 15.1% had a female householder with no husband present, and 37.9% were non-families. 27.9% of all households were made up of individuals and 8.9% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.46 and the average family size was 3.05.
In the city the population was spread out with 25.1% under the age of 18, 16.0% from 18 to 24, 26.9% from 25 to 44, 19.0% from 45 to 64, and 13.1% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 31 years. For every 100 females there were 94.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 91.0 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $30,375, and the median income for a family was $37,670. Males had a median income of $30,923 versus $21,759 for females. The per capita income for the city was $15,704. About 17.2% of families and 23.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 30.7% of those under age 18 and 9.7% of those age 65 or over.
The Border Book Festival occurs the last weekend in April. It features a trade show, readings, workshops, panels, lucha libre, and family storytelling. The festival was founded in 1994 by authors Denise Chávez and Susan Tweit, and Chávez is the Executive Director of the festival. The non-profit Border Book Festival, Inc. runs the festival and puts on other cultural events throughout the year.
The Whole Enchilada Fiesta, held the last weekend in September, is southern New Mexico's most popular festival, with about 50,000 people attending each year. The centerpiece is the making of a large flat enchilada. The fiesta started in 1980 with a 6-foot diameter enchilada, and it has grown over the years. In 2000 the fiesta's 10-1/2 foot diameter enchilada was certified by Guinness World Records as the world's largest. After the enchilada is assembled it is cut into many pieces and served to the fiesta attendees. The enchilada is the brainchild of local restaurant owner Roberto V. Estrada, who directs its preparation each year. The celebration also features \"The Whole Ensalada\" (a 500-pound organic salad), a parade, live music, art and crafts, athletic events, a carnival, and a car and motorcycle show.
The Southern New Mexico State Fair is usually held only a few days after the end of the Whole Enchilada Fiesta. The Fair, held west of Las Cruces, is an annual affair that promotes traditional agriculture. Boasting one of the largest Junior Livestock Shows in the state, the fair invites youth from six counties in New Mexico and Texas to participate. The event is generally held the first week in October. However, the New Mexico State Fair dates will sometimes affect the dates, causing them to be moved forward or backward one week. In 2004 the Junior Livestock Auction set a State Fair record with $450,000 raised.
The local Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) is a celebration, originating in Mexico, of the lives of those now dead. It is presented each November 1–2 by the Calavera Coalition. Most of the activity is in the Plaza in Mesilla, but there is an altar constructed each year at the Branigan Cultural Center in downtown Las Cruces. The Mesilla celebration is the largest in southern New Mexico.
The local Renaissance fair, the Renaissance ArtsFaire, founded in 1971, includes a juried art show and is put on the by the Doña Ana Arts Council each year in November.
The University Museum at New Mexico State University focuses on archeological and ethnographic collections and also has some history and natural science collections. It is located in Kent Hall at the corner of University Avenue and Solano Drive.
There are four city-owned museums. In the Downtown Mall, the Branigan Cultural Center examines local history through photographs, sculpture, paintings, and poetry. The building formerly housed the Thomas Branigan Memorial Library and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The Las Cruces Museum of Art is next door and offers art exhibits and classes. Las Cruces Museum of Natural History is located in the Mesilla Valley Mall. It attempts to make science and natural history more accessible to the general public and has an emphasis on local animals and plants. It has a permanent exhibit of living Chihuahuan Desert animals and a space for traveling exhibits, and presents regular education programs. Las Cruces Railroad Museum is in a historic Santa Fe Railroad depot at 351 Mesilla Street. It exhibits the impact of the railroads on the local area.
The New Mexico Veterans Museum, a new state-owned museum, was announced in August 2008 and is planned to be constructed in Las Cruces.
The Las Cruces Symphony Orchestra is an 80-member orchestra. As of 2008 LCSO's conductor and music director is Dr. Lonnie Klein, who is also a member of the Music Department faculty at New Mexico State University. He estimates that the orchestra consists of 47% students, 17% NMSU faculty, 20% other local musicians, and 16% professionals from outside Las Cruces. The usual venue of the orchestra is the NMSU Music Center Recital Hall. The world premiere of Bill McGlaughlin's Remembering Icarus, a tribute to local radio pioneer Ralph Willis Goddard, was performed by the LCSO on October 1, 2005. The performance was taped and broadcast nationally on NPR's Performance Today on December 9, 2005 and on July 4, 2007 on Performance Today and on Sirius Satellite Radio.
The town of Mesilla is a suburb of Las Cruces. It avoided the urban renewal that Las Cruces went through in the 1960s and still has its historic downtown plaza. The San Albino Church is on the plaza . The Gadsden Museum is dedicated to the family of Albert Jennings Fountain and includes artifacts from the time of the Gadsden Purchase, which made Mesilla a US possession. There are many shops and restaurants on or near the plaza. There is a Visitor Center inside the Town Hall. The Shalam Colony & Oahspe Museum commemorates the utopian Shalam Colony that existed near Las Cruces from 1884 to 1907 and the Oahspe bible that they used.
Fort Selden State Monument is a former United States Army post, active from 1865 to 1891. Buffalo soldiers were stationed here. Douglas MacArthur lived here as a boy (his father was post commander). The fort is located in Radium Springs, New Mexico, 13 miles north of Las Cruces on Interstate 25. There is a visitor center.
Aguirre Spring Campground is a hiking area in the Organ Mountains. The entrance is on US Highway 70 on the east side of the mountains. Dripping Springs Natural Area is another hiking area, located farther south and on the west side of the mountains. Both areas are managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
Las Cruces holds a Ciclovía, a city-wide event featuring exercise and physical activities, on the last Sunday of each month at Meerscheidt Recreation Center.
City of Las Cruces Resources can be found online at the official city website, with lots of useful information for residents, and for others looking to gain a greater insight as well. A very detailed reference guide (in English and Spanish) to all City services is available.
The Las Cruces City Council meets the 1st, 3rd and 4th Mondays of each month at 1:00 p.m. Video streaming of live and archive City Council meetings is at CLCTV.com
There are also three charter schools within the Las Cruces Public Schools. Alma d'arte is a high school with a focus on an integrated arts curriculum. Las Montañas is new charter high school that opened in Fall 2007 and caters to at-risk students. La Academia Dolores Huerta Middle School is the only recognized dual language program in the state.
A secular non-profit private school, Las Cruces Academy, aimed at gifted and academically advanced students, was scheduled to open in August 2008 with plans initially to enroll grades K–3, with plans to eventually cover K–12. However, it did not open as scheduled.
Dona Ana Community College is a branch of New Mexico State University. When it opened its doors 28 years ago, it served 200 students through six programs. Today, over 4,000 students are enrolled in the 25 programs offered in Business and Information Technology, Health and Public Services and Technical Studies. General education courses are also provided.
In addition, ten thousand residents are served in noncredit classes through the Academy for Learning in Retirement, Community Education and Customized Training.
Along with DACC's main location at 3400 S. Espina St., satellite locations serve outlying areas of the county at White Sands Missile Range, Sunland Park, Anthony and Las Cruces' East Mesa.
Thomas Branigan Memorial Library, located downtown at 200 E. Picacho, is the city's public library. It was constructed in 1979 and has a collection of more than 200,000 items. The previous library building, also called Thomas Branigan Memorial Library, was located at 106 W. Hadley (now 501 N. Main Street) and opened in 1935. That building is now the Branigan Cultural Center. and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The two university libraries at the New Mexico State University campus, Branson Library and Zuhl Library, are open to the public. Any New Mexico resident can check out items from these libraries.
Las Cruces has one television station, the PBS outlet KRWG-TV, operated by New Mexico State University. The Telemundo outlet KTDO-TV is licensed in Las Cruces but serves El Paso. The city also receives several Albuquerque, El Paso, and Ciudad Juárez stations. Las Cruces is in Nielsen Media Research's El Paso/Las Cruces television media market.
There are approximately ten commercial radio stations in the Las Cruces area, running a variety of formats. Four of these stations are owned by Bravo Mic Communications, LLC, a Las Cruces company. The local NPR outlet is KRWG-FM, operated by New Mexico State University. NMSU also operates a college radio station, KRUX. KRUC is a Spanish-language station in Las Cruces. Many El Paso stations are received in Las Cruces. See list of radio stations in New Mexico for a complete list of stations. Las Cruces is in Arbitron's Las Cruces media market.
Las Cruces is served by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, via a branch line that extends from Belen, New Mexico to El Paso, Texas. Passenger service on this line was discontinued in 1968, due to low ridership numbers on the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway's (predecessor to the BNSF) El Pasoan train.
The original facility was called Memorial General Hospital and was opened in April 1950 at South Alameda Boulevard and Main Street after the city obtained a $250,000 federal grant. In 1971 the city and county joined to build a new hospital on South Telshor Boulevard. In 1990 it was renamed Memorial Medical Center.
MountainView Regional Medical Center is a for-profit general hospital operated by Community Health Systems (formerly Triad Hospitals). It opened for business in August 2002. It is a 168-bed facility with a wide range of patient services.
Rehabilitation Hospital of Southern New Mexico is a 40-bed rehabilitative care hospital, operated by Ernest Health Inc.. It opened January 2005. It treats patients after they have been cared for at general hospitals for injuries or strokes.