Saturday, May 4, 2019

New Mexico Road Trip: Las Cruces and White Sands #WGTravel #newmexico #roadtrip

There's nothing quite like a road trip vacation -- crank up some great tunes, grab some tasty road snacks, and hit the road at your own pace! We recently enjoyed a week-long road trip in New Mexico, exploring several different cities. From El Paso, we drove West on I-10 for about an hour...making to Hacienda de Mesilla in Las Cruces in the late afternoon. This small hotel was just what we were looking for, because it had everything we needed in one convenient location: a 14-room inn, one of the best restaurants in the area, and a peaceful atmosphere. As an added bonus, self vehicle parking is complimentary at Hacienda de Mesilla! We parked and unloaded our car, then we entered the hotel's charming courtyard. We immediately noticed the beautiful landscaping and décor. By nightfall, gorgeous lighted luminarias lined the sidewalks in the courtyard. The check-in process was quick and easy, and we headed upstairs to our room. The room featured a Queen bed and large well as soothing décor. Just outside the room was a veranda with a large sitting area that overlooked the picturesque courtyard peaceful! The veranda also included a dining table that seats four. 
I should point out that Hacienda de Mesilla does not have an elevator, and all rooms require guests to walk up and down a flight of stairs. The staff was very friendly, helping us carry our bags up the stairs to our room. 

One of the best things about staying at Hacienda Mesilla is the onsite Grille & Cantina -- no need to leave the property to enjoy a fabulous meal! The Grille dining room is downstairs, just off the lobby...while the rooftop Cantina is located on the hotel's second level. Since it was a pretty night and there was live music, we opted to have dinner at the Cantina. Our server Trey helped us select a pair of appetizers to start our meal. We opted for Fried Calamari and Crab Cakes. The calamari was perfectly fried and topped with a tangy lemon butter sauce and feta many great flavors and textures. The crab cakes were crispy outside and filled with sweet cram inside -- perfect for topping with homemade tartar sauce!
Our seafood theme continued with our entrée choices. We split a duo of entrees. First was the perfectly seared Chilean Sea Bass, which was topped with grilled shrimp and lump crab. The sea bass was served over a decadent mushroom risotto, with grilled asparagus on the side. This elegant entrée was perfectly cooked and delicious!
We also wanted to sample local New Mexican cuisine, so we selected Blue Crab Blue Corn Green Chile Enchiladas. The green chiles were spicy, but they paired perfectly with the earthy corn tortillas and sweet crab meat and shrimp that were rolled inside. The enchiladas were served with slaw, black beans, and a delicious Mexican corn casserole. We were in Heaven with each bite! After our entrees, Trey helped us select a pair of desserts to round out our meal.
The Mesilla Mud Pie featured creamy mocha ice cream on a chocolate Oreo crust -- topped with whipped cream, chocolate drizzle, and spiced pecans. It was creamy and decadent, with just enough coffee flavor. The sweet-tart Hacienda Margarita Pie included a creamy lime filling on a coconut-pecan crust. This pie was like a taste of the tropics...the perfect balance of sweet and tart, with just enough coconut to make things interesting! With that, our meal was over. We lingered on the rooftop for a few minutes, enjoying the moonlight...and the view of the pool below. It was so nice to walk a couple of minutes back to our room, where we sat on the veranda couch for a bit before going to sleep. So convenient!
The next morning, I woke up early so I could catch the colorful sunrise over the nearby mountains from the veranda outside our room. It was such a relaxing and peaceful way to start what would become a busy day of travel. One of the perks of staying at La Hacienda de Mesilla is the included breakfast vouchers to dine at the nearby La Posta de Mesilla restaurant. That amenity definitely gives La Hacienda de Mesilla a bed and breakfast vibe. La Posta is a Las Cruces area mainstay -- serving Mexican food and steaks since 1939. In fact, the La Posta Compound has quite a history. It was originally constructed in the 1830s! Sam Bean and his brother Roy operated a freight and passenger service line from the building in the 1850s. Then after the Civil War, the La Posta Compound was a key stop on the Butterfield Stagecoach Line. After checking out at the hotel, we drove a few short minutes to La Posta for a leisurely early-morning breakfast. We were greeted by a large aviary in the front of the restaurant that was filled with tropical birds. I couldn't resist snapping a few pictures of the brightly colored birds on the way to our table.
Once we were seated in one of La Posta's colorful dining rooms, it was time to order breakfast. Michael selected a signature menu item: La Posta's Famous Tostada Compuesta Breakfast Bowl. It's a fried tortilla bowl filled with seasoned potatoes and vegetables, spicy chorizo, fried eggs, red or green chiles, and a bit of cheese. It was bursting with big flavors! I opted for the sweet side of the menu, selecting nutty Mesilla Valley Pecan Pancakes. They were served with bacon and topped with sweet Mexican whipped cream. Our day was officially off to a great start! After breakfast, we spent the morning exploring Las Cruces -- until it was time for an early lunch at Indulgence Bakery & Cafe.

Indulgence Bakery & Cafe is open for breakfast and lunch Tuesday through Sunday from 7:00 AM to 4:00 PM. The cafe's menu is varied and creative...and the excellent bakery is ideal for dessert or grabbing some delicious baked goodies for the road.

We both loved the bright, cheery decor when we entered Indulgence Bakery & Cafe! The restaurant was bustling with activity as we were shown to our seats. I enjoyed an Iced Chai Latte while we looked over the menu. I selected the super creative Meg's French Toast. This unique sweet-savory French toast was topped with brown butter sage caramel sauce, crispy ham, and roasted butternut squash. This combination of flavors and textures took French toast to new levels of deliciousness! Michael opted for the spicy Southwest Breakfast Bowl -- which contained roasted potatoes sautéed with bell peppers, onions, and ham. The bowl is then topped with cheddar cheese, over easy eggs, and a spicy chile sauce. It was bursting with flavor!
After sampling the cafe menu, it was time to indulge in a few of Indulgence Bakery & Cafe's signature bakery items. We put ourselves in owner Meagan Higgins' hands, and she made some excellent selections. The comforting Blueberry Streusel Cheesecake and signature chocolate take on Italian Cream Cake were unique, perfectly baked, and sinfully good!
Before we left, Meagan packed a Brown Butter & Pecan Scone and Chocolate Chunk Cookie for us to enjoy on the road. That was a really nice touch...and perfect drive-time snacks later that afternoon. With full bellies, we hit the road for White Sands National Monument. White Sands is a quick one-hour drive from Las Cruces, so it's a great attraction to visit en route to Albuquerque or Santa Fe! What is White Sands, you ask? It's a natural wonder that has to be seen to be believed because photos don't do it justice! It features huge wave-like sand dunes comprised of pure white gypsum. White Sands covers 275 square miles of New Mexico's Tularosa Basin -- and it was established as a national monument in 1933. It's huge sea of white sand dotted with plants and wildlife as far as the eye can see! Michael also shot a few pictures of the landscape in black and white for a stark contrast to the blue skies and white gypsum sand and clouds.
During our visit, we completed the Dunes Drive, an 8-mile scenic drive from the Visitor Center into White Sands. The 16-mile roundtrip drive takes less than an hour -- not including time to park and take photos, walk in the white sand, climb a dune or two, etc. Along the drive path, there are places to stop to use hiking trails, picnic areas, restrooms. There are plenty of designated parking areas. As shown in the video below, the gypsum sand is powdery and soft:

A visit to White Sands National Monument is definitely a must-see activity for photographers and nature lovers alike. There's so much scenery around every corner...all of it is beautiful! For more adventurous travelers, overnight camping is permitted along White Sands' backpacking trails. Keep in mind that camping facilities aren't you'll have to bring your own food, water, tent, etc. Entry fees to White Sands are $20 per vehicle, and operating hours vary throughout the year. Full details can be found at the White Sands website. One last tip: there is no WiFi inside White Sands National Monument, and cellular phone service is limited as well. My cell service was in and out during our Dunes Drive route. No worries, though! White Sands is a perfect location to unplug and enjoy nature for an hour or two.

Disclosure: La Hacienda de Mesilla provided a hosted overnight stay, dinner, and breakfast to facilitate inclusion in this article. Indulgence Bakery & Cafe also provided our lunch to facilitate coverage. All opinions expressed are solely my own.

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