Yes, I was a sourpuss of colossal proportions. I really was. But seriously, being stranded in Ozona, Texas was like bathing in a big ol’ rotting sour lemon. I swear my fingers are still puckered from the acerbic soak. I think my problem with the town is that it is pretending to be something bigger than it is. I’ve stayed in far smaller towns that have charmed me to no end. Yet I admit, I very likely may have been unfairly taking out my failed Marfa visit frustrations on poor little Ozona. So Ozona, I’m sorry. Kinda.
The reason for my apology is that, once again, as has happened in every single instance of last minute travel plan changes over the past four months, things worked out for the better. Had I gone to Marfa, I never would have visited Las Cruces, New Mexico, aka the Land of Enchantment. My two days in Las Cruces turned out to be one of my favorite stops to date.
I ended up staying at America’s Best Value Inn in Las Cruces. Normally I wouldn’t mention a chain hotel, but this one was different. It really is a classy boutique hotel with California King beds and heavenly gardens. Just last year the owners, a delightful couple from Phoenix, licensed the franchised name to slap on the hotel. They explained to me that a franchise name is necessary for a hotel to stay in business in a small town. However they have kept their individual artistic stamp on the place. They even have plans to build the world’s largest concrete chili pepper out front later this year. They were so welcoming that when they found out I had just driven 7 hours without stopping for lunch, they delivered chips and salsa, green tea and tiramisu to my room. I knew then that my lemonade was beginning to brew.
Not knowing anything about Las Cruces, I took the advice from several of you who gave me suggestions on what to do. First up: The historic village of Old Mesilla. Within 10 minutes of wandering around the main plaza with Yoda, I met Daniel Ricardo Trujillo, an Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker who calls Mesilla home. It was wild to not only meet someone from my former industry who lives in this tiny little town, but also someone who shares my name. You see, Daniel Ricardo’s nickname is Kiki. So Kiki proceeded to act as Kee Kee’s tour guide for the day, giving me an insider’s perspective of Old Mesilla. Did you follow that? Even I’m getting confused! Anyway, in 1854 the Mexican village of Mesilla was purchased by the United States in resolution of a long-standing border dispute in the Mexican-American War. Mesilla became an important stop on the Butterfield stagecoach route and in the 1880s became a lively social center. Sealing its importance as a prominent player in the Wild Wild West, in 1881 Billy the Kid was tried and sentenced to hang at the jail and courthouse located on the main plaza. That jail is still there, except now it is a gift shop.
Part of the charm of Old Mesilla is that it has retained the look and feel of an old Mexican border town. Most of the buildings surrounding the main plaza are traditional adobe structures that serve as a reminder of the significant history of the town. Today the Mesilla Plaza is home to the Basilica of San Albino, unique shops, galleries, a couple fabulous pottery shops and many eateries and wine bars.Every Sunday Mesilla Plaza is host to the local Farmers and Crafts market. It was here that I met Don Rogelio. Don’s grandfather was born behind the Basilica when Mesilla was still part of Mexico. Today Don runs his family farm and sells mouth-watering salsas and flame roasted green chiles. I should know. I left my conversation with Don with two jars of the good stuff. If you go to Old Mesilla, be sure to stop by Andele Restaurante and try the chile rellenos. They were so melt-in-my-mouth fabulous that I went back the next day for a second helping. My other favorite discovery worthy of a shout-out was the locally roasted coffee at The Bean.
The second day in town I drove to White Sands National Monument, the world’s largest gypsum dune field. The white dunes rise up to 60 feet high and cover 275 square miles. Yoda and I spent hours hiking over the dunes. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen. White rippled mounds of sand for as far as your eyes can see. I was tempted to rent a sled and join all the kids. Their fun was double the thrill because the dunes still had snow from the previous week’s dumping.
So there you have it, my latest lesson of the road: the lemonade will always be there if you just have the patience to let it brew. I wonder how many times I’ll need to be taught this lesson before it sticks. Without fail it’s been true on my road trip. And looking back on my life, well, after each difficult spell, the lemonade has eventually always been served there too.
So Ozona, thank you for being so perfectly awful. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have delighted in my pitcher of New Mexico brewed enchanted lemonade.
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