5-1 State Parks
DEMING -- Trips to Las Cruces for a Ford family reunion and to Deming for a high school 50th reunion afforded opportunities to visit some of southwest New Mexico's newest or recently upgraded state parks and monuments.
El Camino Real International Heritage Center, 30 miles south of Socorro, opened in November. The state-of-the-art facility presents a 400-year story of trade and cultural exchange between Mexico and America. It is located a few miles off I-25 so visitors can get an idea of what it was like to cross the Jornada del Muerto, journey of death, which Onate described as "remote beyond compare."
The shortcut across the desert was traversed at night to avoid heat and marauders. The entry to the exhibit is through a dark, winding corridor, with sights and sounds popping up depicting the obstacles one might encounter during the journey.
The center is a joint project of the New Mexico State Monuments Division and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
By taking state Highway 1 at San Antonio, 15 miles south of Socorro, you also can visit the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge and the recently upgraded Fort Craig, where Union and Confederate forces fought a fierce battle on the rebels' journey north ending in Glorieta Canyon.
Farther down the road, Luna County offers a renovated Rockhound State Park, 12 miles southeast of Deming, in the foothills of the Florida Mountains. The park is popular with rockhounds, not only because of the variety of stones that can be found, but because visitors can collect them and take home up to 15 pounds. It is the only park in the state, and one of the few in the nation, that don't say "Don't Touch."
The park contains quartz crystals, translucent chalcedony of white, bluish-gray, orange and red hues, jasper, agates, geodes, silica minerals and common opal. You might even get lucky and find a precious or semi-precious gem. The recently-completed visitor center has many examples of rocks found in the area.
If you're into rocks, you'll really appreciate the City of Rocks State Park, 30 miles north of Deming. The park was formed by a volcanic eruption a million years ago. Over the centuries giant rock formations have been sculptured by the wind and rain to look like streets, houses, towers and temples. The formations are so unique they are only known to exist in six other places on earth.
Go south from Deming 30 miles to Columbus and find Pancho Villa State Park, named for the famed Mexican revolutionary who attacked the border town in the pre-dawn hours of March 9, 1916. It was the first foreign attack on the United States since 1812.
Villa had numerous reasons for his raid. The United States, under Gen. John "Black Jack" Pershing, had numerous reasons to pursue Villa in a six-month "punitive expedition" into Mexico. And the people of Luna County and New Mexico have had numerous arguments over whether it is appropriate to name a state park after the only person until 2001 to orchestrate an attack on our nation.
Similar to our difficulties tracking down the perpetrator of 9/11, the United States was unsuccessful in finding Pancho Villa. It did, however, give us an opportunity to test the earliest forms of mechanized warfare, which we figured we would be using soon in the World War.
On display at the newly-opened $1.8 million visitor center and museum are the historic military equipment, vehicles and airplanes used in our expedition into Mexico. Numerous displays describe the 1910-1920 revolution against the Mexican government and the behind-the-scenes role played by the United States. A 20-minute film adds additional background.
It is an exhibit worth seeing, regardless of what you think about Pancho Villa. The event had national significance and should be recognized and discussed.
Somehow Pancho ended up being a rather likable figure, similar to Billy the Kid. I'll leave it up to you to explain why people seem to like outlaws.