Organ Mountains and the Rio Grande Valley: La Mesa, Hatch

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From Alamogordo and White Sands National Monument, head south on US 70.  You’ll be crossing the White Sands Missile Range, and will likely spot some fighter jets flying overhead.  Due to activity on the bombing range, road closures are common here, so common that radio stations promise weather and roadblock info every half hour.  Delays can last for up to an hour.

As you close in on Las Cruces, US 70 crosses over the harsh Organ Mountains.  There’s a great viewpoint for traffic heading north and east, but not for southbound cars.  So, I had to settle for this picture from the side of the road.

[tmt_info =""]To learn more about this area’s rich military history, stop at the White Sands Missile Range Museum, just before you begin climbing into the Organ Mountains.  Here you’ll not only find a museum, but an outdoor garden where dozens of missiles seem to sprout from the ground like cornstalks.  Best of all, admission is free.  Here’s the museum website.

Chope’s Town Cafe, La Mesa, NM

You can’t come to New Mexico without enjoying some authentic New Mexican food, and if you don’t, you should be arrested and sent back to wherever you came from.  And there’s no better way to experience real, chile-smothered cuisine, than at an old-fashioned, hole-in-the-wall restaurant.  My choice was Chope’s Town Cafe in La Mesa.

You’ll have to go out of your way to find Chope’s.  The small bar and restaurant is the focus of attention in the tiny farming community of La Mesa, 22 miles south of Las Cruces.  Take I-25 south until it ends at I-10, then continue south (east) to exit 155.  NM Rte. 227 will lead you to NM Rte. 28, which runs through the center of town.  Here’s a Google Map to help.

Chope's Town Cafe Restaurant & Bar, La Mesa New Mexico

I was first drawn to Chope’s, thanks to a ringing endorsement in one of my favorite road trip books, Road Trip USA by Jamie Jensen.  The (almost) exact picture you see above is featured on the back cover.

After walking through the door into the above building and requesting some green chile, I was told that the actual restaurant…

Chope's Town Cafe Restaurant & Bar, La Mesa New Mexico

… is next door, in this less-appealing old house.  The dining rooms are small, wood-paneled, slightly below ground (note the low, bar-covered windows above), and decorated with pictures of the original Mr. Chope.  I’m happy to say, the food lived up to its reputation.  The combination platters offer an immense amount of food, and of course, the chips and salsa are free.

The only thing that even slightly spoiled the experience was the crowd at the table next to me.  Apparently, an entire office full of obnoxious city folk decided to either drove up from El Paso or down from Las Cruces for a long lunch break.  They spent much of the meal trying to get their cell phones to work.  Looks like Chope’s is no longer a secret.

Chope's Street, La Mesa New Mexico

It’s easy to tell that Chope’s is the biggest thing going in La Mesa.  The bar and restaurant are located at the end of Chope’s Street.

La Mesa Water Tower, New Mexico

There’s not much else to see in La Mesa.  Marvel at the water tower, mail a postcard at the post office, then drive past a few houses.

Rio Grande Valley

From La Mesa, you can choose to either take high-speed I-10 and I-25 north, or take it slow along NM Rte. 28 and 185.  Take the 2-lane road and you’ll pass acre after acre of pecan trees, all perfectly aligned and irrigated by water from the Rio Grande, which runs nearby.

Rio Grande River & old bridge

After running alongside the Rio Grande for a while, the road crosses over it.  Stop at the north end of the new bridge, and you can walk back across the old one.

Rio Grande River & Old Bridge, Routes 28 185

According to the historical marker at the parking area, this crossing at Radium Springs is is one of the best-surviving examples of timber and beam bridge construction in the state of New Mexico.  It was built in 1933, and contains 19 spans, each 25 feet long.

Welcome sign outside Hatch, New Mexico

If you worship the chile pepper, Hatch, New Mexico is your Mecca.  This small town on the Rio Grande is famous for producing some of the world’s tastiest peppers.  Aside from a few gift shops selling Ristras (a bunch of dried, red chiles strung together) and other chile-related paraphernalia, there wasn’t much worth stopping for.  I took a picture of the welcome sign, and that was it.

For a small town, Hatch has a lot of traffic.  At least, it did during my visit.  The backup was caused mostly by a school zone. 

Note: This trip was first published in 2006.

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