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Guided Walking Tours Of Mesilla Give-Groups An Intimate Look Into Town's Colorful Past


Every Building in Mesilla may have a story to tell, but they mean nothing if there is nobody to tell it, which is where longtime resident and tour host Preciliana Sandoval comes in. Sandoval moved from Las Cruces to Mesilla (which means "Little Tableland" in Spanish) 15 years ago in order to sell her art and murals around the plaza, but as she learned more about the history of the town from other residents, she began offering walking tours to visitors who yearned to hear the unspoken stories hidden within the town's rustic adobe walls.

"Everyone knows everyone," Sandoval said, as she sat on a park bench in the plaza as the sun set. "We still have that neighbor mentality."  With a population of only about 2,800 people, Mesilla is a town that seems frozen in the past – the town square still looks much like it did back in 1848, when it wasn't much more than a dusty stop along the trail from Texas to California. But like a desert flower, today's Mesilla has blossomed into a vibrant shopping and entertainment venue for locals and visitors alike, while still managing to preserve its rich cultural past, partly through the efforts of locals like Sandoval.

The town is host to 80 different and exciting businesses that sell everything from fine art, jewelry, furniture, books and wine to honey, chile and antiques, Sandoval said. There are five different bars and more than 10 restaurants that serve authentic Mexican food-not including Lorenzo's, the lone Italian restaurant that makes its food with a southwestern twist, and just a hint of chile. The plaza also features various concerts and musical performances, such as the "Mariachi Sundays on the Plaza," where visitors can enjoy free mariachi performances every Sunday during the summer and fall months. The Plaza also provides a venue for important ceremonies, including the Veterans Day Ceremony and the Dia de Los Muertos procession.

Sandoval, who is mentioned in both Frommer's and Fodor's national travel guides, takes her guests on an hour-long journey through the heart of Mesilla while explaining its architecture and buildings as well as its colorful-and sometimes gruesome-past. The Plaza itself was the site where no less than 90 people were hung for various crimes back when the west was still very wild. "Mesilla was very rowdy... Every building has a ghost story," Sandoval said. "It was lawless... We could barely keep our marshals alive, so there was a lot of death."

During the tour, Sandoval speaks about the history and mentions facts about New Mexico, as well as stories about the various "ghosts" that inhabit the plaza, which become all the more appealing during the fall season when Halloween comes around. If visitors want to learn more, then they can go to the town's website where an entire subsection is devoted to recorded hauntings within the town limits. She has hosted tours for a variety of different people throughout the past 10 years, from individuals and couples to large groups. Everyone is welcome, Sandoval said. Although the tour is fairly short, the knowledge Sandoval presents on Mesilla is unique. She learned about the town by spending time with the ever-present locals, or "Mesilleros," who are descended from the original Mesilla settlers.

"I hang out with the Mesilleros," Sandoval said. "They heard I was giving tours, and they've embraced me." Although visitors are able to visit landmarks such as the Basilica of San Albino and the gazebo in the town center, not many people know that this church replaced the previous one after the adobe roof collapsed from rain, or that the gazebo is over 150 years old and was relocated by college students after they found it wasn't directly in the center of the plaza, which is just some of the info Sandoval gives to visitors on her tour.

Sandoval herself is a fifth-generation New Mexican and is also an accomplished muralist whose paintings are featured in more than seven businesses in Mesilla, from the visitor favorite La Posta de Mesilla restaurant to the local watering hole, El Patio bar. "My family actually started in Las Cruces," Sandoval said. "My grandsons are here now, and they are seventh-generation."

The allure of Mesilla doesn't just come from its history, businesses or sunny weather; it also comes from the people that live there, Sandoval said. Whether it's the Mesilleros or the various government employees and expats from other parts of the nation who live there, all the residents have a unique perspective and presence within the town. "There are several people from Hawaii that live here now, and I ask them, 'Why did you leave all the beautiful, lush land?' and they say the people are really friendly down here," Sandoval said. And that diversity doesn't end at the bar room door.

"Mesilla is the only place where you can be at a bar and sit next to a farmer and a rocket scientist at the same time," Sandoval said. "You can never tell what the conversation is going to be about." Nestled in the Mesilla Valley between the Rio Grande River and Organ Mountains, Las Cruces, New Mexico is quickly becoming a popular southwestern destination. Visitors can experience 72 holes of spectacular year-round golf and world-class Mexican food. Las Cruces blends a unique variety of special events, attractions, culture and historical sites, as well as superb weather, with 350 days of sunshine per year. For more information on all Las Cruces has to offer, contact the Las Cruces Convention & Visitors Bureau at (575) 541-2150 or visit www.MustSeeLC.org.
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