Friday, August 3, 2007

Spice It Up in Old Mesilla

If your travels take you to Las Cruces, New Mexico or El Paso, Texas schedule time to travel to Old Mesilla, New Mexico. It is only a few minutes from Las Cruces and about 45 minutes from El Paso. The food, shops and historic Plaza are well worth the time for the epicurean, shopper or history enthusiast. I recommend eating and touring at La Posta de la Mesilla, in a building compound constructed in the 1840's. A decade later Sam and Roy Bean (of Judge Roy Bean fame) ran a passenger and freight service from the building. After the Civil War, the La Posta compound became an important stop on the Butterfield Stagecoach Line.
Inside La Posta are several shops of fine jewelry, hand made clothing and souvenirs. When I visited here thirty years ago there was a large tank of piranhas that would thrill those waiting for a table. The large tank now holds colorful fish, not to be too disappointed, there is still one large piranha alive in a smaller tank. Next to the aquariums are several large cages with colorful parrots and a young Toucan who is very friendly, he'll come down to have his back rubbed.
Since 1939 La Posta has been preparing and serving great New Mexican style meals. The Tostada Compuesta, a toasted corn tortilla filled with beans, red chili and meat, lettuce and tomatoes originated from their kitchen. Personally, I find the New Mexico style flat enchiladas with red chili sauce and an over easy egg on top unequaled anywhere. Spicy hot or mild fresh chili abounds. The atmosphere is lively, the service first class and the people friendly. Be sure to try the sopapillas with honey as part of the meal or even for dessert.
Located across the street from La Posta and throughout the plaza are jewelry stores, gift shops, clothing sales, other restaurants and a book store, all in historical buildings. The Billy the Kid gift shop always fascinated my wife's grandmother because of the name. Her grandmother's maiden name was Brady and she is the great-great-grand daughter of Sheriff William Brady who was shot and killed by Billy the Kid in Lincoln, New Mexico. To her, having jeans, gift shops and souvenirs named after Billy the Kid is like having Charles Manson post cards, restaurants and bumper stickers celebrating how he killed innocent people.
The Billy the Kid gift shop dates from the 1850's and once housed the capital of Arizona and New Mexico. The building was later the courthouse in which Billy the Kid was sentenced to hang. Perhaps the gift shop and galleries would be better served if they changed their name to the William Brady gift shop and gallery.

Other buildings around the plaza are also of historical significance. The Thunderbird gallery and gift shop is New Mexico's oldest recorded brick building. Constructed around 1860 with burnt bricks from the owners kiln the building is still in good condition. Other occupants have used the building as a town hall, residence and saloon. The gallery and gift store is very interesting and has a lot of Indian jewelry. Further down the street is a bookstore and more souvenir stores. Across the Plaza is the Double Eagle restaurant named for the 1850 ten dollar gold coin. The restaurant is fine dining and has a history of its own related to the treaties with Mexico. There are also plenty of ghost stories associated with the Double Eagle and other historic buildings around the plaza.

Originally built of adobe in 1855. The San Albino church was rebuilt to its present structure in 1906. The church is located on one end of the Plaza. This is a favorite location for local photographers and students from nearby New Mexico State University. As a student, at NMSU over thirty years ago, I remember the challenge of capturing just the right image from the countless photo opportunities around the Plaza. The challenge is still there for the amateur to the professional photographer. I enjoyed recording the images used for this review as much as I did thirty years ago. Another interesting place to visit before you leave is located opposite the church. Established around 1850 the El Patio Cantina has been operated continually by descendants of Colonel Albert Jennings Fountain. Colonel A.J. Fountain was also the lawyer for Billy the Kid when he was being tried just down the street. Old Mesilla Plaza is a great place to spend the day, have lunch or dinner and peruse the shops. This is a definite return trip location.

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