Let me see if I can squeeze the essence of Las Cruces into this blog for my mates in Queensland.
During the Paleozoic Era, this region was on the edge of a sea. The largest formation of fossilized critter trackways from this era lie in the Robledo Mountains on the NW side of the city.
Various volcanic and geologic forces resulted in a valley eroded by what came to be called the Rio Grande (Big River), surrounded by various mountain formations, the aforementioned Robledos and Picacho Peak to the west, the Dona Ana mountains to the north, the most dramatic Organ Mountains (named for their resemblance to organ pipes) to the east, and further south some relatively recent volcanic cones, followed by the distant Franklin Mountains near the large twin cities of El Paso, Texas and Cuidad Juarez, Mexico to the southeast.
Las Cruces sits at about 4000 foot elevation (1300 m) with the highest Organ peaks over 9000 feet (3000 m). It is in the floodplain of the Rio Grande and has suffered flooding in the past, similar to the recent Bundaberg experiences, but is dry much of the year especially with the current severe drought.
The city is surrounded by flat desert plains and mesas, cut by numerous arroyos (dry washes and canyons carved by flash floods). These have scrub brush, cactus and succulent plants native to the broader Chihuahuan desert stretching far south into Mexico, which is less than an hour away.
Native Americans inhabited this area for many thousands of years, living in caves, canyons, by the river, and frequently migrating and trading great distances. In some areas they left petroglyph carvings on the rocks, at least one of which bears an uncanny resemblance to me on a bad hair morning.
The river valley was more or less tamed and converted from the dense “bosque” brush and cottonwood trees into farm fields and orchards, primarily for chile peppers, pecans, onions, and cotton. Although rapidly changing, the city and surroundings still have a strong agricultural flavor.
Since this area is considered high desert, it doesn’t get as hot as some of the states to the east and west, but still peaks well over 100 degrees F (40 C) in the summer. Winters can drop below freezing but often the days remain pleasant in the seemingly endless sunshine. A serious extended freeze a few years ago killed much of the cactus and palms in the area. Rain is infrequent, usually in the summer and fall, but is often very dramatic and violent. The weather most on peoples lips is the sometimes extreme spring winds and associated dust storms.