Traveling the Other Road to Las Cruces

Paul and John left San Diego last month heading for Florida.  Just two guys on bikes. Their route takes them along former US 85 from the Hillsboro cut-off to El Paso.

Everyone knows that I-40 replaced Route 66 as the main east-west highway in New Mexico. But did you know that there was a north-south highway that ran right through the middle of the state and was eventually replaced by I-25?

That road was US 85. It ran from the Canadian border in Fortuna, North Dakota to its southern terminus in El Paso on the Mexican border. Parts of it in New Mexico still exist — sometimes designated as NM 1, NM 185 and NM 187. It generally follows the Rio Grande, but is sometimes interrupted by stretches of I-25 where the interstate was laid right on top of the old road. I do remember seeing signage for US 85 on 4th Street in the north valley.

One of my favorite sections runs from Truth or Consequences to the city of Las Cruces, some 75 miles. That’s quite a bit for an old road condemned to the back pages of highway history. Here are some of the highlights of this asphalt adventure.

There are four state parks on this road: Elephant Butte, Caballo Lake, Percha Dam and Leasburg Dam/Fort Selden. There are also quite a few vestiges of the old route in buildings scattered through the countryside: small gas stations with shady portals and old roadhouses — some abandoned, but some very much alive like The Blue Moon bar in Radium Springs.

This road also is a major bicycle route, and it’s not uncommon to see people of all descriptions pedaling fully loaded bicycles on this stretch of road as they make their way from San Diego, California to St. Augustine, Florida. Two young men on such a journey camped next to us at Percha Dam last month. Incredibly, they had never heard of green chile cheeseburgers. We told them to stop for lunch at Sparky’s!

There are many other things to notice on this route. It goes through the agricultural heart of New Mexico with fields of chile, onions, alfalfa and grass, corn, cotton, and orchards upon orchards of pecan trees.

Old US 85 passes through the towns of Arrey, Derry, Garfield, Salem, Hatch, Radium Springs, Leasburg and finally Las Cruces. It’s known as the valley route to Las Cruces, and is a peaceful break from the traffic swarms and semi trucks of I-25.

Jon Knudsen is a freelance writer and retired educator. Email him at  johnny_mango@yahoo.com.

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