There are almost always growing pains with any inaugural race and this race was no different. The packet pick-up consisted of a conference room in a hotel with no vendors. This was fine by us, but if you are looking for a big race with an expo and vendors this is not your race. Once we were bused to the start (the bus route was well planned out and ran like clock-work) there was no clear start-line. Eventually the police shut down the road, race officials put down a timing mat and we were off. The first few miles were nice - great scenery and mountains on both sides. At mile 2 a farmer was plowing his land and the dust it created was awful but short-lived. At mile 6 we turned on to a dirt trail (we had no idea any of the race was going to be on a trail) and were disappointed that the race continued on very unscenic trails through about mile 12.5. Water and powerade were available every 2 miles, but the "suprise" trail run was not what we expected. The race was ok - nothing more nothing less.
Highlights: Not realizing that we were running at over 4,000 ft of elevation until after the race was over.
Day 1 (Friday):
Crave Kitchen in El Paso, TX. This tiny restaurant (very limited seating inside) is fantastic. When we walked into the restaurant at just past 1:00pm on a Friday we were shocked to see all but one table full. Luckily we got a seat and enjoyed the Crave Chicken (grilled chicken with bacon and bar-b-q sauce) which was good, and the Turkey with Brie and Bacon - which was outstanding. We also tried the corn cup (highly recommended) and the cucumber salad (very good). The restaurant never emptied out and according to our waiter it almost always full. Highly recommended.
While the drive from El Paso, TX to Las Cruces, NM was only about 45 minutes we got to experience the stink of cow farms, constant construction and a border control stop (not really near the border but I wasn't going to argue). The mountains on both sides more than made up for the scent and constant stops.
White Sands National Park in Alamogordo, NM is about an hour drive from Las Cruces, NM and worth every second. It is really impossible to capture the white sands on film. Being from Chicago the rolling white drifts reminded me of snow (especially as they plowed part of the access road with a snow plow). We happened to arrive at the perfect time - 4pm on Friday - and caught up with a free sunset tour by a park ranger. The walking tour was both interesting and informative. The park is like nothing we have ever seen and the sunset was breath-takingly beautiful. If you make the trip make sure to have a CD or MP3 player as there are only two radio stations the entire way (both were doing some sort of Bible give-a-way).
La Posta De Mesilla in Las Cruces, NM. A fun and colorful (I counted 4 fully decorated Christmas trees) mexican restaurant which served as an inn to bandits back in the mid 1850's. There are a variety of wild birds (parrots, tucan, etc) and fish in the waiting area (yes, in cages) so you are immediately aware that this restaurant caters towards tourists. The food was pretty good, although the enchiladas were bland. Nothing super special but most locals still say this is the best mexican restaurant in Las Cruces.
Day 2 (Saturday - Race Day):
The Happy Belly Deli in Truth or Consequences, NM is a small deli (indoor and outdoor seating) that offers traditional sandwiches with a southwest flare. We sampled the Green Chili Philly (cheesesteak with green chilis) and the grilled turkey with green chilis. Both were very good and the owner/manager was really nice. Each came with a side - we tried the dill potato salad and the pasta salad - and each was ok. Wish they had been open for breakfast (we arrived at 2pm) as the churizo burrito is their specialty. Worth a stop if you are in town.
St. Clair Winery and Bistro in Albuequerque, NM has a nice wine tasting bar, a small selection of locally brewed beers (we only sampled the wine) and a full american/italian menu. We stopped in for a quick wine flight and found the wine bar enjoyable and fairly priced. We bought a coupon through Groupon for an American Gnosh platter (three cheeses, nuts, grapes, olives, chocolate) and a wine flight for $7. One platter is plenty for two people to share. Most of the wines were on the fruitier side, but the brut champagne and the DH Lescombes cabernet were both dry and quite good. The St. Clair port is also very good and a nice finale for a wine flight.
The Albuquerque town square boasts one of the oldest churches in the United States (San Felipe de Neri Church) and during Christmas the town ties hundreds of pine trees together to form one massive Christmas tree right on the town square. There are a ton of local shops along the town square which makes it a tourist area but a nice place for an evening stroll as well.
Church Street Cafe in Albuquerque, NM is the best southwest/mexican restaurant we tried. In fact I would go as far as to say this was the best southwest food we have ever eaten. In addition to a good locally brewed beer (Monk's Ale) the wait staff was attentive and the food was down-right amazing. The green chili tamales and the pork with red chilis were both excellent. The spice level was perfect. Somewhat limited menu of southwest entrees, but there are enough options and the restaurant is definitely worth the wait. A must in Albuquerque! A big thanks to Callie Lovato (fellow runner who set her PR at the Las Cruces half marathon) for this great recommendation.
Day 3 (Sunday):
Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque, NM provides several great short (1 hour to 2.5 hour) hikes to see hundreds of petroglyphs (i.e. rock carvings). We were short on time so we only visited the Boca Negra Canyon (~1 hour of sightseeing). Some of the petroglyphs were easily recognizable while others we likely walked right past. The hiking was a bit more intense than we had expected but a quick tour is worth your time at this "outdoor museum of art".
Slate Street Cafe in Albuequerque, NM is a local hot-spot for Sunday brunch. Unfortunately local laws do not permit the sale of liquor before noon (forget about that mimosa) but the ham, egg and green chili omlette with a side of green chili cheddar biscuits was very good. The service is apparently not usually very good - the couple next to us told us to "get out while you still can" when we sat down. After a few laughs they said this was one of their favorite local restaurants they just hated the service. The breakfast was good and if we were back in town we would go here again, but with a newspaper in hand to pass the time waiting for service.
Tip: Make sure to sample some local cuisine while in New Mexico - the local green chilis are awesome.
New Mexico Half Marathon Medals
December 18, 2010: Las Cruces Half Marathon