Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Escape Winter's Grip with a Pancho Villa State Park Roadtrip

Statute of Pancho Villa in the Mexican border town of Palomas.
When winter has its icy grip on northern New Mexico it’s time to make a beeline for the border.

A visit to Pancho Villa State Park in the warm, sunny border town of Columbus makes for a great winter get away.

The park features plenty of roomy campsites and clean restrooms and a remarkable museum dedicated to the real Mexican invasion of the United States back in 1916.

Pancho Villa State Park Museum.
During the early morning hours of that historic day about 500 of revolutionary leader Pancho Villa’s troops snuck across the U.S. border and attacked the sleepy town and Army garrison stationed at Columbus New Mexico.

Historical accounts speculate as to the attack’s purpose ranging from Villa’s need for military and other supplies or in revenge for American meddling in Mexico’s revolution.

The attack was repulsed though leaving many of the invaders and a few villagers and some soldiers dead. The U.S. Army then launched its own invasion into Mexico in search of Villa but the Army expedition returned home empty-handed after a year.

The story is better told in viewing the documentary film and reading the interpretive displays within the park’s museum. Visitors will find a full size replica of an early model biplane hanging in the spacious museum, a restored military truck and display cases featuring firearms, uniforms and other items from the era.

Display in the Pancho Villa State Park museum.
Outside the museum visitors will find one of the Army’s armored trucks on display and more interpretive signs along trails around the park which was once known as Camp Furlong.

The park is popular with travelers known locally as “snowbirds” and is reported to be busiest during the winter months. Unfortunately several telephone calls to park management seeking further information about the park and its operations were not returned. 

During a recent visit plenty of spaces with hookups were still available even on a Friday afternoon. A $10 tent site came with a covered shelter, picnic table and fire ring. It should be noted that the park’s proximity to the nearby highway and the ease with which sound travels across the desert could prove bothersome to some tent campers.  

Tent site at Pancho Villa State Park.
Columbus, a town of about 1,600, boasts a restored railroad station, U.S. Customs House and several other historic buildings from its vibrant past. Visitors and residents can eat at several different and very good restaurants, shop at the grocery and liquor store and get gas at the town’s convenience store.

Tourism, agriculture, retail trade and government employment account for much of the economy of the region. The city of Deming and Interstate-10 is about 30 miles north of Columbus and the Mexican border town of Palomas is about three miles south on N.M.11. 

Visitors to the small, friendly Mexican town of Palomas will find an imposing statute of Villa astride a stallion leading a charge with pistol in hand in front of the town’s municipal building.

Main Street in Palomas, Mexico
Visitors also may encounter whistle blowing adults in reflective vests hustling along busloads of children returning from school in Columbus. The kids were born in the United States but live in Mexico and attend school in Columbus as American citizens.

Many Americans frequent Palomas to get cheaper prescription drugs and dental work or shop at The Pink Store. The landmark corner store features a dizzying array of arts and crafts, tax free liquor and great food and drinks. Visitors may even be handed a complimentary margarita upon entering.

American tourists, Bill Diven and Karl Moffatt of New Mexico, enjoy a margarita inside the renowned "Pink Store" at Palomas, Mexico.
After roaming the streets and shops of Palomas, Americans returning to the U.S. may need little more than a
valid New Mexico driver’s license to get back into the country. However, custom checkpoint officers say publicly that they would rather see a passport or at the very least a birth certificate along with a driver’s license.

Columbus has a strong U.S. Border Patrol presence due to its proximity to Mexico. It is also home to part of the Trump administration’s controversial border wall.

About 47 miles of 30-foot tall, thick steel fence is being installed between the New Mexico border towns of Santa Teresa and Columbus, says Border Patrol Agent and Spokesperson, Ramiro Cordero.

The border wall under construction in February, 2020 between Santa Teresa and Columbus N.M. 
Visitors to the area can easily find the border wall about 25 miles east of Columbus off N.M. 9 at Dona Ana County Road A-1. The wall can be found a mile down the dirt road on public land administered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Cordero acknowledged that the area is open to the public but recommended anyone visiting to see the wall might want to let the local Border Patrol Office know just to avoid any potential problems.

Despite the daunting sea of vast desert here the border is routinely crossed illegally because of its close proximity to highways running parallel on either side, Cordero says.

In the past all that stood in the way was a four strand barbed wire fence. In 2008 squat “Normandy” style vehicle barriers were installed. Now it’s 30-feet tall “Bollard” fencing, spaced steel tubes filled with rebar and concrete and topped with a flat steel section.

The construction work also will include installation of an all-weather road along the wall, buried fiber optic cables, better sensors and other surveillance equipment to help deter illegal border crossings, Cordero says.

During a recent visit to the area the border wall could be seen towering in the distance as it rose from the desert. Standing right next to it revealed just how daunting a structure it is.

Those visiting the area to enjoy all the borderlands have to offer area will find several other state parks nearby including City of Rocks and Rockhound State. Visit New Mexico State Parks’ website for more information.

View of Cookes Peak from Luna County Road 019 off N.M. 26 between Hatch and Deming N.M.

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