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Slam on the brakes for three weird attractions in the New Mexico desert
By Tom Adkinson


LAS CRUCES, New Mexico – It’s a treat when a great roadside attraction interrupts a long drive, but it’s beyond fun when three roadside gems are within 60 miles of each other. Just miles apart in the sands of New Mexico are a giant roadrunner made of trash, a heartburn-worthy red chile pepper and the world’s biggest pistachio. Slam on the brakes!

You’re always on the lookout for New Mexico’s state bird, the roadrunner, but perhaps the only place you’re guaranteed to see one is along I-10 as you head into Las Cruces from the west. It’s in a rest area between mileposts 134 and 135.

47 foot long chile from mexico
You could make a lot of salsa if this 47-foot-long chile were the real thing. Image by Tom Adkinson.

This is no ordinary roadrunner. It is 20 feet tall, 40 feet long and made of the castaways from today’s material society. Volkswagen headlamps are its eyeballs, scores of athletic shoes form its white belly and crutches, golf clubs and ski poles help make up its body and wings. That’s to say nothing of the keyboards, toys, cellphones and other throwaway components.

Local resident Olin Calk built the first incarnation of the statue in 1993 at the Las Cruces landfill, in part as a statement about waste. It later moved to the I-10 rest area. It was recoated with new junk in 2001 and removed altogether in 2012 after deterioration and vandalism. It came back in 2014 in its current state and perches atop a rock, which helps discourage more vandalism. Look carefully to find items such an Aladdin’s lamp, a bowling trophy and a toy pterodactyl.

saint lucia kitchen
A towering roadrunner made of discards and junk welcomes travelers on I-10 at Las Cruces. Image by Tom Adkinson.


Not six miles away on W. Picacho Avenue is another can’t-miss-it attraction. Really, you can’t miss the world’s biggest chile pepper. If you do fail to see it, let someone else drive.

In a state that’s crazy about chile peppers, this chile pepper certainly would win a blue ribbon at the state fair if it were real. This hunk of heartburn is 47 feet long and made of 5,000 pounds of concrete. Untold gallons of bright red paint make it stand out against blue New Mexico skies. It was built in 2010 and marks the location of the Big Chile Inn.

roadrunner statue


roadrunner statue Volkswagen headlights were perfect when artist Olin Calk needed eyes for his roadrunner statue. Image by Tom Adkinson.


world's largest pistachio
Who could resist getting a vacation photo with the world’s largest pistachio? Image by Tom Adkinson.
 
   
Feel free to wheel into the motel’s parking lot and take all the photos you want. A TV commercial crew did just that in 2018 to create a spot for the Mercedes-Benz GLC 300. The spot showed the classy sedan in front of the Las Cruces chile and other kitschy attractions such as a dinosaur in Elberta, Alabama, a blue whale along Route 66 in Catoosa, Oklahoma and the Neon Museum in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The Mercedes-Benz crew could have gotten another gem about 60 miles away in Alamogordo, the world’s biggest pistachio nut.

Like the roadrunner and the red chile, the 30-foot-tall pistachio is impossible to miss along Highway 54 at the edge of town. It serves as a magnet, pulling you into PistachioLand, a retail heaven for pistachio lovers that is complemented by a 111-acre pistachio tree orchard and a 14-acre vineyard.

Timothy McGinn built the pistachio in 2008 to honor his father, Thomas, who had planted the pistachio orchard on bare desert land in 1980 and created PistachioLand.

Inside PistachioLand, there are plenty of plain pistachios, but try a sample of maple and brown sugar pistachios, or butter toffee pistachios, or garlic pistachios, or garlic and honey pistachios or sriracha honey pistachios. Of course, there are green chile pistachios, too. And that’s only the start of the list.

pistachioland
The world’s biggest pistachio pulls people into PistachioLand, where nut varieties abound. Image by Tom Adkinson.

Since this is the desert, it’s no surprise there’s an ice cream shop, and it’s even less of a surprise that a favorite of visitors from around the world is . . . pistachio ice cream. Sometimes you feel like a nut, especially at PistachioLand.

Trip-planning resources: LasCrucesCVB.org, PistachioLand.com and NewMexico.org

(Travel writer Tom Adkinson’s new book, 100 Things To Do in Nashville Before You Die, is available at CornersOfTheCountry.com.)

Published March 6, 2020









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