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The Chile Drop is just one colorful feature of New Year’s Eve in Las Cruces

New York City has its big ball in Times Square, but New Mexico, specifically Las Cruces, has its chile.

Hoisted 70 feet in the air, the 19-foot-long chile glows in a series of random colors throughout the New Year’s Eve darkness until the final 30-second countdown to midnight.

With the weather finally starting to get colder, a trip south for some unique experiences in a warmer clime might be just the thing to warm the spirits, capped by a rousing party to welcome the new year.

The Las Cruces version is entering its fourth year, but it has already become a welcome tradition, said organizer Russ Smith, a volunteer with the Downtown Las Cruces Partnership that runs the event.

“I got a call from Community Development four-plus years ago asking me if I could plan a chile drop,” Smith said. “I didn’t know what one looked like, I didn’t know what one sounded like or smelled like, but I said ‘yes’ to the question. The idea of having a chile drop that is customized and helps in branding Las Cruces was a unique idea and an idea that helps perfectly with what we’re doing with our community.”

The chrome chile is covered with 400 feet of LED lighting that blinks in random colors until it slowly drops to earth, finally changing to the familiar red or green to which New Mexicans are so accustomed.

“Throughout the evening, the lights activate and twinkle to show the marvels of the Plaza de las Cruces,” Smith said. “The cars driving by on Main Street and on Water and Church streets, that are parallel, they can also see it. At midnight, the 19-foot chrome chile explodes into a light display of either red or green. Each year, the question will be either red or green. The crowd takes great pride in calling the color.”

It’s the culmination of an evening-long party, he said.

“The audience, it grows, especially because of the now-easy-access for the use of the plaza,” Smith said. “Last year, we used Plaza de Las Cruces for the first time. We have a beer garden and food trucks and music on stage and dancing on stage. It’s a great fit. Our crowd grows in sophistication and understanding. It’s identifying with its own.

“Las Cruces has its own thing. They claim it, they own it, they identity with it and it makes us proud. Tradition has been baked into it already.”

On Saturday, Dec. 30, a ranger-led tour to Lake Lucero within the White Sands National Monument (nps.gov/whsa) will be a special treat to see the source of gypsum crystals that gave birth to the area’s unique features.

Reservations are required for the three-hour trip to the lake. Stunning views abound, as the area is sandwiched between the dunes and the San Andres Mountains in a stretch known as the Alkali Flat. Lake Lucero lies in its southwestern corner.

Another fun event occurs Thursday, Dec. 28, just across the border near El Paso in the Tom Mays Unit of Franklin Mountains State Park as Geo Betty Tours leads a one-of-a-kind tour into the heart of the mountain in a copper mine (geobettytours.com/events/copper-mine-tour-2).

“I just recently started doing these mine tours,” company owner Don Baumgardt said. “It’s a mine shaft on west side of mountains that goes in about 330 feet straight into the side of the mountain. The park people don’t even know that much about the history.”

It’s a quarter-mile walk to the mine entrance, then a bit of tight squeeze through the opening of the tunnel, and then it’s exploration time.

“We walk around and explore, talk about the history of mining and rocks and minerals,” Baumgardt said. “There are little mineral deposits and crystals growing on the walls. And in the big area, just blues and greens from oxidation from the copper. Until you get in there, it’s hard to imagine.”

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