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Night lights: Fort Selden Historic Site hosts Las Noches de las Luminarias

Members of the Enchanted Historical Production sing at Las Noches de las Luminarias in 2018. (Courtey of NM Historic Sites)

Las Noches de las Luminarias is a tradition that continues to grow in southern New Mexico.

The annual event is held at Fort Selden Historic Site, north of Las Cruces in southern New Mexico, continues to grow in what is offered.

“We don’t just do luminarias,” says Leslie Bergloff, regional manager for New Mexico Historic Sites. “We have carolers dressed in historic clothing. This year, there is a craft area where ornaments can be decorated. We are also cooking and baking bread in the horno.”

Bergloff doesn’t know the exact year the tradition started, but she can recall it happening in the 1990s.

According to New Mexico Historic Sites, as early as A.D. 400, Native American farmers, the Mogollons, lived on the same land that would become Fort Selden centuries later.

In 1598, the area was known as Paraje Robledo, or Cruz de Robledo, a welcome paraje (campsite) on El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, or the Royal Road to the Interior Lands.

Today, visitors to Fort Selden can walk on an authentic portion of El Camino Real.

Fort Selden was established in April 1865 to bring peace to the region. Several of the units that served there were African-American regiments referred to as Buffalo Soldiers.

Fort Selden was abandoned in 1891 as hostilities lessened and the needs of the military changed.

Today, ghostly adobe ruins are all that remain of Fort Selden offering visitors a glimpse of another time.

Volunteers work to put out the 900 luminarias around the historic site.

“People really love walking through the ruins,” she says. “We have a visitor center, and it’s really an exhibit about the area.”

Setting out the luminarias is also a big deal.

“We put out the bags with sand in the morning,” she says. “By 5 p.m., the volunteers come back out and help us light it. We have about 30 to 40 people help us. It’s a full day, and we look forward to welcoming visitors to the historic site.”

Bergloff says about 800 people visited last year and hopes more will attend this year.

But she reminds visitors that the event is held in an open space.

“It’s important to dress for the weather,” she says. “It does get cold out. The event is fun for the entire family and is an opportunity to visit another era.”

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