August 2005: Pancho Villa State Park


Columbus, New Mexico

In the early morning hours of March 9, 1916, Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa and 500 men raided the tiny border town of Columbus and killed 18 Americans. The audacious attack was the first hostile invasion of the United States since the War of 1812. General John "Black Jack" Pershing led a retaliatory expedition deep into Mexico to hunt Villa down and return him to the United States for justice. The Punitive Expedition, 10,000 soldiers strong, returned after 11 months empty-handed. Pancho Villa State Park was created in 1959 as a gesture of goodwill between the United States and Mexico. Seven years later, in 1966, Praxedes Giner Duran, governor of Chihuahua, dedicated the "avenida de Amistad" (Avenue of Friendship) and presented 400 sycamores to the state of New Mexico. Geologically, the park lies on the edge of a large alluvial fan that extends southeast from the Tres Hermanas Mountains, which lie five miles to the northwest, and were mined until the 1920s for zinc, silver, gold, lead, and copper.

The 60-acre park features a short and easy nature trail that highlights area cacti. The botanical garden is outstanding with more than 30 different species of desert plants, including ocotillo, yucca and agave, mesquite, purple cholla, snowball cactus, polka dot cactus, barrel cactus, stag horn cholla, snowball cactus, and jubilee trees. Also in the park is a one-mile exercise loop trail that weaves through picnic tables.

Dogs are welcome, though they should be leashed with the proliferation of cactus off the marked paths. The coolest time to visit the park is October through March, when most of the people, dogs and birds come.

Park trails pass through the remains of Camp Furlong, which Pershing used to launch his counter-invasion, and now on the National Register of Historic Places. Among the surviving buildings are the adobe ruins of the judge advocate's office, the adobe rec hall used as camp headquarters and the U.S. Customs House, now the park's Visitor Center. The park has also acquired several expedition-era vehicles, many that made their first appearance in war in the pursuit of Villa, including the airplane. Inexperienced truck drivers were known to yell "whoa" rather than apply the brakes in an attempt to stop their vehicle. One 1915 Dodge, being restored for public display was sprayed with gunfire in Pancho Villa's attack.

DIRECTIONS TO Pancho Villa State Park:
- From I-10, take the Artcraft Road exit in El Paso. Turn west, away from the mountains, and continue on Texas 178, which turns into South 136 in New Mexico. Follow this until you see signs directing you to turn onto Highway 9 towards Columbus, New Mexico. About sixty-six miles from the I-10 turnoff, you will reach Columbus. The State Park is located just beyond the Highway 9 and 11 intersection in Columbus.