Programs & Services

From Ranches to Rockets: Farm & Ranch Museum Explores Range History

At the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum

Red Stone Missile launch at White Sands Missile Range. Photo by Judsen Caruthers.

A new exhibit at the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum in Las Cruces explores the dramatic transformation of life in the Tularosa Basin in the 1940s and beyond.

Home on the Range: From Ranches to Rockets stretches through two galleries and will be on display until August 16, 2020. Visitors will learn about ranch life in the Tularosa Basin and the surrounding mountains, and how events taking place halfway around the world brought about changes that for many ranchers were permanent.

The transition of public ranchland into private U.S. government property was not uncommon in the American West. Yet the transformation of the basin into a missile testing facility was a uniquely New Mexican experience. The story begins when ranchers from Texas settled in the basin in the late 1800s. There, they found grass tall and plentiful. According to the Museum’s history curator, Leah Tookey, what the settlers didn’t know was that they arrived during a particularly wet climactic period and that raising cattle would not be as profitable as they once believed. The challenging, and sometimes rewarding, lifestyle these ranch families chose changed dramatically in 1942.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor thrust the United States into World War II, an executive order established a military training range in the region. The ranchers were told they needed to remove their livestock and they would be allowed back at the end of the war. The families performed their patriotic duties and complied with the orders. Most would never return.

While the basin was used to test rockets, missiles and bombs — including the atomic bomb in 1945 — it was also used to launch the country’s space program and other scientific programs, some in the private sector.

“For decades, White Sands Missile Range has been referred to as a huge outdoor laboratory, a place where weapons and civilian projects can be tested,” said Jim Eckles, longtime public information officer for the Range, and co-curator of the exhibit with Leah Tookey.

The exhibit features everything from replica structures, including a ranch house, tool shed, and a military block house, to items as big as a V-2 rocket engine and a Loki Dart rocket, and as small as toys and kitchen utensils. Interactive activities for children include games, making paper rockets, and feeling the texture of mohair.

Monday–Saturday 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Sunday, Noon–5 p.m.?The barns close at 4 p.m. each day, but visitors may still walk to see the livestock until 5 p.m. Adults $5; seniors (60+) $4; children (4–17) $3; active US military and veterans $2; children 3 and under and museum members with card, free.

Animals are one of the things that make the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum unique. The “living collection” includes seven different breeds of beef cattle, a milk cow, horses, sheep, goats and a burro.

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