COUNTY: Dona Ana
LOCATION: 17 miles N of Las Cruces
ROADS: Paved, 2WD
NAME ORIGIN: Until a post office was established in 1926, Radium Springs had been known as Fort Selden Springs, named for nearby Fort Selden.
Known for its rich history, early settlers once used this area as a passage to Jornada del Muerto. The small town of Radium Springs is located on NM 185 west of the Rio Grande and across from Fort Selden State Monument and the ruins of a 19th-century army outpost Fort Selden. The community owes its name to the free-slowing mineral hot springs that were often frequented by soldiers from nearby Fort Selden. It was when the post office was established, that a mineral analysis of the water was performed and showed enough "millimicrocuries" of radium per liter of water that the town could use the word "radium" in its name! In the 1920s the Radium Springs Resort Hotel was built with bathhouses connected to the wells. It attracted many people who felt the water was beneficial for arthritis, nerve problems and many other diseases. It flourished for almost 50 years, then fell from favor, and was even once used as a women's prison and also an art center.
Another unique feature of Radium Springs is the Leasburg Dam. Constructed in 1908, it is one of the oldest diversion dams in New Mexico which was constructed not to hold back the flow of the Rio Grande river, but to instead divert it into a system of canals for use by nearby farms. Leasburg Dam State Park offers year-round camping, picnicking, and bird watching. From about mid-March to mid-October the park is also a venue for fishing, canoeing, and kayaking in the Rio Grande.
The most popular site to visit is Fort Selden State Monument. Built in 1865 by troops from Albuquerque, the entire post was constructed of adobe with the exception of the Administration Building. The fort was established in an effort to bring peace to the south central region of present day New Mexico. Housing units of the U.S. Infantry and Cavalry, the intent was to protect settlers and travelers in the Mesilla Valley from desperados and Apache Indians. Several of the units stationed at the fort were black troopers, referred to as Buffalo Soldiers. A young Douglas Mac Arthur called the fort home while his father was post commander in the late 1880s. By 1890 criminals and raiding parties were no longer considered a threat as hostilities and, like many small forts in the Southwest, the government decommissioned the fort and it was abandoned in 1891. Today the stark adobe brick walls of the frontier past evoke a feeling of personal connection to the past. A visitor center offers exhibits on frontier and military life and living history demonstrations are occasionally offered on weekends from 1-4 pm, May 1-Sept. 15.
Before you leave Radium Springs, be sure to quench your thirst at Fort Selden Winery. They offer wine tastings every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from Noon until 5 pm!