The Best of the Wild West in El Paso
El Paso is not on everyone’s tourism radar. Situated along the borders of Mexico, Texas, and New Mexico – El Paso has always been a bit of an outpost with an undue poor reputation, largely because it sits right across the border canal from drug-run Ciudad Juárez. But El Paso has a charm all its own and is consistently rated one of the safest cities in the United States. When you take the time to get to know El Paso, you can uncover a whole heap of historical and cultural nuggets.
El Paso is known as a city of outlaws and swinging saloon doors. However, the history books often forget to note that El Paso is the oldest city in the United States. In fact, El Paso pre-dates the arrival of the pilgrims at Plymouth Rock by about 50 years, when the Spanish stopped at the Rio Grande and had their own version of the Thanksgiving dinner in 1598.
After the expansion of the railroad through El Paso in the 1880s, the town grew full of gold-diggers and men escaping their lives back east. It was from El Paso rooftops that local citizens literally watched the Mexican Revolution unfold, and famous Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa hung out at some of the city’s most well-known bars.
The city of El Paso positioned in the westernmost part of Texas is the state’s 6th largest city and the seat of El Paso County. Spread over 248 square miles (642 sq. km.), the population of the city is just above 700,000 making it the 4th most populous city in Texas. The Franklin Mountain ranges, running from north to south, divide El Paso into two halves.
El Paso offers visitors several thrilling experiences from historic, cultural to leisure activities. The Chamizal National Memorial that highlights the Mexico – US border history, the adorable animals of the El Paso Zoo, the picturesque Franklin Mountains State Park, the McKelligon Canyon, the quaint Cathedral Church of Saint Patrick and the magnificent Hueco Tanks State Historic Site are some of the sites in the city that attract tourist attention. Other landmarks in El Paso include the University of Texas at El Paso, the US Army installation in Fort Bliss and White Sands Missile Range.
From El Paso acclaimed destinations such as the Big Bend National Park, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Guadalupe Mountains National Park and Lincoln National Forest are easily accessible.
The climate of El Paso is sunny almost all round the year, with summer temperatures touching 95°F (35°C) and winters up to 60°F (15°C). No wonder, residents of El Paso have no need for winter clothing all year round.
Some of the city’s most famous residents, including outlaws, sheriffs and bandits, are buried in Concordia Cemetery. John Wesley Hardin is one infamous outlaw laid to rest in El Paso’s earliest cemetery; he is known for killing a man just because he was snoring. Hardin was gunned down by El Paso lawman John Selman, another resident of Concordia. The cemetery is located at the junction of I-10 and US 54 and there are entrances on N. Boone St. and N. Steven St.
The Mission Trail
The Mission Trail is an area of southeast El Paso that contains the very earliest settlements that would eventually become the city. When the Spanish first arrived in the area that is now El Paso, they brought along priests and missionaries who set up small churches, or missions. Chapels were built from adobes (mud bricks) and parishes were set up to convert the native communities. Four missions still stand today, having survived the flooding Rio Grande and numerous conquests and re-conquests of the area by Spain, Mexico, and the United States. Three of the churches – Ysleta, Socorro and San Elizario – are located on the Texas side, while the fourth mission sits across the border in Mexico.
The trail makes for an easy drive through rural farming communities that spread about 20 miles southeast of downtown El Paso. The Ysleta Mission was established in 1682 and is part of Texas’ only native Indian pueblo, the Tigua tribe. Next is the stark, white Socorro Mission, about two miles onward, also built in 1682 for the no-longer-active Piro tribe. Finally, the San Elizario Mission is located on an old town plaza in San Elizario, which itself makes for a lovely afternoon of exploring.
Magoffin Home State Historic Site
The Magoffin Home was one of the earliest homesteads in El Paso. Built by Joseph Magoffin, a local civic leader, in 1875, the Magoffin Home is now a preserved historical landmark and museum that depicts life as a pioneer in early El Paso. The house was built in the Territorial architectural style that was so prevalent at the time and can be noted in the home’s whitewashed adobe mud construction and red bricks lining the upper edge of the house. Spanish influences can also be seen in the carved dark wooden window trim and shutters. Inside, the home is now a museum decorated as it would have been in Joseph Magoffin’s time and offers a glimpse of the early days of El Paso.
If you’ve ever heard the old tune “El Paso” by legendary western singer, Marty Robbins, you will have wondered (and perhaps hoped?) that the inimitable Rosa’s Cantina was a real place. In fact, it is. On the western side of El Paso on the very un-remarkable Doniphan Rd., you can find the small bar where the lonesome cowboy from the song found his lovely “Mexican maiden” and fell in love with her. The cafe is a tiny hole-in-the-wall that serves up deliciously greasy Tex-Mex specialties and cheap Mexican beer. The walls inside are decorated with photos and gold records of famous country music artists in a nod to the song that immortalized the little cantina. It is a great place to bask in the romance of the Old West and linger over a hard drink, or just have some delicious El Paso eats after a day on the Mission Trail.
Chamizal National Memorial
Built in the memory of a harmoniously settled century old border dispute between Mexico and the United States of America, the Chamizal National Memorial in El Paso, Texas, is a constant reminder of the historic Chamizal Convention of 1963 which was a milestone in the ties of these two nations. Spread on 55 acres of land, which was part of the disputed territory, the Chamizal National Memorial is a National Park Service unit apart from being listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Within the park boundaries, visitors will find art galleries, cultural center, an amphitheatre and a Visitor Canter with the latter also hosting a history museum that highlights the US-Mexico border history description. The galleries hold exhibitions by artists who are admired for their depiction of the history and backdrop of the border region.
An attraction for theatre lovers is The Siglo de Oro Spanish Drama Festival which has some great shows taken from Spain’s Golden Age. Put up in both English and Spanish, this theatre is in operation for over 31 years and has hosted over 250 creations till date.
Visitors can make use of the rich resources offered by the visitor center to deepen their understanding about the issues that once affected Mexico and the USA, the path to their resolution and above all the culture and heritage of the border territory.
The near 2 mile Cordova Island Trail around the park, which offers some scenic views of the surrounding Franklin and Juarez Mountains, is recommended for one and all.
What El Paso site, cantina or attraction would you recommend to others? Let us know in the comments below!