With its south-of-the-border flair and winter warmth, this Texas town is a great stop for motorhomers.
By James and Dorothy Richardson
Throughout its colorful history, El Paso has progressed from a small adobe village of just a few hundred to a Western boomtown to the sixth-largest city in Texas. Today El Paso is still colorful, with modern-day nicknames such as “Sun City” and “Star of the Southwest.”
El Paso’s color today comes from its rich heritage and its mixture of cultures. Its sister city, Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, is separated only by the Rio Grande. The influence of the culture to the south is everywhere.
El Paso rests in the mountains at an altitude of approximately 4,000 feet, in the extreme western corner of Texas. It doesn’t get as hot as the lower desert in summer, and in winter the temperatures are moderate. It’s also closer to large cities in New Mexico than any others in Texas. The New Mexico border is just a few miles away, and Las Cruces is 40 miles to the north. Interstate 10 passes through El Paso, which makes getting there easy, as far as good highways are concerned.
If you’re arriving from the east, Texas is a wide state and it will seem as big as it claims to be. Travel within the city should not pose any major problems for motor coaches except for in the downtown section, where parking and traffic will be the largest concerns. Bring a towed car or take public transportation if you’re downtown.
From museums and shopping to entertainment and outdoor recreation, the slogan “something for everyone” applies here. Head for the El Paso Convention and Visitors Bureau, adjacent to the convention center, to get sight-seeing tips about travel into Ciudad Juarez. You do need a passport to cross the border. Trolley tours to Juarez leave from the CVB, but however you travel, be sure you ask the CVB about the safety of visiting the city before you go. As of September 2008, travelers are warned by the U.S. State Department not to visit Juarez because of an escalation in violent crime. You also may wish to check the local newspaper Web site, www.elpasotimes.com, and the U.S. State Department Web site, www.travel.state.gov, for updates.
… Then Explore
The El Paso Museum of Art, as well as the Insights El Paso Science Museum, are within walking distance of the convention center. And right behind the CVB is a free, small museum with a restored 1857 locomotive, along with history exhibits.
The Museum of Art houses more than 5,000 pieces in permanent collections. They include early European and American art, Mexican colonial art, and contemporary Southwestern art. The Insights El Paso Science Museum focuses on learning by doing. Exciting, interactive exhibits emphasize the hands-on experience of learning.
The El Paso Holocaust Museum and Study Center is a new addition to the list of museums located in El Paso. Its mission is to educate the public and to honor the memory of those who perished. Mementos, photos, stories, and a variety of exhibits bring this tragic period of world history to the forefront.
Museums not in the downtown area but also worth visiting include the El Paso Museum of Archaeology, the National Border Patrol Museum, and the Fort Bliss Museum complex.
The El Paso Museum of Archaeology and the National Border Patrol Museum are in the north part of the city along Transmountain Road, which passes through the Franklin Mountains and affords great vistas at several overlooks. The Archaeology Museum tells the story of the area’s first inhabitants using dioramas and colorful exhibits. The museum grounds cover 15 acres and include nature trails, outdoor exhibits, and a desert garden with more than 250 varieties of native plants.
The National Border Patrol Museum honors the heroes who guard the United States’ borders. It tells the history of the U.S. Border Patrol from its beginning in the Old West and onward through Prohibition, World War II, and today. Equipment, guns, vehicles, airplanes, boats, and more are on display. Admission is free, but donations are welcome. Ample RV parking is available.
Three Spanish missions in this area date back 400 years and provide a picturesque look into the past. The route between the missions, called the Mission Trail, is marked, and maps are available at the convention and visitors center, or online (www.elpasocvb.com). These adobe churches (Mission Ysleta, Socorro Mission, and the San Elizario Chapel) make for an interesting and inspiring visit.
El Paso’s name comes from “El Paso del Rio del Norte,” Spanish for “north river passage.” It is located at a natural ford, a spot where the Rio Grande was easy to cross. A section of land there was claimed by both Mexico and the United States, and resulted in a century-long border dispute that was not settled until 1963. Today, Chamizal National Memorial, located downtown near the Bridge of the Americas, one of the four border crossings, recognizes the treaty that resolved that dispute. This 55-acre park and museum includes an outdoor amphitheater and an art gallery as well.
El Paso is also a military town, and Fort Bliss is a vital part of it. The fort itself was established in 1848 with a regiment of mounted infantry; today it is known for its air and missile defenses. The fort’s museum complex is a must-see. The U.S. Army Air Defense Artillery Museum takes you back in time to when airplanes were first used offensively in World War I, and details the purpose of the Army in this area. The Fort Bliss Replica Museum is a great repository of items from Fort Bliss since its founding. The 3rd Cavalry Museum has artifacts from that group’s history as well. Directions for visitors are posted at the fort’s entrances. For entry, you need your vehicle registration card, proof of current vehicle insurance, and a drivers license. You will receive a free day pass once you check in, plus free admission to the museums.
Shopping in El Paso can be as varied as you desire. Malls and specialty shops are scattered around town, and historic El Paso Street is located in the heart of the city, near one of the bridges into Juarez. Visitors will pass storefronts with all kinds of merchandise, American and Mexican. If you can safely head across the border into Juarez, visit City Market, a popular, large two-story building where vendors sell everything from blankets to burritos.
Some excellent restaurants in El Paso serve Mexican food, but you will also find other non-ethnic eateries, of course. After an evening meal there are many opportunities for entertainment.
The restored Plaza Theater downtown offers a variety of musicals and music-related events. It opened in 1930 and was advertised as the largest theater between Dallas and Los Angeles. Nearby at the convention center, the Abraham Chavez Theater presents another impressive list of music events, including ballet, opera, and touring shows.
When you are ready to “rock,” try Franklin Mountains State Park with its hiking, biking, and rock-climbing opportunities. Encompassing more than 24,000 acres, it is the largest urban park in the nation. Even if you are not fond of scaling rock walls, you’ll want to see them, with the highest peak towering at an elevation of 7,192 feet. The McKelligon Canyon area of Franklin Mountains State Park has established rock-climbing areas. As far as camping in the park is concerned, five self-contained RV sites (no hookups) are available. Reservations are recommended.
Hueco Tanks State Historic Site is another “rock” star, 32 miles northeast of El Paso. (A “hueco” is a large natural rock basin that holds rainwater.) If you like to try to decipher rock paintings and pictographs, here is your place. On top of that, it’s a very popular rock-climbing location. To preserve the site, visitation is limited and special reservations and entry restrictions are required. Contact the park for information (800-792-1112, option 3) to set up your visit. This extra step is worth the effort, as your entry fee includes tours of the rock paintings, bouldering and hiking tours, and birding tours. You also may want to inquire about camping there, as the park offers sites with electrical hookups. The general info number is (915) 857-1135; Web site: www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/findadest/parks/hueco_tanks.
Before you leave El Paso, consider several other must-see experiences and must-do attractions. One is to ride the Wyler Aerial Tramway at Franklin Mountains State Park. It climbs 940 feet and offers a view of 7,000 square miles. That includes three states and two countries from the top of an observation deck that rests at Ranger Peak. For more info, call (915) 566-6622; www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/findadest/parks/wyler_aerial_tram.
Another must-see, must-do activity is to take the scenic drive along Rim Road, a residential road with views of El Paso and Juarez. A park along the route makes a good place to stop and enjoy the panorama.
El Paso is a colorful destination where visitors can experience two countries in one visit, without having to cross the border to Mexico.
El Paso Convention and Visitors Bureau
One Civic Center Plaza
El Paso, TX 79901
This is not a complete list, so please check your campground directory or FMCA’s Business Directory, published in the January and June issues of FMC and online at FMCA.com.
Mission RV Park
1420 RV Drive
El Paso, TX 79928
Roadrunner RV Park
El Paso, TX 79907
Samson RV Park, C6573
11300 Gateway Blvd. E.
El Paso, TX 79927