In the westernmost corner of Texas, situated on the banks of the Rio Grande, is El Paso. Being just across the border from the Mexican town of Juarez, there are plenty of Latino influences to be seen throughout the city. But it’s not just the delicious Tex-Mex food or the Mexican influenced festivals that are on offer. El Paso is a fascinating city thriving in the desert, boasting a diverse array of flora and fauna, and is home to famous historical sites and first-class museums and art galleries.
El Paso is the location of the largest urban park in the United States. Franklin Mountains State Park is the ideal place to escape the bustle of the city without having to travel too far. This place of natural beauty has plenty to offer with invigorating hiking and biking trails or rock climbing for the more adventurous. Whether taking a gentle stroll or off on a long bike ride, keep an eye out for Franklin Mountains’ ringtail cats, coyotes, and its wide variety of reptiles and small mammals.
El Paso Mission Trail takes you on a nine-mile journey around the southeast side of the city. The route connects Soccoro and Ysleta Missions, two of the oldest operating missions in the US. Ysleta is one of the highlights. Built in 1682, its now the oldest of its kind in Texas. El Paso Mission Trail also takes in the historic San Elizario Presidio Chapel built in 1789. With other cultural highlights including art galleries, local eateries, and the Tigua Indian Cultural Center, this is a great chance to explore the multicultural heritage of Texas.
An impressive collection of over 7,000 pieces of art are housed in an old Greyhound bus station. El Paso Museum of Art brings together works showcasing American, European, and Mexican artists. The classic Italian ‘Madonna and Child’ dating from the 13th century is displayed alongside excellent examples of American Southwestern art. There are also activities and workshops for kids to take part in. Entry to this fantastic museum is totally free. But to continue the good work they are doing, donations are very welcome.
At the heart of downtown El Paso is a throw-back to the 1930s. The Plaza Theatre holds a special place in the hearts of residents and is a much-loved landmark. Here you can see Broadway shows, traveling mariachi bands, and big-name country stars. But the true reason to visit the Plaza Theatre is its extravagant décor. Built in the Spanish mission style, the exterior boasts a three-tier domed tower. Inside you will find ornate mosaic floors and railing together with antique furniture. On the ceiling painted stars twinkle, reflecting the summer night’s sky.
In the desert, northeast of El Paso is Fort Bliss, a US Army post established in the mid-19th century. It’s currently an air-combat training center, where troops from NATO-allied countries train. Within its grounds is the Fort Bliss Museum tracing the history of the camp from 1861, when it was used as a Confederate base during the Civil War, through to Desert Storm. As well as covering its history, Fort Bliss Museum has weapons and vehicles on display, including a German V-2 rocket, helicopters, and tanks.
One of the best-kept secrets in Texas is Magoffin Home. The stately house was built in 1875 for Joseph Magoffin, one of the early El Paso politicians. Magoffin Home tells of fascinating events in the history of a multicultural family actively involved in the settlement and expansion of the US, the Civil War, and US-Mexico relations. The house itself is an example of Territorial style architecture and still contains many of the original fittings and furnishings. In 1971, Magoffin Home was placed on the ‘National Register of Historic Places’ and is a must-see for anyone interested in El Paso’s early settlers.
Driving 30 miles northeast of El Paso brings you to Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site. Hueco is Spanish for ‘hollow’ which refers to small depressions in the parks three granite mountains. People have been making the journey to Hueco Tanks for thousands of years to collect the rainwater that fills these hollows. Nowadays it’s a haven for trekking, rock climbing, nature watching, and picnicking. There are also 20 campsites where you can spend the night under the stars in this serene part of Texas.
One of the lesser visited museums around El Paso is the National Border Patrol Museum. It offers an interesting insight into the history of US Border Patrol on the Mexican border, from the Old West to prohibition, WWII, and the modern era with up-to-date technologies. What’s most fascinating is the display of tools and vehicles seized from people making the attempt to cross into the US. These include ladders, primitive boats, motorized hang gliders, and a bike big enough to carry nine people.
Markets are a great way to get to know a city and its people. One of El Paso's best and most famous is the Downtown Artist and Farmers Market held every Saturday morning throughout the year. Local artists display their original artwork and crafts alongside local farmers with their regionally grown produce. Join one of the health and wellness workshops or take part in some of the fun art activities. Sample some of the tasty fresh food on offer whilst enjoying live music and street entertainers.
If you find yourself visiting El Paso between June and August, head to the outdoor McKelligon Canyon Amphitheater and treat yourself to Viva! El Paso. This colorful drama and musical spectacular celebrates the history of four cultures spanning four centuries. 50 dancers perform the stories of early Native American settlers, the Spanish conquest, Metizo Mexican control, through to the Wild West. During the performance, you will be wowed by acrobatics, cannon fire, Indians shooting fire-lit arrows, and a parade of the six flags of Texas. Viva! El Paso is a truly remarkable and educational show which will take your breath away.