Huddled in our blankets in front of our fireplace in the cold November nights of New Mexico, we stalked the Weather Channel for a warmer place that would be still be a days driving distance from Denver. El Paso was consistently several degrees warmer. It’s a funny thing, too, because El Paso, Texas lies only approximately 50 miles to the south of Las Cruces, New Mexico. We knew where we had to go. We were going to go there anyway, but our arrival at our site in El Paso was about three weeks earlier than we originally planned.
At the very tip of the nose of Texas, on its far western side, lies the city of El Paso. Franklin Mountain rises up and pushes down into it like a thumb. The city has crept up and around the tip of that thumb. El Paso is limited in its growth southward by the Mexican city of Juarez, from which migrants poured during the months of November and December 2022. Driving along I-10 reveals a tale of two cities: Juarez, looking a little less prosperous and with a lining of smog along its mountainside, and El Paso, with its chain restaurants and hotels lining the expressway. If you look closely, you can see the immense border wall which snakes down and around, dividing Mexico and the United States.
On the northeastern side of the mountain lies sprawling Ft. Bliss, the Army’s second largest base, containing 1.1 million acres. It is so big that it is chopped up by the roads that pass through it, notably SR 54 that passes in front of the RV park. Were it not for that highway, this would be a great place to sit. Behind the park, Franklin Mountain rises up and provides a lovely backdrop. All around the mountain, development never rises much higher than this. I suspect that much of the land is owned by either the federal government or the state of Texas.
On some of my daily walks, I tried to get behind the buildings and up into the hills, but it was just too far. In the foreground of this picture is one of Ft. Bliss’s housing areas and behind that is a fence.
I’ve written about Ft. Bliss in a blog post about some of the military bases we stayed in, so I’ll not go on further about it. If interested, I’ve included the post here: https://twosnatravels.com/2022/01/29/military-family-camping/.
There was plenty of time to explore, so one of the first things we did was hike in the Franklin Mountains.
It was silent on the mountain, until the sound of birds broke through. We stood there for awhile, trying to figure out where the sound was coming from, until this gaggle of geese flew over us. They circled above our heads for quite awhile. Maybe, just like people, they were having an argument about which direction was best for their migration journey? There was quite a discussion, as evidenced by all their honking. Finally they fixed their formation and flew off. Adios amigoose!
If you want to drive to a destination in El Paso that is on the other side of the mountain from where you are, it can take some time to go around on the highway. The single other option is to travel on the only road that cuts through it, which is beautiful Transmountain Road. Franklin State Park, where we hiked, is on that road. Going from west to east, at the end of Transmountain road, sits the National Border Patrol Museum. We thought it might be interesting, so we paid a visit.
The thing that struck me most about this museum is a reminder that the United States borders do not only encompass our border with Mexico, which is what comes to mind when I think about Border Patrol. Those who work for Border Patrol have to be ready for winter conditions up on the border with Canada, and also oceanic borders in other places. The museum is small and didn’t take us long to go through. It is a good place to learn about those who protect all of our borders.
Border Patrol agents have to keep an eye out for motorized hang gliders, which are used for drug smuggling. We learned about the many ways that people try to smuggle all manner of things – and people – into the United States. Helicopters are needed, of course.
After we visited the museum, Cal made an attempt to see how high up we could drive into the mountains from our side (not very far). We passed a migrant detention center and observed many people walking around in the fenced back yard. One man was holding a baby. It is an image that stayed in my mind and put a very human face on the current migration crisis happening in this city.
We made a stop at Keystone Park and El Paso’s Botanical Garden one morning. Keystone Park needs a lot of love, as it doesn’t seem to be well maintained. It is a narrow strip of wetlands on a short trail located between a busy road and I-10, which is amazing given this light-industrial location. There were many birds to see, which made it worthwhile, and then the Botanical Garden can be accessed from this trail.
The birds would take flight and move to another section of wetland when I tried to take just a step closer, so I couldn’t get a closeup shot of them. But I did like this view of the mountains reflected in this picture. Our RV was on the other side of the mountain from here.
The garden was small, but a lot was packed in. It provided plants from the Chihuahuan desert and a peek into some past history.
In one area, there were pretty mosaics set into the wall:
I liked how they had decorated, just a little, for Christmas:
The garden also had a set up of a “paraje” which was an encampment along the Camino Real. This dates back to the 1600’s, when New Mexico was a Spanish colony. The trail covered the distance between Mexico and Santa Fe along what was originally a Pueblo Indian trail. The Spanish were setting up military outposts and needed to move both equipment and missionaries. Parajes were located every 10 or 15 miles to give shelter, rest and water to the livestock and and travelers as well.
The plan for the day was that if we had time, Cal would drop me off at Whoopee Bowl Antique Mall up the highway, and he would go to Camping World while I was there. We have such an exciting life!
I had read about Whoopee Bowl, and I love to poke around antique malls, so I wanted to check this out. If this is the sort of thing you enjoy, it is not to be missed if you are ever in El Paso. I’m always amazed at all the junk…excuse me…stuff that people collect. Whoopee Bowl takes antique malls to a whole ‘nother level.
The above picture is up on the second level. After checking out this massive place and returning down to the first floor, I found a room I hadn’t been in. There was huge fish aquarium, a blazing fire going in a massive brick fireplace, and a rousing game of poker going on.
Atlas Obscura is a guide, both on-line and in book form, to all sorts of quirky and interesting places that one might normally miss. They don’t list the Whoopee Bowl, maybe because it is a business. But they do list the Casa de Azucar, which translated from Spanish means House of Sugar. It was just down from where we were staying and made for a good walk.
It is a testament to one man’s love for both his wife and his Catholic church. Rufino Loya started building this confection of decoration around his little house and kept at it for 25 years. He died just this past August at the age of 88 years. I hope someone will keep taking care of it.
Also just up the road, two artists were working on a mural on a concrete retaining wall. I enjoyed walking by and checking their progress.
Our time in El Paso was also about catching up on chores for me and RV maintenance for Cal. The less-glamorous side of RV life is that we do have to stay on top of everything that one would normally do in their lives. Some things had not been taken care of since before our trip to Europe. It being Christmas time, there was also gift buying, Christmas cards to write, and other things that one does to get ready for the holiday. Our RV park had a club house with a kitchen I could use, and I baked some Christmas cookies there.
Just a few days before Thanksgiving, we made a last-minute decision to visit our family in Denver, so we went drove there without the RV for both the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
Almost every evening while we stayed here, though, we walked together through the little streets of the RV park. It was fairly large so I could get a good number of steps in. When the sun goes down, the temperature plummets, so at times we had to make sure we got our walk in before dinner. For awhile we enjoyed a full moon. There was also a little Christmas wonderland set up by our camp hosts.
And, of course, we paid a visit to Santa!
Like a coin which has two sides, we were happy to refuge here, and also happy when it was finally time to move on down the road.
Next time – zipping across the state of Texas in five days