Viva El Paso!


Downtown El Paso at dusk

Encouraged by an article by local historian  Lonn Taylor in the Big Bend Sentinel I took off to check for myself. El Paso always seems busy, thanks to Interstate 10 running straight through downtown. The economy is growing, if slowly, helped by the presence of a 32,000 soldier population at Fort Bliss. The Convention & Visitors Bureau is quick to point out that El Paso (pop. 613,190) is safe – the second safest city in the USA with a population of over half a million.

I camped in the Franklin Mountains State Park, high on the mountain side well to the west of downtown. The Franklin Mountains State Park encompasses 24,000 acres, the largest urban wilderness in the continental USA. The Trans-Mountain Road, access to the park, is being widened so it is presently tricky to find the entrance to the park. But, having worked that out, I had the lofty site almost to myself (at $9/night).

Parking downtown early, I wandered into the old Gardner Hotel, which also serves as a youth hostel, and asked about a coffee shop. I was directed to the old-fashioned Tejas Café on Mills Street, two blocks away, but instead chose Pike Street Market coffee shop opposite, where I drank strong coffee, read the free newspapers and listened to music familiar to the over-50s.

Downtown with Franklin Mountains to the right

The wonderful El Paso Museum of Art is the jewel in the crown of El Paso’s 27 different museums and galleries. It is located opposite the Camino Real Hotel, on the site of the old Greyhound station. It is central, easy to visit, and free. A full-size pink ceramic tractor, prettily decorated, adorns the lobby, while upstairs a collection of European baroque art catches the eye. Two special exhibitions (small admission fee) were adjacent: “The Wyeths Across Texas”, works by the most famous family of American artists, and an exhibition of paintings by 59 Mexican artists over the past 50 years.

I next visited the Holocaust Museum, just across I-10 from downtown. I was surprised by the existence of such a museum in a city not known for its high concentration of Jewish residents. Arriving at the new, compact museum, all was explained. The El Paso Holocaust Museum is the brainchild of an El Paso resident and holocaust survivor, Henry Kellen, still alive today at 98. The museum opened in 1994, later burned down and was reopened in 2008. The El Paso Holocaust Museum portrays the whole story in a clear historical narrative, with many striking exhibits. It is enough to move you to tears.

Stuck between I-10 and the Rio Grande, just east of downtown, the El Paso Zoo comes as a surprise. Not just the very urban location, but the sense of being in an open park, which the zoo designers sought to achieve in the 35-acre space by careful landscaping. In 2010 an African section was added to the Americas and Asia. Now visitors can watch African lions, zebra and giraffe, as well as Asian elephants, a Burmese python, leopard and orangutans among a total of 220 species. A small train links the three areas. Watching the kids’ reactions is almost worth the price of admission.

I located the Tara Thai Restaurant on Mesa Street, recommended by Lonn Taylor, and settled in for lunch. The steady stream of young people from the university using the place indicated a well-priced lunch menu. I chose Pad Thai with shrimp, a noodles dish, which arrived after a small salad with ginger in the dressing. The plate was well filled, and I had trouble finishing. It contains tofu, garlic, shallots, red chilis, peanuts and cilantro and has a sauce called nam pla (fish flavor with tamarind). I had enjoyed learning how to fix pad thai at a cooking class I took a year ago when in Thailand (see Cooking up a Storm in Chiang Mai, on this blog spot), but it was sure was quicker and easier to wait for it to appear in 5 minutes from the Tara Thai kitchen. The taste was good and  the price right. On my next visit to El Paso I plan to go back in the evening and try a fancier dish.

Photographs courtesy of El Paso Convention & Visitors Bureau








Jim Glendinning About Jim Glendinning

I am a Footloose Scot who has traveled to 136 countries. "I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move." Robert Louis Stevenson
Read about Jim Glendinning and his book Footloose Scot: Travels In A Time Of Change

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