There are a lot of misconceptions about El Paso. This summer there was plenty of news reports about refugees from Central America overwhelming Texas border towns. President Obama even met with Texas Governor Rick Perry about it in June. What wasn’t said was that the problems were contained to basically Brownsville and McAllen, Texas which are nearly 800 miles from El Paso.
There is also the mistaken notion that El Paso, being a border town, is seedy and dangerous. The 2008 Academy Award-nominated film, “No Country For Old Men,” certainly played up that myth even though it wasn’t filmed there. The reality is that El Paso is quite modern and is considered to be on one of the safest cities in the US.
Although El Paso is located in Texas, and it does get hot there in the summer, it’s not humid because it is located in the Chihuahuan Desert. It’s not flat like of Texas as evidenced by the Franklin Mountains which many consider to be part of the Rockies.
Driving into El Paso along I-10 you can clearly look into Juarez, Mexico because the distance between the USA and Mexico along that part of the Rio Grande is narrower than that which the East River separates Long Island City and Roosevelt Island. Juarez is no longer the drug-infested capital that it once was (although you wouldn’t know it watching FX’s Peabody Award-winning “The Bridge”) but there’s not much to see or do there and it’s not worth the hassle of crossing the border.
This Texas town became a part of American pop culture in the fall of 1959 when Marty Robbins had a hit song, “El Paso,” that went to the top spot on both the pop and country singles charts. The lyrics dealt with two men in love with the same woman but only would come out alive and then would have to spend his remaining days as a fugitive. The setting for this fictional tale was Rosa’s Cantina and this legendary Tex-Mex restaurant is still in business today.
El Paso is home to several downtown museums that are within walking distance of each other. The best way to get oriented is to visit the El Paso Museum of History that has exhibits about the city and its various neighborhoods from the 18th century through today. A block away the El Paso Museum of Art has a terrific collection of Southwest paintings and sculptures from such renown artists as Frederic Remington and Tom Lea as well as a permanent collection of Renaissance era paintings from many of the lesser known European artists of the period.
The El Paso Holocaust Museum, which opened in 1994, is a smaller version of the one in Washington but it’s no less moving. Given recent events in Europe, a visit here is sadly more relevant than ever.
The El Paso Zoo is one of the most charming that I have ever visited. Yes, it has such crowd-pleasers as elephants, orangutans, and tigers, but it also has nearly extinct species as the Mexican wolf and the Galapagos tortoise. You can even feed tree leaves to its giraffes.
It is rare to ever laud a zoo for cuisine but the El Paso Zoo utilizes some of the area’s top chefs to prepare healthy farm-to-market dishes for its patrons at reasonable prices no less.
El Paso’s largest employer is the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP as the locals refer to it) which is celebrating its centennial. The university is located in the Kern neighborhood of El Paso and it’s home to some of West Texas’s best restaurants such as Crave.
Although it doesn’t have a major league sports team, El Paso has a rich sports history. In 1966 Texas Western University (UTEP’s old name) made history by winning the NCAA men’s basketball championship with a starting five who were African-American. The Sun Bowl, played on the UTEP campus, is our nation’s second oldest football bowl game (just behind the Rose Bowl) and it celebrated its 80th anniversary this past January. Minor league baseball returned to El Paso this year as the San Diego Padres moved their top farm team here to play in brand new Southwest University Park.
The Doubletree Hotel is located a block away from the ballpark and is right near all of the attractions that I have detailed. It offers a free shuttle bus to any place you want to go within three miles of downtown El Paso.
Another option is to stay 45 minutes north of El Paso in the scenic town of Las Cruces, New Mexico. The Hotel Encanto (hotelencanto.com) is a beautiful resort whose architecture is in the Spanish colonial style. Its magnificent palm tree-lined swimming pool reminds one of the Beverly Hills Hotel. There is a spa, health club, and even a physician on the premises. There is also a complimentary shuttle that will take you anywhere in Las Cruces including the campus of New Mexico State University.
For more information, log onto visitelpaso.com or call (800) 351-6024