Two Cities, Two Countries, One Visit
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, but it has outlived its old nicknames, like ‘Sin City’ and ‘Six Shooter Capital’, and has acquired modern-day ones like ‘Sun City, ‘Land of the Sun’, and ‘Star of the Southwest’. Its former nicknames came about in the 1800’s, but things changed in the early 1900’s, and the city has progresses. 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 River. That affords travelers easy access to two cities and two countries in one visit.
El Paso Convention Center & City Hall
El Paso is in the extreme western corner of Texas and is closer to large cities in New Mexico than any others in Texas. The New Mexico border is just a few miles away and Los Cruces is forty miles to the north. Interstate 10 passes through El Paso, which makes getting there easy, as far as good highways are concerned. If coming from the east, Texas is a wide state and it will seem as big as all claims. Getting to El Paso from the west (I-10) and north (I-25) are also convenient. Travel within the city should not pose any major problems for motorcoaches except for in the downtown section, where parking and traffic will be the largest concerns.
Once there El Paso has plenty of activities and attractions to enjoy. From museums to shopping to entertainment to outdoor recreation, there is something for every member of the family. There are museums on archaeology, history, art, science, the border patrol, and the holocaust. Shopping can be at modern malls or across the border in Juarez’s City Market. A variety of theaters and programs provide entertainment. Outdoor recreation can be in the form of hiking, biking, or rock climbing in the Franklin Mountains, or golfing on one of El Paso’s courses.
Downtown El Paso has several attractions of interest. The El Paso Convention and Visitors Bureau is located adjacent to the convention center and would prove to be a useful stop to gather up to date information on activities and to answer any questions about travel into Mexico. There are tours that originate there and at other locations in El Paso that take visitors across the border. Taking a motorcoach across the border will involve getting permits of various types. Consult the Department of Homeland Security for current requirements.
Juarez has some excellent restaurants and historical attractions. The tours will give an overview of where suitable destinations in Juarez are located for those wanting to do independent travel.
The El Paso Museum of Art and Insights -- the Science Museum is within walking distance to the convention center. The Museum of Art houses over five thousand pieces in permanent collections. They include collections of early European and American art, Mexican colonial art, and contemporary southwestern art. Insights – El Paso Science Museum focuses learning by doing. Interactive exhibits emphasize the hands on experience to learning.
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The El Paso Holocaust Museum and Study Center is another 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.
Museums not in the downtown area but worth visiting are the El Paso Museum of Archaeology, the National Border Patrol Museum, the Fort Bliss Museum, and the Railroad and Transportation Museum of El Paso. The El Paso Museum of Archaeology and the Border Patrol Museum are in the north part of the city along the Transmountain Road, which passes through the Franklin Mountains and affords great vistas at several overlooks.
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The Archaeology Museum tells the story of the area’s first inhabitants using dioramas and colorful exhibits. The museum grounds cover fifteen acres and include nature trails, outdoor exhibits, and a desert garden with more than 250 varieties of native plants. The National Border Patrol Museum depicts the history of service and tells of some of the heroes that guard our borders.
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There are a series of three missions dating back 400 years. The route between the missions, called the Mission Trail, is marked and maps are available at the convention and visitor center or online. These adobe churches (Ysleta Mission, Socorro Mission, and the San Elizario Chapel) will inspire visitors and will add to the visit.
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The Chamizal National Memorial is located downtown near the Bridge of the Americas, one of the four border crossings. It recognizes the treaty that resolved the border land dispute. Because the Rio Grande River changed courses, there was a section of land that both countries thought theirs. In 1963 that dispute was settled and this 55-acre park and museum honor that peaceful decision. An outdoor amphitheater and an art gallery are also on the grounds.
El Paso is a military town and Fort Bliss is in the center of it. The fort itself has a long history. It began in 1848 with a regiment of mounted infantry and today is known for its air and missile defenses. A museum is on its grounds and is one of the must-sees of a visit. Permits are required for entering the military installation. Directions for visitors are posted at entrances.
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Shopping in El Paso can be as varied as the visitor desires. Convenient malls and specialty shops are readily available. Historic El Paso Street is located in the heart of the city. El Paso Street is near one of the bridges into Juarez. Visitors will pass storefronts with all kinds of merchandise – both American and Mexican. Just across the border in Juarez is City Market, a popular large two-story building where vendors sell everything from blankets to burritos. A trip across the border and to the City Market is another must-do experience while in El Paso.
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Eating is always a popular experience while traveling. El Paso has a variety of great restaurants, and of course, there are some excellent ones serving Mexican food. After an evening meal there are many opportunities in different venues for entertainment.
The Plaza Theater in downtown offers a variety of scheduled events. It was built in the 1930s and was advertised as the largest theater between Dallas and Los Angeles. Nearby at the convention center the Abraham Chavez Theater has another impressive list of scheduled events, including the El Paso Symphony performances.
For the outdoorsperson, Franklin Mountain State Park will provide plenty of hiking, biking, and rock climbing in its more than 24,000 acres. It is the largest urban park in the nation and covers thirty-seven square miles and lies within the city limits of El Paso. The highest peak in the park is the North Franklin Peak with an elevation of 7192 feet. As far as camping in the park, there are only five self-contained RV sites in the park. No water or electricity hookups. No ground fires permitted. Reservations are recommended for anyone desiring to stay in the park. The McKelligon Canyon area of Franklin Mountain State Park has established rock climbing areas.
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Before leaving El Paso, there are a couple other must-sees and must-dos. The Wyler Aerial Tramway at the edge of the Franklin Mountains climbs 940 feet and offers a view of 7000 square miles. That includes three states and two countries from its 5632-foot elevation. There is an observation deck at the top of Ranger Peak. Another must-see, must-do is to take the Scenic Drive along Rim Road. Along the residential road views of El Paso and Juarez are possible. There is a park along the route to pause and take in the panorama.
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El Paso is a colorful destination where visitors can experience two countries, two cities, and two cultures in one visit. Even though the two cultures of El Paso and Juarez have merged significantly over the years that these two sister cities have coexisted, both are great places to visit. And do not miss the opportunity to visit Mexico while in El Paso.