border town

El Paso Sunsets

Depart 6:45am San Antonio (bus station) -> Arrive 7:50am Kerrville (bus station) Depart 7:55am -> Arrive 8:50am Junction (Short Stop Convenience Store) Depart 9:05am -> Arrive 12:20pm Fort Stockton (Stripes Convenience Store) Depart 12:50pm -> Arrive 2:50pm Van Horn (Pilot Travel Center) Depart 3:10pm -> Arrive 4:10pm El Paso (bus station)

I traveled 600 miles across west Texas on a Greyhound bus on a Sunday in January 2018. San Antonio to El Paso. Scrubby, dry landscape the whole way:

Rare warm company at the Junction, Texas Short Stop. Convenience Store Kitty was fierce but friendly:

Fort Stockton food break. The bus cleared out at lightning speed:

I arrived in El Paso after nearly 11 hours on the bus. I was in a haze from podcasts, bouncing awake from naps, dehydration and hunger as I started my tour.

 

Abraham Chavez Theatre

Nice signs to help me get a feel for the area:

Deserted streets on a Sunday evening. Crossing over Interstate 10 dividing town, I came into stretches of disused buildings among a tight grid of one-way streets. El Paso has such a wealth of historic buildings “representing every period of Texas history, and even earlier, going back to The Republic of Mexico and even the KIngdom of Spain” that upkeep can fall behind:

Moving on to residential blocks as I headed east to my Airbnb reservation:

El Paso nestles up against the border with Mexico, Ciudad Juarez specifically, with the Rio Grande serving as a natural border. Juarez is plagued by violence with over 500 homicides in the first 6 months of 2018. El Paso, though, is extremely safe with only 17 murders in all of 2017 (population 650,000). This is one of the lowest crime rates in the entire US.

The reason for this is obvious once you start walking around….guard dogs everywhere:

Stay back

I seriously have never been barked at so much walking in a city. A close second for dogs would be Las Cruces, New Mexico so stay tuned for that in a future post.

Signs for the local elections as the sun got low:

Keeping things political, let me just say how dumb a giant wall between Texas and Mexico seems. It is just not necessary. First, look around in these photos. There is no imminent danger, no one creeping along about to rob or murder or kidnap me. Second, listen to one of my favored podcasts while traveling, Revisionist History, explain how increased border security has just served to prevent Mexican migrants from returning home from seasonal (and necessary) work in the US. Finally, if you want to understand the numbers for yourself, contact the team doing in depth research since 1982 the Mexican Migration Project.

Peace on the streets of El Paso

Crossed over train tracks just in time before a freight train:

A final gaze back at the setting sun behind the rugged, distant mountains:

Damn did it get bright and sunny fast the next morning. El Paso is in the Chihuahuan desert. Out to the streets to walk to yoga after a peaceful night’s rest:

Franklin mountains

I eventually came into a newer neighborhood that completely eschewed sidewalks, but thankfully traffic was low:

Got in for a class at Casa de Yoga: The instructor was a sub and kept things pretty standard. A vinyasa yoga class on the vigorous side.

Sweet space

the artful exterior of Tippi Teas beckoned me inside next:

One busy main drag to cross over before reaching the University of Texas El Paso campus for a walk around:

North Mesa Street

The UTEP campus has really great landscaping. Campus buildings have a distinctive and unified look too. My research finds that the architectural style is inspired by “the Himalayan mountain-top fortresses of the Kingdom of Bhutan” holy crap:

Not sure what informed their bathroom interior design, but man that’s some cool tiling:

Back outside I was captivated by the view over the highway. That’s Mexico just on the other side:

View over to Mexico from UTEP campus

Next I enjoyed the quaint streets of the historic Sunset Heights neighborhood perched above Interstate 10:

Once again, into a primarily residential area. And once again, so many little dogs barking:

Some really interesting older buildings, but not a thriving area. The highway is cut in way too close:

After ducking the highway, an artful bridge took me over train tracks:

I had come into the oldest district in the city referred to as Chihuahuita or Little Chihuahua. The Rio Grande forms the border with Mexico at the edge of the district. Currently the area has little foot traffic, many dilapidated buildings and just seems like a fairly forgotten corner of the city:

Good place to store a bus

Things picked up down South El Paso Street. Entrance into Mexico is just down the road:

So many clothing stores in this area:

I found much more modern city design as I turned back north. Here is the current iteration of San Jacinto Plaza which evidently has been redone many times over the years. The plaza had its alligators permanently removed in the 70’s for instance:

The cleaned up Alligator Plaza

Someone had dropped off a coffee shop just up the road:

I kept on north and uphill picking up the pace. I was chasing the last of the short mid-winter daylight. I wanted to get up high in anticipation of another stunning sunset.

Gaining height on the winding Rim Road. Stately single family houses faced south across the road to catch the best view:

Happy to be getting up high so quickly:

Not as many dogs up here and these guys didn’t even bark:

IMG_4605.jpg

My Airbnb host had talked up Scenic Drive as a great place to be around sunset. The road is cut into the side of the Franklin Mountains immediately north of El Paso.

Once I got to the start of Scenic Drive, the view out across the city was really great. Safety for a pedestrian, though, was non-existent. The road had no sidewalk at all and also no shoulder on one or both sides for as far as I could see. I was going to get killed and/or cause a wreck if I dared walk onward.

A “park” for cars to play in

I quickly changed course and hiked up a gravel service road that I had all to myself. I found a high perch for a sit with unobstructed views across the city:

Great view in almost every direction, but not really comfortable to sit for any length of time. The arid, scrubby landscape was sharp to the touch; all jagged rock and native desert plants. The pain from sitting started to spike high as the sun was getting low. I decided to hop back down to lower ground.

Where to sit…

Still great views of the late day sky as I headed back down Rim Road:

I found an overlook to perch on for a last flurry of pics before darkness took over:

I gave my trust over to the Sun Metro bus service for the rest of the evening. I had been told to get in on the unique cuisine at Chico’s Tacos.

Things haven’t changed much at Chico’s since opening in 1953 I imagine. Still the white paper chef’s hats, still cash only and still serving rolled tacos in a bath of tomato soup like sauce under a pile of shredded cheddar:

The local Sun Metro bus services were all on time with really friendly drivers. I hopped off a few blocks from my Airbnb, passing by a few last unique sights before calling it a night:

Up before sunrise to walk a few miles back to the Greyhound station and get outta town. I poorly routed myself across an eerie long bridge over railroad tracks in the early darkness. Light from shop windows reassured me as I neared the bus station:

That was it for El Paso. Headed to Amarillo next. A lengthy bus ride required to get there, but the unique flavor of El Paso made it worth the effort. My first time right along the border with Mexico was devoid of drama. El Paso is so quiet for a city of nearly 700,000….aside from the dogs. Mountains all around, lots of sun and plenty of proud locals in this far corner of Texas.