Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

El Paso, Texas, Is a Great Place to Sprawl out and Have a Good Time

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

El Paso, Texas, Is a Great Place to Sprawl out and Have a Good Time

Article excerpt

EL PASO, TEXAS, sprawls . . . and sprawls . . . and sprawls. Indeed, you'll drive an hour on Interstate 10 before the city's beginning becomes its conclusion.

But for all that, it is an attractive place - especially at night from the top of the Scenic Drive. Looking down from Murchison Peak, the city's high point at 4,222 feet, you feel like a vast army is encamped below, piercing the night with the flames of a million bonfires.

El Paso's residents number 600,000, with almost 2 million in its sister city of Juarez, Mexico. That's nearly 3 million souls separated by the Rio Grande - and one has only to look across the river to see why so many Mexicans try to cross the border. A recent innovation places Border Patrol units 400 yards apart along the river, which has slowed but not stopped the flood of illegals.

"It upsets the legal Mexican-Americans as much as anyone," one El Pasoan told me. "They took the legal route to become citizens and resent all those who break the law and take advantage of the U.S."

As Texas' fourth-largest city, El Paso has the only snow-free pass in the Rocky Mountain chain. (I was surprised to find the Rockies this far south, and in fact ending here.) That's why it was titled The Pass of the North (El Paso del Norte) by Don Juan Onate in 1598. Less than a century later a chain of missions was begun, some of which - especially gorgeous San Elizario - are among the oldest standing buildings in America.

My second day in El Paso I met with Jutta Matalka of the El Paso Convention and Visitors Bureau. Born in Germany in 1948, she's made her home in El Paso for 20 years and says the residents of this border city, Hispanics, Caucasian, Chinese and others, consider it important to simply be "El Pasoans," not singled out as any ethnic group. Spanish and English are spoken interchangeably here, although the population is international.

Jutta recommended the Fort Bliss Museum, and I investigated this small but interesting place. Now a huge base, Fort Bliss was founded in 1857. Of more modern interest is the Air Defense Artillery Museum with its Nikes pointed skyward. Dozens of smaller rockets, ack-ack guns and a World War I searchlight dot the outdoors. Inside, the dioramas of air war since 1917 are excellent.

The 3rd Cavalry Museum is also at Fort Bliss, notable for having a recreation of Jefferson Barracks, near St. Louis, as its orientation gallery Known as "The Brave Rifles," the 3rd Cavalry originated in the Mexican War of 1847 and has since fought in 39 campaigns in eight wars.

Although the greed and haste of developers cost El Paso many historic buildings over the years, history-lovers can find some outside the city proper. In San Elizario, for example, the Adobe Horseshoe Dinner Theater adjoins Los Portates, El Paso's first courthouse. …

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