25th February – 2nd March – Our Anniversary today and we will celebrate in El Paso, just over the state line from New Mexico and into Texas, known as The ‘Lone Star State’. The Rio Grande that flows along its southern boundary, not only separates Texas from Mexico but provides a lush, green valley ideal for farming and ranching. The sun is said to shine here over 300 days a year with very hot summers , although in winter temperatures can drop low enough to produce snow.
El Paso…..situated in the Chihuahuan desert at just over 3,700 feet, its west and eastern sides divided by the Franklin Mountains. It’s a huge, sprawling city with Interstate 10 being the focal point and everything leading off from it. Its highways are fast, 4,5 and sometimes even 6 lanes, bordered by an assortment of signs for fast food and lodgings.
We find a campground far enough out of town to be quiet and peaceful at the foot of the Franklin Mountains. Our host is Vladimir with his tiny Yorkie dog called Big Lily. I ask him about nearby places to eat that have a choice of food as it’s our anniversary. Trying hard to think of something other than fast food he says, “I tell you what, you can have that space over there to camp in that’s kept for any workmen that arrive. There’s water and electricity and it’s right next door to the rest rooms……..and you can have it for free as it’s your anniversary!” The rest rooms are impeccably clean and only used by us, as the other huge rigs parked here all have their own facilities.
A big thank you to Vladamir and who still refused to take any money for the rest of our stay as he said we were using a ‘miniscule’ amount of electricity…..mainly for our electric fan heater to keep warm in the evenings and early mornings when it’s recently been minus 2 degrees. We buy him a bottle of whisky and dog treats for Big Lilly when we leave….we really appreciated our spell of free camping.
Another thank you to the guys at AAA in El Paso who kindly give us 3 maps for our journey ahead even though we are not members. They offer us a very good discount to join but it’s another $87 so we decline and hope we don’t regret it….we’ve been lucky so far!
The guys at the Land Rover and Jaguar Dealer on Airways Boulevard help us out with filters and all come out to look at Moby, take photos and ask about our journey.
As we are close to the El Paso International Airport, we go to see ‘The Equestrian’, a magnificent, detailed, bronze sculpture by John Sherrill Houser that took 9 years to complete. Said to be the tallest statue of its kind and weighing 17 tons, it took 6 flatbed trucks to transport all the sections for the final assembly. The statue depicts Don Juan de Onate, the first Spanish coloniser to cross the Rio Grande in 1598 into what is now El Paso, establishing the first settlement and introducing the horse.
Despite its fast pace, we enjoy our time in this city and it’s also a great base for heading out over the mountain pass and exploring The Mission Trail, a rural, historic area in the far eastern corner of El Paso.
The oldest mission in Texas is at Ysleta, constructed by the Tigua Indians escaping the Pueblo Revolt. A few miles away is the Socorro Mission, its name coming from Socorro, New Mexico from which the Piro Indians once again fled in 1680 to escape the massacre during the Revolt. The Rio Grande’s flood waters destroyed this mission twice but many of the beams were rescued from the receding flood waters and today the carved ceiling provides an important, architectural feature.
To the left of the altar is a hand carved, wooden statue of San Miguel which in 1845 was being transported by oxcart to New Mexico. However, when passing through Socorro, the cart became stuck in mud and the oxen refused to move. This was seen as a sign from heaven, San Miguel desired to remain in Socorro and was given a home in the Mission Church.
Our next stop in El Paso’s Mission Valley is San Elizario.
In 1598 Don Juan de Onate rode through here and took possession of the area, gradually building a small community and introducing the first horses. Its famous Main Street is lined with old, adobe buildings, many of which today, house some very interesting and talented artists and their galleries.
The El Paso County Jail in Main Street is said to be where Billy the Kid helped his good friend Melquiades Segura escape in 1876, the only man ever to escape this jail. Today, it also houses a very interesting museum and the guy inside, really knows his history!
Main street leads round to the San Elceario Presidio Chapel facing an attractive square that was the site of the wedding scene in the 1985 movie Fandango with Kevin Costner.
We continue heading southeast toward Van Horn. It seems to be taking us hours but Texas is a big state and most locals tell us that if their journey is more than 300 miles, they fly. Scrubby desert lined with hills and mountains follow us all the way and by the time we arrive, there is a remarkable drop in temperature and a bitterly cold wind that blasts across the campsite here….thank goodness for our electric heater!
We check the weather to the north of here for the Guadalupe Mountains National Park that has 7 of Texas’ highest peaks and then south for Big Bend National Park but temperatures are plummeting in both directions and so we sadly decide to give them a miss.
Bitter wind chill and thick fog are not pleasant as we leave Van Horn on Interstate 10. At a little store in Saragosa, the local lady tells us of the severe ice storms here last week, turning the roads into a sheet of ice, a similar story that happened last year but with many fatalities. She complains that they have not sen the sun for weeks but in the summer, it is well over 100 degrees across this flat and never ending, scrubby landscape. She welcomes a very cold couple off a motor bike inside and they quickly wrap their hands around beakers of coffee. She kindly tells them to stay inside the shop as long as they like to get warm. She asks where we are from and about our travels. She hasn’t been anywhere she tells us but has a dream, that one day someone will come along and take her off to see the world. I tell her that I hope her dream comes true and it makes us realise once again how lucky we are.
Arriving at Stockton and having a pizza for lunch, we suddenly decide to change our plans. The sky is clearing to the south and tomorrow is meant to be 74 degrees before the cold front moves in with a chance of snow…….Big Bend here we come after all!