Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Mission Trail: Ysleta, Socorro and San Elizario, Texas

Our last day in El Paso we drove the Mission Trail, which is east of town. The 9-mile road is a small part of the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro (Royal Road of the Interior) that ran from Mexico City to Santa Fe, and is the oldest and at one time the longest road in North America.  Spanish explorers used this road to explore this part of the New World.  

The towns of Ysleta, Socorro and San Elizario -- and two churches and one former military chapel -- make up the major historic stops.  I'm not up to the task of doing justice to this rich and complicated culture, but below are a few highlights of our visit.
At the Tigua Cultural Center in Ysleta we learned some of the five-century history of the Tiguas, who once lived on and successfully farmed the land that is now downtown El Paso. The Tiguas are the only Puebloan tribe still in Texas. Today they work to keep their culture alive and also own prosperous businesses, including Speaking Rock Casino and Big Bear Oil Company.
Th cultural center had shops like this one called "Eagle's Path."  The woman glazing a pot (her husband was stringing beads) told us that 80 percent of the items in their store were made by family members. 
The Ysleta Mission is the oldest continuously active parish in Texas, and the the town of Ysleta is the oldest town in the state.
Jim walks by a piƱata shop in Ysleta.  Next door was a tuxedo store. Ysleta was the busiest town we've seen on an Indian reservation. It had funky, small stores like above, plus bigger, shinier buildings. 
The inside of the Presidio Chapel in San Elizario.  Originally a chapel on a Spanish presidio (military base), the building was destroyed by a flood and the current chapel built in 1882. The pressed-tin ceiling tiles cover the original ceiling beams and were hand painted to honor soldiers returning from World War II. 
We've seen interesting metal artwork on homes and fences in New Mexico and El Paso. This piece is on a former San Elizaro dinner theater that was once the site of the 1850 County Courthouse Complex.
One of our favorite visits was the Golden Art Gallery in San Elizario, where we talked with talented artist Arturo Avalos, above.  Arturo gave us a great San Elizario history lesson. For example, the first Thanksgiving was held here 23 years before the one at Plymouth Rock.  Arturo told us about the Salt War, which broke out over control of nearby salt flats and ended in several town officials being killed.  Billy the Kid actually broke into a a San Elizario jail -- he went in disguised as a marshall with prisoners in order to free a friend.  Billy got the keys to the jail, locked up the sheriff, threw the keys on the roof, and headed to Mexico with his friend.  Arturo also described how huge the Rio Grande River used to be -- they didn't call it "Big River" for nothing -- but has been dammed and can be pretty non existent in parts, which has impacted local farming.  
We didn't visit the mission in Socorro but did have lunch in that town at a restaurant recommend by Arturo: El Meson de Onate.  Great idea. We love the food in this area. 
A downside of any geographic area with lots of open land:  We came back to our rig to find the wind had blown over our lawn chairs and twisted them up with our outdoor rug.  (An easy fix and well worth the trip on the Mission Trail, however.) Our neighbor told me her glasses blew away.


  1. We did the mission trail too! But that was in San Antonio. :-)

    1. We're headed that way. We'll have to try it!