Thursday, March 27, 2014

When you think "El Paso," what comes to mind?

Three years ago Jim and I drove by El Paso, Texas, on Interstate 10.  We saw dilapidated homes on the Mexican side of the border, traffic was intense, and all I could think was "I want to be someplace smaller and safer."  

This time we decided to stop in El Paso but were not expecting much.  We thought El Paso equaled crime, drugs and dust.

We stand corrected. 

Almost right off the bat, we heard that in 2014 El Paso was ranked the safest large city in the US for the fourth straight year by an annual study called City Crime Rankings and has been in the study's top three cities with the lowest crime rate since 1997.  Apparently we are not alone with our initial impression, however: two locals we met our first days here -- a young professional-looking man we met while exploring downtown and a server at a pub -- told us they loved El Paso but that it had an undeserved bad reputation.

And the downtown area is lovely.  Restored historic buildings.  A plaza that looks like something I'd imagine you see in a thriving Mexican town.  Pocket parks.  Walkable streets.

Never would have guessed.
Jim near El Paso's Convention Center.
The El Paso Zoo has a painting "Enrichment Program" for it's animals, and about a dozen of the pieces were hanging at the El Paso's Visitor's Center.  The painting above was done by a Sumatran Orangutang named Ibu.  Ibu is the only El Paso Zoo resident who uses a brush to paint and the zoo folks gave her a specially-designed brush that she can't break.  Ibu's favorite paint color is red and she likes to taste her paint.  And this didn't sound nearly as stupid when I read it at the Visitor's Center.
The Kress Building was designed by a company architect for the S. H. Kress and Company, which operated one of its "five and dime" store in El Paso from 1938 until 1997. Most of downtown El Paso seems bustling, but I think this building is empty.  I hope someone restores it because it has beautiful details.
Left: Centre Building, formerly the White House Department Store and Hotel McCoy.  It opened in 1912; the department store was in the basement and the hotel was housed the other six floors.  Right: Mills Building.  It once housed an architectural firm (Trost and Trost) that designed hundreds of buildings in El Paso and other southwest cities.  
A Tiffany stained glass dome in downtown El Paso's elegant Camino Real Hotel.
Artwork on an under-construction off ramp?  I'm not sure, but it's a fun look.
Our lunches at Leo's Restaurant in El Paso.  I had to try the chicken mole (above, front) because nearly 40 years ago I attempted this dish for a dinner party, couldn't find the needed ingredients, and faked it with chocolate and who knows what else (which is my usual cooking style.)  My "chocolate chicken" is still infamous among friends and synonymous for "yuck."  The one above was delectable. The guy we chatted with near the Convention Center suggested this restaurant.  Thank you, Mike!
An Aztec calendar sculpture in one of downtown El Paso's small parks. I read that another El Paso Aztec calendar has solar panels directing electricity to outlets people use to charge phones and other devices. Plus the park has free wifi.
A typical sidewalk display at the Downtown Shopping District near the Mexico/US border. We took a free shuttle to the market and were the only passengers not speaking Spanish.
Downtown as seen from near UTEP, the University  of Texas at El Paso.

And, just because we thought they were pretty, photos of a few houses near UTEP:


  1. We, too, have negative feelings about El Paso from just driving through. Nice that you stopped and found out there's more than meets the eye along the interstate.

    1. El Paso was a nice surprise. We were only going to stay two days and ended up staying a week. So sorry about your bikes but glad your insurance backed you up. And thanks for listing us on your blog -- we've been getting lots of hits. Safe travels!

  2. To answer your question -- Marty Robbins and Rosa's Cantina! Showing my age. Of course, at the time (back in the early 60s) I would have kept the fact that I listened to a "Country/Western" song a secret. Sophisticates like me just listened to "Rock". Now I know enough to know that no one cares what music I listen(ed) to. But boy, that song sure wrapped everything up for me. Romance, Violence, Jealousy, and of course the universal truth that in the end the love for a woman brings nothing but trouble.