Part of the largest and fastest-growing international community in North America, El Paso (pop. 683,080) was originally settled because of its site at one of the safest crossings of the Rio Grande. It later grew into a vital way station on the transcontinental Butterfield Stage and Southern Pacific Railroad. As its name suggests, for most people El Paso is a place to pass through, but there are many things here for visitors to enjoy, particularly in the wake of the thoughtful revival of the historic downtown district. In 2014 the aging City Hall was replaced with a brand-new, $75 million, 7,500-seat baseball stadium, home to the Triple-A El Paso Chihuahuas (1 Ballpark Plaza, 915/533-2273), top farm club for the San Diego Padres.
El Paso’s hard-to-find Concordia Cemetery (it’s just northwest of the junction of I-10 and US-54) is the final resting place of John Wesley Hardin, the “Fastest Gun in the West” before he got killed in 1895.
One of the most interesting aspects of El Paso is the border itself, which for years followed the Rio Grande (known as the Río Bravo in Mexico), whose frequent changes in course caused innumerable problems for the two governments. Finally, in 1968, the river was run through a concrete channel so it could not change course. El Paso has at least three other unique claims to fame: It’s the home of Tony Lama boots, which are available at significant discounts at three showrooms around town; the “World’s Largest Harley-Davidson Dealership,” Barnett’s (8272 Gateway Blvd. E., 915/592-5804), is along I-10; and the University of Texas El Paso (UTEP) campus, along I-10 west of town, has the only buildings in North America designed to look like Bhutanese monasteries. College basketball fans may also know that in 1965-1966 UTEP, then called Texas Western, became the first all-black team to win the NCAA championships, a story told in the book and film Glory Road.
Hidden away amid El Paso’s horizontal sprawl are the oldest Spanish colonial missions that still stand in what is now the United States. These three churches—Ysleta, Socorro, and San Elizario—stand along the well-signed “Mission Trail,” southeast of downtown between the Rio Grande and I-10.
Places to eat in and around El Paso tend, not surprisingly, to specialize in Tex-Mex food. One unique stop for breakfast or lunch is at the friendly H&H Car Wash and Coffee Shop (701 E. Yandell Dr., 915/533-1144), just north of downtown, where you can enjoy delicious scrambled eggs and chorizo or chile relleno burritos while getting your car cleaned at the adjacent car wash. Another classic is Forti’s Mexican Elder Restaurant (321 Chelsea St., 915/772-0066), east of downtown near the Paisano Avenue exit off I-10.
El Paso’s grand old Camino Real Hotel (101 S. El Paso St., 915/534-3050, $89 and up) has a beautiful bar off the lobby with a Tiffany-glass dome. Once in dire need of renovation, the rooms are slated to get a $70-million facelift in 2017-2018. In the meantime, choose from the usual midrange chains, including a downtown Doubletree (600 N. El Paso St., 915/532-8733, $179 and up), a block from the ballpark.