The magic that lies in West Texas is definitely felt in El Paso or ‘The Sun City’. The city lies near the United States – Mexico border and the culture of Mexico can surely be felt here. There are a ton of things to do in and around the city. From taking a tram to the top of Franklin mountain to having a host of dive bars to chill in at night, there is little time to waste here. El Paso is a wonderful weekend destination and it is more special to me because a dear friend of mine who lives here gave me a tour of the city.
One place that I would suggest is to go on the scenic overlook drive. You can see the Mexico border and miles into Mexico. You get a really nice view of the city as well. The Wyler Aerial Tramway is a destination inside Franklin Mountain State Park which gives really panoramic views of the city. There are various hikes and trails inside the park which range from easy to strenuous. The best part about the park is that you are never too far from the city.
A must visit bar:
One of the best places to go is The Hoppy Monk. They serve the margaritas in the biggest glasses. There are a ton of local bars serving a host of fresh brews on Mesa Street. Be sure head there on a Saturday night for one of the liveliest atmospheres.
My favorite restaurant:
This city is the best place to get really authentic Mexican food. The spice level is on point and the size is incredibly filling. You get amazing Mexican food at La Posta de Mesilla which is about 45 min from El Paso. Be sure to try their churro’s for dessert. There are a ton of local places which are also pretty good.
National Parks in the Area:
There are two national parks located not too far from El Paso. Make sure to carry legal documents (Passport for international travellers, driving license or birth certificate for locals) while visiting both (there is border security while exiting Texas).
What felt like the middle of nowhere, the landscape deserted and barren, we were driving to the biggest caves in the world. The Carlsbad Caverns National Park is a 2-hour drive from El Paso. You cross the mighty Guadalupe Mountain National Park on your way here.
We entered the visitors’ centre and obviously couldn’t see the caves yet but my mind was really excited wondering what was in store for us. This was my first cave exploration so I was looking forward to it.
It is amazing how the caves, located miles from any major city, was even discovered! There are two ways to reach the main room in the caves: 1. The lazy take-the-elevator to the main room way or 2. Hike down the mountains straight into the mouth of the caves way. It is pretty obvious we hiked down.
The entire hike down takes about 1.5 to 2 hrs to complete but trust me, it is worth the effort. There are warning signs displayed everywhere about how strenuous the hike is. It is tiring and although it is not more than a 2 mi round trip, the steep incline/decline does leave you stopping for brakes.
The trail is barely lit and the caves haven’t been tampered with and have been left in their natural state. This gives them a rustic and almost mystical feel. The stalagmites and stalactites weighing almost a few tons were a sight to see. The draperies on the ceiling looked like Lord Voldemort was making an appearance here.
The caves get narrower, darker and quieter the deeper you go into them and the charm is unlike that you experience elsewhere. After a while, your eyes get used to the dim light and you see the cave in an entirely different light.
If you visit between mid-May to September, you can witness the bat flight where thousands of bats leave the cave (during sunset) to hunt.
White Sand National Park:
Out in the middle of nowhere lies The White Sands National Park. It is a 1.5-hour drive from El Paso. I have seen my share of dunes but the white sands here have their own charm. The sand here is made of gypsum crystals and is the largest gypsum field in the world. The monument is located in the state of New Mexico on the north side of Route 70.
The sand in the dune is really soft to touch and slips away from your fingers like silk. There is a host of activities to do here. From sledging on the dunes (you get sledges on rent in the gift shop but I would suggest buying one at Walmart to save $$) by going on backcountry camping. It is an adventure for people of all ages. This is also a prime spot to star gaze. You really feel insignificant compared to the billions of stars that are visible here. It is a paradise for astronomy fanatics.
Among the many hikes here, one that I would suggest is the Alkali Flat Trail. It is a 4.6mi round trip hike. You get a feel for the area and you can take a pause halfway to secure a good spot to watch the sunset. The trail is marked with orange signs. If you are not familiar with the area, be sure to stick to the trail and not wander too far. The sands dunes can get tricky to manoeuvre in and it is very easy to lose your way here.
One of the best things about the park apart from its dunes is the sunset. The sun sets with the most soothing colours and it is truly one of the best places to watch the day come to an end.
The park offers a host of ranger-guided tours during sunset as well as on a full moon night.
The temperature here can go very high during the day and drop during the night. Be sure to carry sunscreen and other sun protection gear along with you. Also, a good tip is to carry lots of water along with you as you could get dehydrated and exhausted easily. Carrying a light sweater for the night will be useful too.
That’s it for my trip to El Paso. There is so much more to do and explore but I did manage to make the best of my weekend here. The time I spend here was full of new discoveries and experiences and if you are looking for a quick getaway, I would suggest coming here for sure!