Saturday, July 28, 2007

Stuck in El Paso

I just returned from El Paso, Texas and an uplanned trip. If you're stuck in El Paso without a plan here are some interesting places to visit and to eat. The good news is that downtown has some wonderful buildings with plenty of interesting history. Like the Dome Bar, once the lobby of the Paso del Norte hotel, now the Camino Real hotel.

Just above the bar is a 25 ft. diameter Tiffany stained glass dome. The hotel was built in 1912 and is a sturdy structure with a modern addition. While I was there the hotel lobby was full of world famous artist paintings and lithographs, to include Picasso and Dali.
The beauty of the historic Paso del Norte, the nearby Plaza Theatre and a few other locations was offset by the overall poor condition of many sections of downtown.
There seemed to be more houses and buildings with broken, boarded or missing windows than there were with windows intact (only a slight exaggeration). The historic Sunset Heights district, once filled with large homes sporting spacious porches, is also deteriorating but still worth a drive through to see the homes. The mansions are now sub-divided into apartments or abandoned altogether. I noticed that El Paso doesn't have much of a tourist trade (no Hard Rock Cafe - a benchmark I use for cities with large tourist populations) to help with development.

Enough of the downside of El Paso. If you're looking for a unique El Paso experience then head for hills (or more appropriately the mountains). Take the Wyler Aerial Tramway at Franklin Mountains State Park. Located on the east side of the mountains the tramway will take you on a swiss gondola over the rugged mountain and rock formations to Ranger Peak and to an altitude of 5,632 feet above sea level. Once on top there is an excellent souviner shop with a variety of interesting books about the southwest along with traditional gift store fare. Outside on the deck you can see for miles and miles encompassing three states and two nations - can you name them? If not you need to go there and see for yourself, if you can identify them correctly then you deserve to go and see them anyway.

When I traveled to El Paso decades ago a person had to go into Mexico to get a good steak and enjoy fancy restaraunts. Those days are gone and El Paso has a variety of world class
resturants. Top of the list for Steaks is the Cattleman's Steak House just outside El Paso in Fabens. The Cattleman's is a large, family-style restaurant on a working ranch with excellent food and atmosphere. On the drive out enjoy miles of desert scenery, tours of the ranch and after dinner watch a spectacular sunset.

In town there is the Great American Land & Cattle Company with 3 locations to choose from. I prefer the more intimate setting of the resturant at 7600 Alabama. If your on the west side of the mountains look for the State line Resturant for the best barbque beef, sausange and fried
If you're looking more for traditional Mexican food nothing beats the historical setting of the Sombras de Pasado (located in El Paso's Lower Valley) was established in 1852. The atmosphere is and layout reminded me of the La Posta de la Mesilla, in New Mexcico. The resurant is adobe and located in a quiet neighborhood. Rumor has it there are still bullet holes in the adobe from Pancho Villa. Barrigos is another Mexican resturant that is a fun place to meet and eat. The large staff serves great Mexican food and has a spirited lively atmosphere.

Breaking from traditional Southwestern fare are a couple of new restaurants worth trying. Salida del Sol at the Butterfield Trail Golf Club, located North of the International Airport, has wonderful views, good food and customer service that is four stars. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner the Salida del Sol is bright and comfortable, and not just for golfers. If you want to golf then the Butterfield Trail Golf Club has all you need for world class golfing in a desert setting that has integrated the natural habitat with beautiful greens and fairways. Management has even brought desert species of birds and other animals back to the desert. Roadrunners are a common sight around the course.
We had breakfast at the club and the huevos rancheros were the best anywhere.

South of the Airport on N. Yarbrough Drive is Michelangelo's Lil' Italy with great food and service. They serve traditional pasta and meat dishes. Be sure to visit the "godfather" room at the top of the stairs.

If you are arriving by plane, and even if you're not, be sure to check out the huge 42-ft tall bronze equestrian statue of Don Juan de Oñate. A ten year effort by sculptor John Houser the rearing horse and rider was unveiled earlier this year. The rider Juan de Oñate y Salazar was a Spanish conquistador and explorer. His explorations in the New World extended from the central U.S. to California. He is best remembered as being the region's colonial governor for what was then New Spain. The original model of this horse is located in the lobby of the airport.

All in all if you ever find yourself stuck in El Paso you should have a great experience and leave well fed. We plan to visit the Plaza Theater for a tour of the historic and restored theater, and maybe take in a show. The zoo is another location that is on our list for El Paso.

Note: All pictures are by the author except for the equestrian statue taken by Bonnie Jones.