The Camino Real hotel was originally built nearly 100 years ago and is listed on the National Historical Register. Over the years, presidents and celebrities have stayed at the fabulous resort (now part of a large Mexican chain). Of particular interest is the exquisite 80-year-old Tiffany stained glass dome, which is part of the hotel’s fancy Dome Bar.
The Chihuahuan Desert Gardens on the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP – pronounced you-tep locally) grounds is a beautiful introduction to desert plant life. One of the largest desert gardens in the world, it contains more than 600 species of local desert plants in a serene urban oasis. Admission is free and guided tours are available by appointment.
These natural springs just 45 minutes away, over the Organ Mountains in New Mexico, make for a fun and relaxing recreation area, but also offer hiking trails varying from easy trails for casual hikers to the steep and jagged Organ Mountain climbs that have challenged even experienced climbers. The views of the Tularosa Basin are breathtaking.
The more than 100 caves of Carlsbad Caverns National Park include the nation’s deepest, Lechuguilla, which runs 1500 feet underground. Tours of Carlsbad Cavern show off one of the world’s largest underground chambers, whose dizzying depths include natural stunning rock formations. In summer evenings, a flight of Mexican free-tailed bats exiting the Cavern is one of the park’s most popular attractions – don’t worry, the large colony of bats feeds entirely on insects.
Kilbourne Hole/Aden Crater Volcanoes
Kilbourne Hole, one of several volcanic craters in New Mexico, about 30 miles west of the Franklin Mountains, is a mile wide and nearly 300 feet deep. A journey to this spectacular crater takes you straight through the desert, over dirt roads and lava flows, so make sure you have a vehicle capable of harsh terrain and wear sturdy hiking boots. If Kilbourne isn’t enough hole for you, there’s also the nearby Phillip’s Hole, Hunt’s Hole, and Aden Crater.
El Paso’s rich 400 years of history comes alive on the Mission Trail through the Lower Valley. The trail takes you past the adobe missions and churches built by the area’s Native and Spanish founders. The best surviving example is the Socorro Mission, one of the oldest operating parishes in the United States, combining Native Pueblo and Spanish design with its three-foot-thick adobe walls and hand-carved vigas (rafters). Also notable is the San Elizario Chapel, established in 1789, whose late adobe design reflects growing European influence in the region. The entire Mission Trail is a testament to the area’s tangled history and culture of Native, Spanish, Mexican, and American influences.