During Spring Break I had easily one of the weirdest, most bizarre day in years. Definitely the weirdest experience since I moved out to the desert. And it was all courtesy of the El Paso Mission Trail.
Soon after I moved out here, I picked up a whole bunch of brochures and pamphlets from all over the region, stuff that seemed interesting or fun to do when I had (rare and limited) free time. So when Mom came out to visit for Spring Break, she asked if there was anything I wanted to cross off my “bucket list” before I graduate and (most likely) move far away. I thought about all the different brochures I’d read and websites I’d visited and asked if she would be interested in doing the El Paso Mission Trail with me the next day.
According to the fabulously designed brochure and corresponding website, the El Paso Mission Trail isn’t a trail in the traditional hiking sense. It’s a series of three Catholic Missions, the oldest churches in Texas, located within 15 miles or so of each other. Some people may go for the Missions themselves, but being a devout Protestant, I was more interested in the surrounding neighborhoods, culturally rich with cute, artsy, local shops and quaint authentic restaurants and cafes. Mom looked at the website with me and we decided to head out the next morning.
The first problem we encountered was when we tried to enter in the 1st Mission into the GPS. I hadn’t found a concrete address online and TomTom couldn’t recognize it. Finally, during the drive to El Paso, we entered the second Mission and found a match, assuming we could find our way to the first from there.
The second, and more major, problem occurred when the GPS had us exit the interstate and I quickly realized it was sending us straight to the US/Mexican border and Ciudad Juarez, which, for those of you who don’t know, is easily the most dangerous city in the Western Hemisphere. Not to mention that neither Mom nor I had passports on us, so driving up to the border would’ve been a seriously bad idea. We’re talking guns, K-9 dogs, car-searching bad idea. I very quickly found a turn-off that led us on a road running parallel to the border until I could turn around and head back to the interstate.
I know enough about El Paso by now for some basic navigation and I remembered (mostly) how to get to the Tourism Office. There the helpful lady gave us another one of the Mission Trail brochures and explained that the GPS tried to take us to Mexico because there are actually 3 mission trails in the area, 2 of which are in Mexico.
When we got in the car again we discovered the third problem of the day: even the brochure didn’t have a physical address for the 1st Mission. There was, however, a street name and city and we realized that the GPS couldn’t find anything originally because the address was listed as San Elizario instead of El Paso. So we re-calibrated and hit the road once more.
As we drove to our new GPS destination, we eventually realized that the El Paso Mission Trail is not, in fact, located in El Paso. Instead, you have to drive east on the interstate past El Paso, through what I can only assume is some type of farm land, a little over half an hour before exiting the interstate and driving through more of what I can only assume is farm land. San Elizario is still less than 10 miles from the Mexican border, though, so Mom and I were paying close attention through the twists and turns of the small country roads to avoid yet another potential border-crossing scenario.
The fourth and biggest problem of the day was when the GPS declared that “You have arrived at your final destination.” We were on a Main Street, but not in San Elizario, but a very small city not located on any of the brochures we had or in the Atlas in my backseat. After circling some random block and church a couple times, we finally decided to drive down some random road where, a couple miles later, we finally came across our first real sign for the El Paso Mission Trail.
When we finally found the first mission, San Elizario Chapel, it was a major let down. The neighborhood was nothing like the artsy, charming community the brochure had promised. Surrounding the mission was supposed to be 20 or so artist studios, galleries and shops. I was looking forward to getting out of the car, stretching my legs and checking out the local shops, but the only thing that was in sight, let alone open, was an incredibly seedy looking bar. Outside the mission there was only a small plaque explaining its significance and we couldn’t really look around inside at all cause it looked like they were in the midst of setting up for an event and we didn’t want to intrude.
Hungry and incredibly underwhelmed, we decided to follow the road to the next mission and possibly find a local café or restaurant to eat at along the way. The drive from San Elizario was, again, uninspiring. We drove through a couple small towns without seeing anywhere to eat, except a couple holes in the wall that looked like salmonella poisoning waiting to happen. In less than 20 minutes we arrived at Mission Socorro located in the “town” of Socorro. Honestly, to us it looked practically the same as San Elizario and we forwent the gift shop to instead hop on the road again for the last mission.
Mission Ysleta was actually a breath of fresh air – the only thing that went the way we expected the entire day long. First of all, the town of Ysleta was of decent size and located inside an Indian reservation – the Tigua Indian tribe, so there was a big Casino nearby and all these touristy locations and things to do. Mission Ysleta was the biggest mission of the three and according to the brochure (which I don’t fully trust anymore for obvious reasons), is the oldest active parish in the entire state of Texas, with its first Mass being held on October 12, 1680.
Outside Mission Yselta one of the big El Paso news stations had a camera crew set up and a reporter doing some kind of story. For all I know, Mom and I were in the background on the 10 o’clock news! We did want to visit the gift shop here – we were finally impressed – but sadly it was closed. Mom and I really wanted to eat somewhere local, but we were starved by this point so Subway it was 🙂
After such a crazy, strange, bizarre day, we decided to just spend the rest of the afternoon shopping in El Paso. We could have been frustrated by the whole day, I suppose, but we decided to laugh it off. After all, we had quite the story to tell.