El Paso, Texas and The Franklin Mountains

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I added El Paso to the itinerary only a few days before I left Colorado and headed to New Mexico.  I was drawn to this particular corner of Texas because someone mentioned the Franklin Mountains.  What kind of mountains could there possibly be in western Texas almost Mexico I asked myself?  The kind that make you question your own sanity is the answer.

I decided to use Airbnb because A) It was far to hot to sleep in my car and B) I don’t feel comfortable sleeping in my car in a city.  If you don’t know what Airbnb is, check it out, it’s rad.  I ended up staying with a lovely couple (Donna and Carey) just outside the city.  Their home was immaculate and I had the entire upstairs to myself.  Donna made me coffee and fruit each morning and we would sit by her pool and chat.  In the evening she let me go outside and cut fresh vegetables from her garden (which is huge).  Anyone who knows me knows that fresh greens are the fastest way to my heart.  It was such a pleasure getting to know Donna and Carey that I extended my stay.

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you have my heart

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So the mountains…..

Franklin Mountains State Park is the largest urban wilderness park in the nation.  It is comprised of 24,000 acres of hot sweaty rugged terrain and encompasses an entire Chihuahuan Desert Mountain Range.

North Franklin Mountain (7,192’)

8.4 miles/2,628 of gain

North Franklin Mountain is the tallest peak in the park.

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I had the worst time ever finding the trailhead, so my brilliant plan to get an early start (which is mandatory in this part of the country) was flushed right down the toilet.  Since I don’t plan things, I rarely get bent out of shape when I find myself lost but this f’er tested my patience.  Iphone GPS failed yet again and took me to the entrance of McKinley Canyon.  In order to climb North Franklin Mountain go to the Tom Mays park entrance off Transmountain Road.  Once I figured this out I thought my frustrations were behind, right? Wrong.  There was no one at the entrance building, no envelopes to pay the 5$ entrance fee, and no trail maps.

After a short run in with some super creepers that came up to me and started asking me all sorts of questions while peering into my car, I decided to drive in and hunt the peak down.  ***Word of advice:  If you are a woman traveling alone and weird men approach you, stand your ground, act like you know where you are and what you are doing (even if you don’t), and have a weapon near by (I always carry mace and a knife).*** If I could carry a gun I would but there are laws against crossing state lines and what not.

Through trial and error I found the trailhead (31.91682N 106.50956W).  It is the first right after entering the park.  From there it is easy to follow.  I took the Agave Loop to Mundy’s gap to the North Franklin Peak trail which leads to the summit.  I started at noon so imagine 110 degrees, zero shade, and I was wearing long sleeve to prevent my skin from burning off my body.  The trail is extremely difficult steep loose rock, perfect for rolling an ankle.  This was one of the more trying mountain summits I have attained because of the heat but it is a dangerously beautiful range.

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On the way down I met three rangers and a police officer, all real cowboys.  We talked for a little while and I exchanged phone numbers with Xavier in hopes that he would climb Mount Cristo Rey with me.  Mount Cristo Rey caught my attention on the drive into El Paso because of a large visible cross on top.  I asked a few employees in Sprouts if it was climbable.  Some said yes, some said no.  After a bit more poking around I learned it sits in New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico making it all the more interesting.  I wanted it bad but was warned that people more often then not get robbed trying to climb it.  Ciudad Juarez is the murder capitol of the world and borders El Paso.  El Paso is safe but again because I am a female traveling alone extra precautions must always be taken.  I did find someone to climb it with but ultimately decided it was not worth it.  None the less the mountain has an interesting history.

After returning to my car, I went and had a memorial day picnic in the park and saw two more rattlesnakes.

I wanted some views of El Paso so I drove Scenic Drive.

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I went back to Donna and Carey’s house and did some pool side yoga before making dinner.  I returned to Scenic Drive to watch the sun set and give night photography a shot.  My camera tumbled down a mountain in New Mexico so the 18-55 mm stock lense I normally use is struggling.  I noticed the most issues with night stuff.  I need a new lense.

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trains everywhere trains

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Mount Cristo Rey

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The next day I returned to the sauna and attempt to climb South Franklin Mountain.  I never summited but I did stumble upon “The Window,” completely on accident.  Once again, no planning, sometimes leads to confusion, but always ends in satisfaction.

The Window (6,384’)

2.7 miles/1,400 feet of gain

I started from the Ron Coleman trailhead off of Transmountain Road.  I immediately lost the trail as there are social trails everywhere.  I am not sure when it happened but I found myself in difficult class 3 terrain with twenty pounds of camera gear.  There was some fear but I ended up topping out at the window which presented some nice views.  I could see South Franklin Mountain but could not locate a viable route up.  I had zero desire to do any more scrambling on the unstable desert rock.  The terrain in this part of the park is very dangerous and confusing, exercise extreme caution.  There is also a lot more trash and graffiti.  I took in the local art which included a fifty foot dick spray painted on the side of South Franklin Mountain.  

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look at those topo lines !!!

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the window in the distance

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South Franklin Mountain

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The Window looking at North Franklin Mountain and some toilet paper

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airing out

I wanted an El Paso tee shirt so badly that I spent the next 2 hours searching. Turns out the local Walgreens has the best selection and I got this little ditty for $2.99…boys size large.

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I then stumbled upon vegan pizza which was delicious.

File Jun 02, 7 42 41 PMThe last order of business was to explore down town El Paso.  Donna had told me about the digi wall at the Museum of History.  It is one of two in the entire world (the other one is in Copenhagen, Denmark).  I had to see it.

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The keeper of the digi wall came out and showed me its power.  He then offered to show me around El Paso and gave me a walking tour, history included!

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The last thing I did was walk to Mexico and lose my drivers license.

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I really enjoyed my time in El Paso, culturally it is very different than anywhere I have been in the US.  It is a city with character and the mountains are fierce.

Next, back to New Mexico and the Organ Mountains….


“Conformity is the enemy of growth and the jailer of freedom” ~~ JFK


El Paso, Texas and The Franklin Mountains — 2 Comments

  1. Nice write up. I grew up in EP, but haven’t been back in 20 years. Always wanted to hike those mountains, maybe someday I’ll go back.

  2. Beautiful article. I live in EP and enjoyed your shots very much!
    By the way, Mt. Cristo Rey is doable and there is a trail up. They do yearly pilgrimages and you can go by yourself if you want but not advisable.
    Thanks for nice write up!

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