Five things to do in El Paso for $8 or less

My weekly travel column is up on the Fort Bliss Bugle. This article is local but if you'll be in the area there's some good info!  Here's the link to the online version of the article.  Enjoy!

Five things to do in El Paso for $8 or less

By Amy Proctor, Special to the Fort Bliss Bugle:

It’s a Saturday morning and you’re wondering what in the world you can do in El Paso today so another weekend doesn’t just slip through your fingers. Well, there are things you can do just outside the gates of Fort Bliss, and they don’t cost much. Here are five cheap or free things you can do in the area.

Franklin Mountains State Park – $5 entrance fee

  Franklin Mountains State Park offers visitors opportunities to hike, mountain bike, explore caves and picnic for a nominal fee.

Franklin Mountains State Park offers visitors opportunities to hike, mountain bike, explore caves and picnic for a nominal fee.

Especially when the weather is agreeable, Franklin Mountains State Park is one of the most enjoyable places in El Paso to spend a day. Only about a 15-minute drive from Fort Bliss over the scenic Transmountain Road, the Tom May’s Unit entrance into this meticulously kept Texas State Park is easy to find. Families can walk the easy nature trail with their children, avid cyclists can bike through the winding trails, friends can hike on a vast number of fantastic paths over the tops of the mountain or down in the valley below, and people can bring their pets and loved ones to picnic or take in the views.

The park hosts a variety of weekly activities for a nominal fee (or for free, depending on the event), which are listed on the Franklin Mountains State Park’s events page online. More information can be found on their website at http://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/franklin-mountains.

Scenic Drive – Free

  Downtown El Paso as it appears at night from the Scenic Drive Lookout.

Downtown El Paso as it appears at night from the Scenic Drive Lookout.

An easy, fun way to view the city of El Paso by car is along the Scenic Drive. The winding two-lane road is easily accessible from Fort Bliss by traveling over the Cassidy Road Bridge just outside the installation. Nearing the summit you’ll find yourself underneath the famous landmark of the large lighted star on the side of the mountain. The star also marks the Scenic Drive Overlook, which provides a designated area for visitors to walk or sit and admire the entire southern El Paso city area.

Parking can be a challenge, particularly on Friday and Saturday evenings, but a couple passes will find an empty spot. It’s a good idea to bring a headlamp or flashlight at night because the overlook has no lighting whatsoever and the steps and rocks can be a problem in the dark.

Mission Trail – Free

 The Socorro  Mission along the famous Mission Trail just south of El Paso is one of three mission churches open for visitors to explore the rich history and life in the early 1600's. 

The Socorro Mission along the famous Mission Trail just south of El Paso is one of three mission churches open for visitors to explore the rich history and life in the early 1600's. 

The famous Mission Trail is about 29 miles south of Fort Bliss on I-10 and retraces the expedition of early Spanish explorers, Catholic priests and colonists across the Chihuahuan desert into Texas. The Mission Trail includes three beautiful Catholic mission churches around which life revolved in the early 1600s. Both the adobe-style exterior and wooden ceilings and golden altars in the interior of the churches are unique to the old American Southwest.

There is history to be learned, beauty to behold and re-enactments to be had all along the Mission Trail. The three mission churches – the San Elizario Presidio Chapel, Socorro Mission and Ysleta Mission – are all active Catholic churches, so Saturday evenings and Sunday mornings are not a good time to visit. More information can be found at www.VisitElPasoMissionTrail.com.

Wyler Aerial Tramway – $8

  The steel cables pull the Swiss-style Wyler Aerial Tramway cable car 2,600 feet to the mountain’s peak, where a 360-degree observation deck, with restrooms and gift shop, allows for panoramic views over three states and two countries.

The steel cables pull the Swiss-style Wyler Aerial Tramway cable car 2,600 feet to the mountain’s peak, where a 360-degree observation deck, with restrooms and gift shop, allows for panoramic views over three states and two countries.

Located just minutes from Fort Bliss, the Wyler Aerial Tramway is a Swiss-style cable car that takes visitors to Ranger Peak in the Franklin Mountains at an elevation of 5,632 feet above sea level. The entrance to the tramway is at McKinley and Alabama streets. The four-minute ride in the tramway from the parking area to the peak, although beautiful, can be a bit harrowing for some, but the view at the top is rewarding. The fenced-in observation deck provides a 360-degree panoramic view of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Mexico. The cable car and station at the top are both wheelchair-accessible, although part of the panoramic viewing area requires climbing a few stairs.

The Wyler Aerial Tramway is only open Friday through Sunday. Times and additional information can be found at http://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/wyler-aerial-tramway. The tramway is part of the Texas State Parks system.

McKelligon Canyon Amphitheater’s Movie Night – Free

Every year from July through October, the amphitheater in McKelligon Canyon shows a free movie on Friday and Saturday starting at dusk. Children’s movies are shown along with films that appeal to older teens and adults, so there’s always something for everyone. It’ll be some months before the new summer schedule is released, but plan ahead to make this one of your unique experiences while in El Paso. Check for updates at http://elpasolive.com/moviesinthecanyon in a few months.

There is quite a bit to do in El Paso that isn’t expensive, so now is the time to take advantage of the unique features in this city in the Southwest.