My travel article coming out in tomorrow's Fort Bliss Bugle on Fort Bliss and throughout El Paso is one that is very meaningful to me. The peace and solace I've gained over the last 7 months or so hiking through the mountains of El Paso have really changed me for the better. I hope you enjoy this week's article and find some motivation to get out there, too, if you aren't already! Here is the online version of the article.
I’ve been an Army wife for almost 22 years. My family has been to many Army posts throughout the United States and abroad, all with varying topographies and landscapes. When we learned we’d be coming to Fort Bliss, friends told me how sorry they were, joking that, well, it’s El Paso, after all. But I’m an Army wife. I major in acclimatization , smooth transitions and making the most of wherever we are, because wherever we are is home.
So imagine my friends’ surprise when I actually liked El Paso and Fort Bliss. Every new assignment is an opportunity to see new places, make new memories and experience nuanced cultures in this huge nation of ours. It’s all about making the most of the short time we’re given in our new location and finding the uniqueness in it.
El Paso certainly is unique. As part of the great American southwest, everything from the landscape to the weather is unlike any other military installation we’ve visited. And the best part for me has been a renewed call to hiking. I’ve done hiking in my lifetime, like in the mountains of South Korea and New Zealand, on the Great Wall of China and in some of America’s most wonderful national parks, but not as part of a lifestyle. El Paso has so many superb, safe hiking trails that they have become something I can incorporate into my life on a weekly and daily basis.
The military life can be stressful on the Soldier, the spouse and the rest of the military family. Frequent moves, constant uncertainty, deployments, financial strains and the inevitable remaking of friends again and again require that we take special care of ourselves. For me, my “daily spa treatment” has become hiking here in El Paso.
The benefits of hiking are obvious, starting with improved health. But health manifests itself in many forms. It is of course a great form of physical exercise, but the health benefits to your mental, spiritual and emotional well-being should not be overlooked or underemphasized. These factors all contribute to the physical health benefits, which make hiking a very organic activity.
Plenty of clinical studies have shown that exercise is effective in treating depression, anxiety and self-esteem while also helping to manage stress. Endorphins, which are hormones that reduce physical pain and emotional distress, are released during exercise and can lead to a euphoric feeling. I know I always feel happy and stress free during and after a good hike, as though I can take on the world. Exercise also prevents cognitive decline and helps sharpen your memory.
The good news is that El Paso offers so many options. Hiking can be as extreme as to include rock climbing or as moderate as to be limited to a scenic walk, and both are great. My personal favorite trails are in Franklin Mountains State Park – Tom Mays Unit, located off Transmountain Road 3.5 miles east of I-10 in northwestern El Paso, which is about a 15-minute drive from Fort Bliss. There is a $5 entrance fee, but an annual Texas State Parks Pass can be bought for $70, which really pays for itself if you do the math and frequent the park. And really, we’re worth every penny as we have responsibilities to our families, our community and our country to keep ourselves healthy.
The Tom Mays Unit of Franklin Mountains State Park has some amazing and scenic trails, such as the very easy Natural Trail, which is a beautiful loop that runs less than a mile along a dried-out riverbed. The chirping of birds and panoramic views of the Franklin Mountains are invigorating. My favorite is the Upper Sunset Trail, which traces the width of one of the mountain’s peaks along the top, providing stunning views of the mountains on one side and a look into the city of El Paso on the other. But there are so many excellent trails you can tailor your hike to fit your needs for that day.
If you want to keep it closer to Fort Bliss or don’t want to pay an entrance fee, McKelligon Canyon is a good option. Located just west of Fred Wilson Avenue and Alabama Street, this is a popular place for walks. There are a few trails within the canyon, but many who want a good power walk trek along McKelligon Canyon Road leading into the canyon. McKelligon Canyon Road is 2.3 miles one way, with large a paved path on each side making for a comfortable walk with a few gradual inclines and declines. It’s a great place to bring a friend or walk a pet, too.
You can find the trail that’s right for you by checking out EveryTrail.Com at http://www.everytrail.com/best/hiking-el-paso-texas for a comprehensive list of good hikes in the area. The Franklin Mountains State Park website lists their frequent hiking group activities on their events page and a Google search will show hiking groups in the El Paso area if you don’t like going it alone. But whatever you do, consider making it part of your weekly routine to get out in the great outdoors and clear your mind with a good brisk hike. Your body, and everyone else, will thank you.