I'm linking to my travel article from last week titled Travel can enhance life for Fort Bliss families. The target audience is military families, but really this applies to everyone, everywhere. I've been a big believer my entire life that families that play together, stay together. I hope you enjoy this!
When the Army assigns a Soldier to Fort Bliss, the family may not be enthusiastic. Not only is it yet another move, but for some who haven’t been to El Paso, the city might not have the best reputation. I had several friends give me condolences when they heard we were moving to Fort Bliss, but I was determined to give it a chance before condemning it to the trash heap of our permanent change of station history. I was glad I did.
When we arrived, I had some hardships which marred my first impressions of El Paso, like the death of my beloved cat who suffered a seizure on moving day because he was so terrified of the movers. Or the sad death of another beloved pet. Or the tons and tons of broken furniture during this move, along with lost mattresses and financial stress. Yet despite some experiences worthy of tears, I was able to find solace in the unique outdoor experiences the area has to offer.
Franklin Mountains State Park has amazing hiking trails and beautiful landscapes. Being particularly fond of hiking in the mountains, I found exhilaration and health trekking across the mountain tops with their sprawling views of El Paso, New Mexico and Mexico. The exercise alone has many benefits, such as decreasing depression and increasing overall physical and emotional health. But the talks with God overlooking His creation have become priceless therapy.
There are other things to do on a dime, or which are free altogether, like a drive along Scenic Drive followed by the Scenic Drive Outlook, which provides an area to look out over El Paso. This is particularly lovely as the sunsets and the city lights up. There’s also the unique outdoor amphitheater in McKelligon Canyon with free movies during the summer, which serves as a fascinating backdrop for family time on a Friday and Saturday night.
But El Paso is also a springboard for adventure to the great American Southwest. There’s no doubt this city is unique, but so are the surrounding areas. Amazing places to go, things to see and adventures to have are all around. New Mexico has White Sands National Monument, Dripping Springs Natural Area and Carlsbad Caverns National Park, to name a few, while Arizona is home to the Grand Canyon, the Havasupai Indian Reservation, Monument Valley, Horseshoe Bend and the famous Antelope Slot Canyons. Utah and its amazing national parks, like Zion, Arches and Canyonlands, are just a day’s road trip away.
We all know that the Army life can be a challenge. The unnatural dynamics of one spouse leaving for months and years at a time usually creates a new reality for the couple.
And the children. Sure, people look at them and say they’re so lucky for having been able to travel the world and see so many new things, but are they lucky that their parent is deployed? They lose touch with grandparents and extended family because their nomadic lifestyle is a permanent fixture. The constant changing of friends and locales is hard on them, too.
This is not to say there are not advantages to military life. All the things that can be drawbacks also be blessings. But it takes a pair of smart parents and strong individuals to make that happen. Investment in family life must be deliberate and not accidental, which is where living in El Paso comes in.
“A family that plays together stays together,” the saying goes, and there are many ways to show how true that saying is. One of the ways to invest in the family is to take trips together. It doesn’t have to cost a lot. It just requires a spirit of adventure and a willingness to really get to know each other.
On weekends, excursions to nearby places can create opportunities to appreciate the uniqueness of the American Southwest together. Share thoughts and first impressions, talk about what everyone’s favorite part of the trip was, and catch up what’s happening in each other’s lives on the journey to and from. Use the time at the destination to observe and listen to each other, take lots of pictures to capture the memories, and use your best photos, even if they are from your child’s smartphone camera, to hang on the wall to mark the memory.
For that 30-day-a-year leave most Soldiers accrue, take a week or two to go to one of the unforgettable locations in the area. Moab, Utah, with its unforgettable Arches National Park, has so much to do and see. I remember photographing the Milky Way there recently, as Utah has some of North America’s darkest night skies, and seeing a family of five emerge from the darkness with headlamps from an amazing hiking trail giving each other high-fives and congratulating each other on seeing the Milky Way for the first time ever with the naked eye. I was happy for them. Families can also hike in the Grand Canyon, camp in the amazing Havasupai Indian Reservation or visit the Navajo Tribal Park at the iconic Monument Valley. There are so many ways to support your efforts to make priceless memories.
These adventures create a lasting impression on the spirit of everyone in the family. Moms love family time and the fulfillment in spending quality time with the children and spouse will reinforce her love and dedication to them, bringing happiness and joy. Children need to know that home is a real place, and that it’s a place of people, not living quarters or towns. The importance of their feeling secure, healthy, normal and connected to family cannot be overstated. Soldiers can rest assured their commitment to country is not hurting their families, but enhancing them, when Soldiers make the effort to engage in some of these adventures with the families for which they so diligently provide. The potential for reciprocal benefit is a positive emotional pay day for everyone.
Travel is not a cure-all or a band-aid, but rather an opportunity for investment. Some people just may not like the outdoors or road trips, and that’s fine, too, but if you do, Fort Bliss is one of the best Army assignments in the continental U.S. to create unforgettable memories in the amazing Southwest.