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Best Places to Take Pictures in El Paso: From Historical Buildings to Nature

Image © Ron Wolfe

By Ron Wolfe and Will Keener—

Stuck at the extreme western point of the state of Texas, El Paso is too often forgotten as a photo destination. Yet it offers an amazing nexus of Hispanic culture, Old West history, varied architecture, and modern convenience. With stars at night – big and bright – the city provides a gateway to plenty of adventure and landscape photo opportunities in the surrounding Chihuahuan Desert and mountain terrains.

A starting place in getting to know this city of 880,000, on both the east and west sides of the Franklin Mountains and bounded on the south by the Rio Grande, is the Spanish Mission Trail. Three historic mission churches along the nine-mile trail tell the story for El Paso’s Hispanic heritage and early relations with indigenous natives of the area.

Predating the arrival of European settlers to America’s East Coast, El Paso offers a variety of building styles and historic neighborhoods for shooters interested in architectural photography.

Image © Ron Wolfe

If wildlife or landscape are your specialties, out-of-town for El Paso offers many opportunities. But first, look within the city boundaries. El Paso’s Franklin Mountain Park (a Texas State Park) is one of the largest urban parks in the U.S. The city also offers two desert wetland parks in the Rio Grande valley.

With rugged peaks reaching above 7,100 feet, the mountain park covers 24,247 acres, all within the El Paso City limits. Rock climbing, hiking, and birding are all popular pursuits in the park, which offers views of the river valley, downtown El Paso, the Mexican city of Juarez across the river from El Paso, and beyond.

The two wetland parks – the Rio Bosque Park on the east side of town and the Keystone Heritage Park on the west – offer scenic views as well as providing shelter to more than 200 species of birds. The Keystone Park is also home to a 4,000-year-old archaeological site. Two other lakes within the city, Feather Lake and Ascarate Lake, both on the east side, also offer exceptional birding opportunities.

Beyond the city boundaries, a national park and a national monument are within an hour’s drive. Highways into New Mexico to the northwest run through the Mesilla Valley, where a variety of crops provide interesting photo opportunities. Fields red and green chiles, cotton, and a variety of grains and vegetables can be seen growing between a chain of small villages along the Rio Grande in Texas and into New Mexico.

Image © Will Keener

Are you intrigued by the distinctive Southwest examples of Native American rock art? El Paso has a place for that, too. Hueco Tanks State Park, just east of El Paso was home to a series of prehistoric visitors, who left their marks in the rock art found throughout the park. Be sure to plan ahead for a visit here, as access is carefully controlled to protect the art and other resources in the park. The park offers a small campground. Rangers and volunteers lead pictograph, hiking, birding and rock-climbing tours with advanced reservations.

East of Hueco Tanks, gravel roads passable by passenger vehicles in good weather, lead photographers to a vast grassland with a distinctive group of volcanic peaks. This area, known as Otero Mesa, offers a variety of opportunities for landscape and wildlife photos and a collection of interesting rock art on the tallest of the volcanic vents in the area, Alamo Mountain.

A major draw is White Sands National Park, roughly an hour north of the city via US. Highways 54 and 70. The national park with its glistening white gypsum dunes is inextricably tangled with the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range, which means that at times access may be closed to the public. Best advice is to check the National Park Service website when planning your visit. Rangers close the park shortly after sunset, giving shooters a chance at to catch the late-day golden hour light and get out of the park before the gates close.

Image © Will Keener

Somewhat closer to El Paso and also offering some spectacular opportunities is the Organ Mountain-Desert Peaks National Monument, to the north and west of El Paso. The main attraction to the monument is the rugged Organ Mountain range along the east side of the Rio Grande Valley. Camping, hiking, birding, biking, off-highway vehicle and horseback riding, and some free climbing opportunities are available in the Organs.

While the Organs offer photographers a classic example of a “sky island” environment, with peaks rising out of the desert floor, slot canyons and unique volcanic features also abound in other parts of the monument. The Potrillo Volcanic Field, for example, offers an opportunity to explore volcanic vents and calderas.

Roughly an hour north of Las Cruces, NM, is a futuristic photo opportunity, Spaceport America. A cooperative effort between private industry and the state of New Mexico, the Spaceport is currently being used by several companies involved in space tourism and in the launching of satellites and other payloads. The Spaceport is gated and accessible only on tours, which are currently offered on Fridays and Saturdays from Final Frontier Tours, based in Las Cruces.

Timing is an important factor in planning your trip to El Paso. It’s hot in the summer time, regularly topping 100 degrees F. The winters are much milder, and both spring and fall are popular for a variety of fiestas and other community activities, scheduled to allow the locals to enjoy the weather..

You can fly into El Paso non-stop from 17 major U.S. cities on one of seven airlines. Lodging options, car rentals, and restaurant choices abound in this major metropolitan area.

Image G Will Keener

RESOURCES: (Visit El Paso is a great place to start) (El Paso International) (White Sands National Park) (Organ Mountain Desert Peaks National Monument) (Hueco Tanks State Park) (El Paso Museum of Archaeology) (Final Frontier Tours) (Spaceport America)

Original Publication Date: April 16, 2024

Article Last updated: May 07, 2024

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