“The images of El Paso and 120 miles around conjure so vividly something of the character of the wonderful Southwest. Under a sky that seems limitless, the roads invite one to travel, to explore, to become a pioneer. When I see these great unending routes, piercing the vastness of the territory, they trigger in me the beginnings of an understanding of the importance to the American people of the concepts of freedom and opportunity.”
London, England UK
All too often the El Paso area is an afterthought in any publication chronicaling West Texas or the Southwest. When I view photography books illustrating this vast area or read magazine articles, the message I receive is always the same: “Oh, by the way, there is a dusty place in far West Texas called El Paso; it is stuck in the middle of nowhere.” This corner of Texas is a footnote, if you will.
No doubt this area is overlooked due to El Paso’s distances from other civilisation. I say this lightly, though there is some truth to the thought. After all, El Paso seems to be a never-ending drive from other cities: twelve hours from Dallas, nine hours from San Antonio, four hours from Albuquerque, five hours from MIdland-Odessa, and seven hours from Phoenix. So yes, I do undertand why this area is considered the “edge” and off the radar for most.
It seems perfectly natural, if one mainly travels along Insterstate 10 through West Texas and southern New Mexico, for a traveler not to give El Paso much thought. As one looks out the window of a moving car, the easy conclusion would be that there is not much more to see than a plethora of tumbleweeds, desert brush, a few mountains, and a sea of wide-open space. Quite frankly, the roads one usually navigates move directly through the least interesting parts of the landscape.
Admittedly, the shape of this book didn’t immediately occur to me. I, too, based my judement of the area on Insterstate 10, not really piecing all the bits together, despite the fact that I am based in El Paso. The adventurer in me would visit the areas covered in this book independently; each a day trip and roughly a two-hour drive, or 120 miles, from El Paso. White Sands National Park in Southern New Mexico and the Guadalupe Mountains – Salt Flat area are two of my favourite destinations, though the landscape found in Lincoln National Forest at Cloudcroft has always offered an interesting contrast to the desert plains – and the cooler climate from the heat of the Chihuahua Desert.
My visits to Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site directly east of El Paso have been sporadic, although I enjoy my amatuerish attemps at rock climbing, and City of Rocks, between Deming and Silver City, New Mexico, allows my imagination to run wild thinking I am visiting the Flinstones’ Bedrock. Van Horn? Indeed, the Van Horn area – the “Gateway to Big Ben Country” – offers some of the most rugged and inspiring landscape in far West Texas. Seeing the sunrise over the Sierra Vieja mountains at the Coal Mine Ranch will be forever etched in my memory, and the largest collection of Precambrian rock formations in the wold at the Red Rock Ranch is a delight.
Most notable for me, however, is El Paso, as this is home. The Franklin Mountain range runs directly through the city and is the largest urban state park in the United States. For me, the Franklins are old friends that I miss when I travel around the world. In fact, this range is literally just outside my back door, and my friend Eric and I hike its slopes almost weekly.
Each of the aforementioned destinations is “just around the corner” in local terms, since driving times to other areas are four hours or more. While each of the areas photographed for this book have captivated me, I find the roads to and from equally fascinating. I believe the wide-open spaces that unfurl along these long, unobstructed roads epitomize the spirit of freedom many of us in the West feel.
Whilte I travel quite often throughout the world, each time behind the lens of my camera, I can safely say the landscapes of West Texas and Southern New Mexico touch my soul more deeply than any other place.
A spirit of freedom that is second to none wells up in me when I stand upon a high desert ridge; the sky above me opens up its cobalt tent, and the land below it stretches toward a horizon that seems to recede into infinity. Not only do deep fresh breaths fill me, but I can actually hear my breathing because the sounds of the cosmopolitan world are nowhere nearby.
The weight of the world swiftly lifts off my shoulders – I begin to connect with that which is around me, begin to move back toward my own centre. In a way, this great landscape offers me the freedom to feel whole again. No competeing demands tug at me from different directions. This is silence. Time is once again my friend.
The roads pictured in this book were avenues I traveled for the most part, but it was in the air where El Paso 120 came together. As I flew around the area in a twin-engine plane with Suzie Azar, my pilot the the former mayor of El Paso, I realised El Paso is not at the edge but right in the middle of an amazing landscape. And it is a landscape that is quite significant to the rest of the world, as you will discover as you flip through the book.
One might think I deliberately used a mathematical compass on a map to draw out what would be included in this book, but this is not the case. Flying above it, as a bird would, allowed me the opportunity to pull together what I had already explored on the ground. Surveying the land from atop El Paso’s Franklin Mountains, I can glimpse each of the areas portrayed in El Paso 120. A number of these destinations, all within striking distance of the city, are significant icons in the natural world.
Guadalupe Peak is the highest point in Texas, at 8749 feet. El Capitan, a massive limestone formation is the Guadalupe Mountains most recognisable feature.
The remarkable City of Rocks is a fantasyland of wind- and water-sculptued volcanic rock. Only six other places in the world have anything like them.
Near Kilbourne Hole, New Mexico, a lava tube (cave) at Aden Crater yielded up the skeleton of one of the last giant ground sloths in North America. The nine-foot-long skeleton, with much of its skin and hair still preserved, is now at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History.
At White Sands there is the world’s largest gypsum dune field, where great waves of gypsum lap nearly three hundred square miles of desert. White Sands National Park preserves a major portion of it.
Then there were Hueco Tanks, known in the nineteenth century as the last source of water between the Pecos River and El Paso. The site is now one of the most popular destinations in the world for rock climbers.
Not only have I had the luxury of discovering the El Paso area, but each trek has helped me find my balance. I can think clear thoughts. Any and all stress goes away.
I have traveled these roads from El Paso countless times to escape the pressure of cosmopolitan life. I get lost behind my camera. My mind wanders with each trek, wondering what the area was like underwater millions of years ago, or what the Spanish explorers thought when they came upon this terrain, making their way northward. Can you imagine what they must have though when out of the brown desert arose the larges white gypsum sand dunes in the world? The idea of this fascinates me and in turn inspires me to venture further.
As you view my photographic exporation, I hope you, too, discover that El Paso is not at the edge but instead at the very centre of some remarkably amazing landscapes. One may think 120 miles is a long way to get anywhere. But within these wide-open spaces, it’s only just down the road and around the corner.
With good fortune during my next journey, I shall find you discovering firsthand El Paso and the wonders radiating 120 miles in all directions from the city.
Make sure you say “Hello,” when we cross paths.