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Review of “Sí El Paso” first appeared in the January 2020 issue of El Paso Scene.  The gracious review is written by Randy Limbird.

No photographer has chronicled El Paso and the surrounding region more extensively than Mark Paulda.  His first photographic compilation of the borderland, “Celebrate El Paso,” came out over 10 years ago.  “No one guessed but the book went on to be a best seller and the fastest selling book for my publisher, TCU Press,” Paulda said.

But after a decade of changes — in which landmarks like City Hall and the ASARCO smokestacks were razed, others like San Jacinto Plaza were restored and new ones were created, like the red “X” rising above Juárez — it was time for a new edition.

The result is “Sí El Paso,” a larger version of the older book, with over 250 color photographs of El Paso, Juárez and Southern New Mexico.  And while his first book was nothing but photographs, “Sí El Paso” includes memories and stories written by a range of El Pasoans.  To make the book even more accessible to our community, the text is provided in both English and Spanish.

Mark, whose photographs have appeared in El Paso Scene several times over the past dozen years, approached me about doing something with the new book, so I offered to put it on the January cover.  It was a joy leafing through the book, but hard to pick out just a few images out of so many.

The main picture featured on this month’s cover jumped out at me.  It’s a winter scene familiar to my mind’s eye but one that I had never seen portrayed as well as Mark had done in his photograph of winter storm clouds draped over the Franklins.  The vibrant colors of the Juárez mercado and the subtle gold shades on the Cortez Building also caught my attention.  The long-exposure shot of freeway traffic amid a the foreground of desert plants and the background of Union Depot is Mark Paulda’s signature image, similar to the one that graces the book’s cover.

Hopefully Mark — and El Paso Scene — will be around long enough for his next decade’s installment of photography.

Cover of El Paso Scene January 2020

 

Marina Monsivias of State of The Arts radio program on KTEP interviews Mark Paulda about his new photography book, “Sí El Paso.”  KTEP is an NPR station.

Marina :: “Sí El Paso is a 10th anniversary edition of Mark’s first book, “Celebrating El Paso.”   This new book shows how El Paso has changed over the last 10 years and runs a little over 200 pages.  It contains El Paso in stories and accounts of the city from a personal viewpoint and shows over 200 photographs of the city and is completely bilingual the book also includes our sister city Ciudad Juárez.

Here to tell us about his latest book is photographer Mark Paulda.   Welcome to State of the Arts.

Mark ::  Thanks for having me.

Marina ::  I can’t believe it’s been 10 years since your other book.

Mark ::  It seems like a few months ago.  Time just flies by.

Marina :: Right?  It’s scary and chronicling everything I mean you’ve definitely seen how things have changed.

Mark :: Yes, exactly.   Especially in the downtown area with revitalization and the renovation of some of our treasured buildings.  Trost buildings – all very exciting to see that and see them come back to life so it’s been fun looking back at the images that I captured 10 years ago versus what some of the buildings look like today like the Mill’s Building, what’s happening with the Plaza.  I could go on and on.

Marina ::  I can’t even remember what the Mill’s looked like.

Mark ::  It was brown and drab it.

Marina :: It was just like non-existent.  It was just there.

Mark ::  It was.  It was.   It really got restored back to its original state and brought it back to life.

Marina :: So did you know when you did the first book that you would do the second book.

Mark ::  I didn’t know that there would be another book at all and you know I thought there’s no book on El Paso and so that’s why I did that first book.   And it surprised all of us.   It surprised me, surprised my publisher it went on to be the fastest selling book for the publishers and of course became a bestseller so that opened the door to the second book and now we’re here at number three and that’s very exciting.   I’m very honored to be able to do that.   And this book really is a gift back to El Paso.   El Paso really has given so much to me and supported me and a lot of the things that I do not only in the city but around the world.   I wouldn’t be the person I am without El Paso in my life.

Marina ::  It’s cool like that right?

Mark :: It is.  We’re different here you know.  This book really is the answer, you know, when I travel around people ask me where are you from?   I always get that question and when I say El Paso they have this dumbfounded look on their face and and it’s why why El Paso and this is the answer.  Here’s our city out here really at the edge of a lot of things.   People sort of forget us,  even our Great State of Texas forgets us.  But the stories that are in the book – I went all across the city and got a variety of people to share their experiences with El Paso and what El Paso means to them and as you read through them it’s very clear why El Paso and they’re very endearing.  Some of the stories and the accounts that I was given by the various people, they’re very genuine and sincere and people really do love the city whether they live in the city still or they have moved away.   We have stories from both.

Marina :: So how did you find those folks?   Did you said okay you know I’d like tocapture the story I’d like to share the story?

Mark :: Some were deliberate people that I knew had a long-term relationship with El Paso and and would have experienced both cities, Juarez and El Paso.  When we were younger we would cross the border and go to nightclubs or whatever and you went even if you weren’t of age.

Marina :: There’s something about drink and drown…

Mark ::  Exactly and there are some people who it goes back into the 50s and 60s and theyhave stories or stories or some people who had lived in Juarez and they would take the bus and he dropped off downtown near the Newberry building but as I was going out getting photographs like Ballet Folklórico – they’re wonderful people of once I was there and I was photographing them they had stories and they wanted to share them and so I found people that way as well just by chance.  So what I wanted was a good representation and I’m a West Sider now and you know I just didn’t want it at a West Side perspective I wanted East the Northeast and we got Juarez stories as well.  We got their accounts

Marina ::  It’s super important because I think folks that aren’t from here say like oh it’s a small city whatever and if you live here you know Westsiders don’t necessary go to the East side and Eastsiders don’t necessarily go to the Westside.   They are these very different parts.

Mark :: They’re unique.  So it really was important to get all perspectives.  And the stories to me the photographs are nice you know I’m biased I took them but it’s the stories that really touch the heart in this book.

Marina :: Why did you decide to go bilingual?

Mark ::  Well our city’s bilingual and it took a bit to convince the publishers to do that.  They kept telling me works like that don’t sell.  And I said well, this is El Paso,  this is how we communicate every day.  Our signs are that way we speak that way sometimes we speak Spanglish and actually some of the stories and the quotes in the book are Spanglish and it represents who we are as a city. Really this is  what we live with every day.

Marina :: I’m glad you convinced them to do that.

Mark :: Me too and now they’re thrilled and it’s been actually the first photography book that is bilingual so that’s sort of fun as well.

Marina ::  I find that hard to believe.  Wow!

Mark ::  Yeah, so in a way El Paso is leading the way here I guess.

Marina :: Well you you have something to do with that.  Aside from the book what other adventures have you been on?  Because I know you’re always up to something.

Mark ::  Oh my goodness well I do travel around the world.  We could spend a lot of time talking about the experiences I’ve had.  I went and lived with the nomadic Berber tribe in North Africa and traveled with them from the High Atlas Mountains into the Sahara Desert sand dunes.  

Marina :: Did you say excuse me, may I?

Mark ::  Well it’s a long story how it all happened.  The first time I went to Morocco I met – actually a man found me, he grabbed my arm in the medina and just started talking to me and and ten years later who were still friends as name is Hakim and it’s his tribe and he’s the one who made that happen.

Marina :: So cool

Mark ::  And it was just a random meeting and I went with the you know sort of fearless at the time and I’m working with a young man also in Bali.  Gede is his name and he’s hugely talented and I met Gede when I wanted authentic Balinese culture not what the tour guides would take us on and so I went to this small village of about 150 people, showed up at the Temple and there was this young man looking at me saying can I help you,  you know wondering why are you here and when I  when I explained, he welcomed me in it turns out he’s the son of the village leader, he explained everything that was happening with their ceremony.  It was a full moon ceremony and so I gave him my camera that day because he told me that his main goal in life was to help preserve Balinese culture and to tell the story of Bali.   He was 22 at the time. 

Marina :: And he already knew this was important?

Mark ::  And I thought, right, and I thought to myself what 22 year old do I know could have such a lofty goal?   I didn’t and so I gave him my camera and I said to capture everything you can.  I’m leaving to go back to Texas send me photos, video, whatever so I really understand what you want. And months went by and I didn’t hear from him so I said okay I lost a camera.  Then one day email after email showed up and there were hundreds of photos, videos and he had written over a hundred pages and I thought okay this young man serious I can i can’t bail now can I so I got him his own camera, a laptop, everything he would need to do this project and I went back to Bali and I taught him everything I knew about photography and it just turns out he is naturally talented.   I’m really probably learning from him Gede now and we’re still working on the project.   This is five years that we’ve been doing this.  His images have been on covers of magazines, he’s had his own exhibitions …

Marina ::  That’s incredible

Mark ::  One time a year ago January I was at the New York Times Travel Show so I was in New York City and I thought I’m going to the Indonesian consulate because they need to know about Gede and so I showed up and they let me in and I was talking to the number two person at the Indonesian consulate her name is Willa and I told her the story of how we met, what we’ve been doing how talented he is.  And she brought in the Consul General so I got to meet him, Abdul, and now the Indonesian consulate uses Gede’s photos and videos throughout the world.

Marina :: That’s so cool just because you said I’m going to go to the Consulate.

Mark ::  Right.  I am a bit bold that way.  What’s the worst anyone can say?

Marina ::  The answer is no until you ask

Mark ::  That’s right and so it really is remarkable that chance meeting in this small village has turned into this wonderful thing for Gede.   He’s very deserving, a very humble young man,  very very talented

Marina :: Okay, well we’re almost out of time but you have a book called Si El Paso.  So if we want it, how do we get our hands on it.  

Mark ::  At the moment of course Barnes and Noble, Dorsey’s on the west side.  Dorsey’s Cards and Gifts.  She’s selling them left and right there.  And Amazon has it and we’re working on getting it placed in other retail outlets.   The book was late coming out so we’ve had a little challenge getting it placed in others stores.  But Dorsey’s, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon.

Marina ::  It’s here in time for the holidays

Mark ::  It is.  It is and it would make a great gift.  We’re hearing that.

Marina :: I think I think you’re right.  You’re absolutely right.  Today my guest has been photographer, Mark Paulda and he’s got his third book out called “Sí El Paso” and it’s a tenth anniversary edition of this first book called “Celebrating El Paso”   You can find the book at Barnes and Noble, Dorsey’s and on Amazon.  and I’m sure here shortly you will probably get it all sorts of other places.  Today my guest has been Mark Paulda.   Thank you for coming to be there.

Mark ::  Thank you.

A flaming hot desert day— you know, when the proverbial egg can be fried on a rock—is my favorite time to visit Hueco Tanks.  

The Hueco Tanks are regarded the world over as one of the best areas in the world for rock climbing. The formidable rocks, which seem to be arranged by pitch and toss, present an obvious but not daunting challenge. At best, I rank somewhere below amateur status as a rock climber, and might very well be a pro at stumbling, whether it’s up or down.  

I can’t say I’ve ever made it to the highest point here.  The enjoyment for me is in my clueless but ever-so-careful methodology, negotiating from one level of boulders to the next—not to mention the simple pleasure of breathing the immaculate, flushed air.

My improvisational drama comes when reaching an outlook offering an unobstructed view of the idyllic, wide-open space sweeping its way across the rugged desert floor to the Hueco Mountains, miles away.    The fun part of Hueco Tanks is negotiating the often slick (and hot) rocks while also holding my camera in a safe position.  One wrong move and not only do I risk tumbling and crashing, but so does my pricey DSLR.

Over thirty million years ago, an upheaval of molten rock from the earth’s interior created these four-hundred-foot-tall granite hills that seem to spring out of the Chihuahuan Desert floor outside of El Paso.  There is an awesome, heart-expanding grandeur in this place.

Long before climbers discovered Hueco Tanks, Native americans were drawn here because its huecos, a Spanish word for “hollow,” trap and hold drinkable water— the most valuable desert commodity.   Not much more than a century ago, Hueco Tanks held the only dependable source of water between the Pecos River and El Paso.

The Hueco Mountains rise in southern New Mexico and extend twenty-seven miles south into Texas, generally along the El Paso-Hudspeth County line just east of the city of El Paso.   The highest point of the range is the Cerro Alto Mountain (6,787 feet).

Lying between the Hueco and Franklin Mountains, the Hueco Bolson, a dropped- down area four thousand feet above sea level, contains sedimentary fill nearly nine thousand feet thick.

If it is adventure you seek, or you simply want fresh air and an abundance of natural beauty, Hueco Tanks should definitely be added to your travel list.  Far West Texas is far off the beaten path tho’ well worth the effort when you want to get away from it all.

 

Mark Paulda, accomplished photographer and wandering wayfarer, doesn’t just showcase scenery in El Paso 120; he makes a powerful statement: “El Paso is not at the edge but instead at the very center of some remarkably amazing landscape.” Paulda subverts the notion that El Paso is merely a desert city in the middle of nowhere by taking his audience on journeys to striking destinations within a 120-mile radius of the border city.

Alongside photographs of mountainous locales like the Hueco Tanks, Paulda includes photos of such variety that some might not believe these locales are within a two-hour drive of El Paso. The breathtaking White Sands of the Tularosa Basin are only ninety-five miles to the north; the untouched rivers, delta, and lake of Elephant Butte, merely one hundred and twenty miles away. Paulda has captured these and many more stunning settings in gorgeous color.

By capturing the magnitude of these sublime landscapes with aerial shots, and bringing viewers to the heart of each scene with ground shots, Paulda reveals the grandeur of a terrain that, for many of us, has been off the map.

From Beautiful Now Website ::

El Paso 120: Edge of the Southwest, by photographer Mark Paulda, is a love song to the Texan border city of El Paso and its surrounds.

“El Paso is not at the edge but instead at the very center of some remarkably amazing landscape,” Paulda tells us.

He shows us with incredible insight and artistry, wIth breathtaking aerial and ground-based photos of the mountainous Hueco Tanks, the White Sands of the Tularosa Basin, the pristine rivers, delta, and lake of Elephant Butte, and within 120 mile radius of the little desert metropolis.

Paulda’s photos are ripe with stunning color and dramatic composition, as they capture scenes, like secret treasures, that we might never come to see any other way.

El Paso artists paint the town red – and just about every color.  More than a hundred murals dot the city, capturing the region’s cultural pride with depictions of community leaders, religious figures and other symbols.  Segundo Barrio (a neighbourhood along the USA – Mexico border) and downtown bear the lion’s share of these public art pieces; the neighborhoods themselves have become fitting places for art walks.

A 1975 mural in Segundo Barrio, at 513 Father Rahm Ave., is one of the oldest outdoor art pieces in the city.  Artists Arturo Avalos, Gabriel Ortega, Pablo Schaffino and Pascual Ramirez painted the Aztec geometric patterns that adorn the wall.  It’s become a symbol of pride for the area, nodding to El Paso’s close ties to Mexico and indigenous peoples.

Many other murals reflect the city’s cross-border cultural connections, like Animo Sin Fronteras (Spirit Without Borders), which features Melchor Flores flexing his muscles in the hear of downtown at Mills Avenue and Stanton Street.  The mural, by artists David Herrera and El Mac, captures the universal struggle for justice.

Also downtown, Reflection of the Desert, painted by Creative Kids, a nonprofit educational community-based art agency, showcases the desert landscape and the local ethos – a woman gazes across the horizon with determination El Pasoans are known for.  You’ll find this mural along the pedestrian walkway to the El Paso Convention and Performing Arts Centre.

Murals in Union Plaza, a restaurant and nightlife hub next to Southwest University Park, present El Paso iconography, from the Star on the Mountain to “La Equis” in Ciudad Juárez. El Paso Wings, for instance, is a hidden picture hunt.  As you gaze at the work, Mount Cristo Rey, Aztec figures, the UTEP Miners’ pick, and other images reveal themselves – all reflections of the city’s vibrant culture and pride.

 

“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.”

Daragh McDonald
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.

Morning Flight

It was morning, and the new sun glimmers across the sand of the desert floor.  “Clear!” beams Suzie, as she pokes her head out the twin engine’s open window.  Flashing a mischievous smile at me she asks, “Are you ready?”  “Of course,” I respond, thinking nothing of her facial expression.

Like several times before, the plane’s engines rev causing a slight vibration on the floor board as we slowly roll toward runway one at Santa Teresa’s Municipal Airport.  The buzz I feel in my feet and legs always has a calming pre-flight effect on me, though little did I know this take-off would be different.  After negotiating the slight curve onto the main runway, I vaguely hear Suzie’s voice through the headset,  “Mark, it’s your turn to take off and fly.”  As the words quickly register in my brain, no doubt my eyes widely pop open and my heart thumps as if it will burst from my chest.  No thoughts race through my head except, “Good Lord, please let my fly today!”  There is no time to second guess her decision or my ability; or lack of ability, as I’ve only ever been a passenger during these flights.  Keeping outwardly calm, yet tightening every muscle in my body, I intently listen to Suzie’s instructions.

I reach for, and pull the throttle with a slight tremble, causing the plane to move faster.  Reaching a speed of 60 mph, I steadily draw the steering column towards me as far as it will extend, and with this movement, the plane gradually sails upward into the morning’s blue sky.  “Tower, this is Lima Papa. We’ll be flying around Kilbourne Hole this morning for aerial photography,” are the next words I remember as my breathing and heartbeat regain their normal rhythms.  There is an instant feeling of relief and peace inside me as the sky opens up its cobalt tent; the space beneath stretching as far as an ocean.  The weight of the world swiftly lifts off my shoulders allowing me to connect with the desert below as I navigate towards Kilbourne Hole, an 80,000 year old inverted volcano crater stretching nearly two miles long and well over a mile across.

A remnant of an ancient volcanic explosion, Kilbourne Hole is a crater in southern Dona Ana County’s desert basin between the New Mexico’s Potrillo Mountain Range and the Rio Grande River, approximately 40 miles northwest of El Paso.  The “hole,” or crater, is roughly elliptical in shape, and is known as a Maar; a pit or depression caused by a volcanic explosion with little material emitted except volcanic gas.

Circling around Kilbourne for a bird’s eye view, Suzie takes over the plane’s controls descending and looping until we swoop hundreds of feet deep into Kilbourne.  The curve causes the plane to slow until the wind seems to whisper around us, until the walls of the crater encompass the plane.  The exposed rock, in a near plastic state, is dull black or brown though erosion reveals a brilliant, sparkling yellow and green interior of olivine glass granules like treasured jewels in a sunken ship.

Looking forward, I see the crater’s end wall racing towards the plane’s front with great speed before Suzie noses the plane swiftly upward till the flat undisturbed desert plain lay calmly below.  Her playful smile returns as she glances toward me and there were no words needed to show my appreciation for this episode.  Exploring the desert southwest can always be an experience, though one just might find the adventurer sleeping inside one’s soul along the way.

This article about “Sí El Paso” first appeared in The City Magazine El Paso.  The article is written by Austin North.

“El Paso is a feeling,” said photographer Mark Paulda.  His new photo book “Sí El Paso”, the third in a series showcasing El Paso, exemplifies that feeling – it features a plethora of gorgeous photos of the city and its surrounding landscape, supplemented with excerpts of many individual El Pasoans’ experiences of the culture.  Mark initially released his book titled “Celebrating El Paso” ten years ago – it was a huge success, quickly becoming a best seller and selling out with three months.  Mark said, “with the first book, “Celebrating El Paso,” I was actually still learning – quite honestly I had no business doing a book at that time.  Lo and behold, it became the fastest selling book for my publisher, TCU Press.”

Mark is humble about his beginnings, stressing that he was still learning throughout these past ten years.  He went to exceptional lengths to study photography – Mark said of the inception of the first book, “I had just returned from London where I had learned from some of the best photographers in Europe.  I had to come back to El Paso, but I was still learning and finding my way.”  He reached out to acclaimed European photographers and studied under three of them – “one is a very accomplished Israeli photographer, one was a photographer for Vogue magazine and one has shot some of the most iconic, classic album covers …It was through them that I recognized that I could turn this into a viable business,” he said.

He has used this training to further his skills and career in photography, and his newest book, “Sí El Paso” is a prime example.  Featuring stunning photographs of our city, Mark said of the book, “The way that I view the city though a camera, and then recognize the really important parts that make up our city – I think you that in the new book.  Not only have I matured as a photographer, but the city has matured as well.”  He’s right emphasizing the revitalization of downtown especially.  He believed ten years ago that El Paso deserved a photography book, after not having found one throughout his travels.  The landscape and architecture photography especially are such a unique talking point within the city and Mark felt that El Pasoans would be proud to be able to show off their hometown through these books.

“Photos are nice, but I think the stories  make the new book,” Mark said of “Sí El Paso”.  Within the pages, you’ll find countless passages and stories from El Pasoans – both native and those who have moved here – describing their experience of the city.  It’s a well-known concept that El Paso, despite being a large city, has a small-town mentality and feel.  This can be observed throughout the book – look through it and you’re sure to find names you recognize in the stories.  “What I wanted to do with the stories is give people a good sense of what El Paso really is and who we are.”  The people who contributed the stories give their personal accounts of their experiences growing up in or moving to El Paso and the stories they share are genuinely insightful and often moving.  Mark explained that the bilingual culture is something that he focuses on and appreciates, and as such, many of the stories in the book are in Spanish as well.  He said, “It being bilingual is important because the city is that way.  Some of the writing is even in Spanglish, like we hear regularly here.”

In terms of success, Mark has found plenty both in and out of El Paso.  His previous two books were sent to household names who, “bought a whole bunch of books to send to their friends outside El Paso.  They wanted people to know who and what we were.”  Another demographic that he has found success  in is people who had moved away but still want a piece of El Paso.  “They want to be able to look at something and say that we’re just as worthy of a book as anywhere else.”  Ultimately, Mark wants to answer the question of “Why El Paso?”  Whether it’s out of town football teams at the Sun Bowl or uninformed politicians and celebrities, people always ask why.  “This is sort of an answer to that question.  To show that we really are a special place.”

If there is a single road that leads to a view unsurpassed by few others in the southwest, then surely Transmountain Road cutting through the Franklin Mountains would be it.  The winding and ascending journey along Transmountain will take one to 5120ft, which is where I stop one brisk January pre-dawn morning to watch the sun rise above the far horizon.

The temper of the mountain is calm at this hour, almost in a slumber in the brisk morning air.  No giant pine trees soften the winter wind whispering in my ear.  No singing birds or running deer to take my eye off the sky. Only high-elevation cacti and desert brush crawl along the rocks and boulders often jutting out like nature’s high rises descending in to the valleys on either side of the Franklins.

Looking west I see the near full moon sinking below the horizon.  Seconds later, I turn to the east marveling at a fiery ball nudging above the desert floor, and the royal blue sky rapidly transforms with bursts of splendid golden hues as if Mother Nature’s paintbrush splatters across the heavens. In an instant natural fireworks fill the sky as the moon sets and sun rises instantaneously as I watch in awe.  A moment passes and the sun’s rays stretch across East El Paso tickling the sides of the Franklin Mountains waking her for another day.

Gradually the glow of the rising sun ascends from the base of the mountain to its top as one slowly opens their eyes after a good night’s sleep.  A perfect mixture of burning red, glistening yellow, royal purple, and flaming orange sweep upward in a near swift motion as the sun reflects off of the quartzites, sands, limestones and marbles composing the mountain.  There is a sparkle in the Franklin’s “eye” as it resumes its role as the jewel of El Paso.

Overlooking the Rio Grande River, with broad fortitude, the Franklin Mountains are the northern ramparts of the Paso del Norte (Pass of the North), leading from Mexico into the United States.  The mountain range dominates the skyline of the city of El Paso beginning within the city limits in the south extending northward across the New Mexico border for a distance of about 15 miles (24km).  The Franklins are the southernmost extension of roughly continuous north-south ranges extending nearly 99 miles (160 km).  Today, Franklin Mountains State Park, established in 1979, is the largest urban park in the United States covering approximately 37 square miles and 24,247 acres, all within the city limits of El Paso.  The Franklin’s presence are an unmistakable beauty and vigor giving the city its natural character.

The advancing day with the blazing sun high above changes the mood of the mountains as they tower above the area, showing the strength of a wise old man (12,000 years and counting) El Pasoans respectfully know and love. Looking at its aged face, I can see its character lines and crevices showing thousands of years of life and experience.  From native Americans to gold- seekers to Spanish conquistadors on their mission to conquer and colonize the Puebloan villages in present-day New Mexico, the mountain range has indeed proven its endurance and resilience.  There is no doubt the Franklin’s are the physical strength of El Paso.

As the earth revolves once again with the sun descending in the western sky I can not resist watching the mountain relax almost as if it is letting out a deep breath after a long day’s work.  The face of the Franklin’s softens, often offering a reassuring smile with the changing light.  A chorus of golden amber and lush scarlet dance in unison, together with clouds catching the waning sun’s flare spilling even more color across the sky. Again, the rocks and boulders of the Franklin’s glimmer glorious red, purple and luxurious gold tones from the waning light from the setting sun , each winking at me as if to say goodnight.  Another dramatic end to a day. Another day in the life of El Paso’s Franklin Mountains.

Excerpt from my new book, Sí El Paso – a photographic journey through El Paso, Texas.    Sí El Paso is published by TCU Press and available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, markpaulda.com as well as your favourite bookseller.
Si El Paso
El Paso is like an island except it’s landlocked by Mexico, New Mexico and the rest of Texas. The culture and traditions from each area blend together on a daily basis making El Paso difficult to understand, even for us sometimes. Are we Texan? Mexican? Indian? American? 

The answer is we’re El Pasoans. There is no pretense about us. We’re likable, genuine, and hospitable. When you come to visit us, you’ll feel more welcome than any other place you’ll go. El Paso is a big city with a small town heart that will make you feel warm inside. 

El Paso is proud, and we have reason to be. Our history reaches back nearly 12,000 years at Hueco Tanks where the first human settlements can be traced. The Spanish established themselves during the mid-1550’s; Old West gunfighters took the law into their own hands on the streets of downtown; and we’ve always lived hand-in-hand with our sister city, Juarez, to our south. There is no other city like El Paso. We’re unique and El Pasoans like that we’re different. 

In 1903, Henry Trost moved to El Paso and introduced the Chicago School of Architecture style to the skyline. You could even say Henry Trost created El Paso’s skyline. At the time of Trost’s death in 1933, the El Paso Times wrote, “He was one who let himself be known by his works, rather than his words, one who made a valid and lasting contribution to the development of this region. His was a life of purpose and achievement, and he leaves the Southwest richer for his having lived and worked in it.” Henry Trost’s most revered architectural creations live on today with many restored to their former glory. Trost would be humble seeing his buildings survive into the twenty-first century. El Pasoan’s are proud to show off his architectural creativity. 

El Paso is more than our bountiful history. El Pasoans thrive on being an authentic mix of Mexican, American and Western cultures. English and Spanish are spoken concurrently and sometimes the two languages are spoken within the same sentence – that’s normal. We celebrate Dia de los Muertos (All Souls Day) not because Madison Avenue marketers tell us to, but because it’s a genuine way to celebrate the life of our ancestors. Folkloric Dancers flutter across our stages like butterflies in the desert wind; the horns and strings of Mariachis beam melodies through the Franklin Mountains; Luche Libre amuse crowds much better than the movie; and western urban cowboys buck off bulls like bouncing ping pong balls. We also think our Mexican food is the best anywhere in the world – and it is. And yes, we’re proud to celebrate America’s Independence as anyone would in the nation’s heartland. 

Our trusted friend, the Franklin Mountains, stretches through the middle of the city. Throughout various times of the day, her moods reveal a feeling as the sun transitions from east to west. The Franklin’s warm blithe spirit display during sunrise or sunset, and her stern formidable nature protects us from natural disaster. She’s reassuring in El Pasoan’s daily lives, and we miss her while we’re away.

We love the clear blue skies that seem never-ending like ocean waves into infinity. There is a sense of freedom that you can’t truly understand until you hit the road in any direction from El Paso. There is a mesmerizing effect mile after mile of desert terrain can have on you. It’s a wonder how nothingness can cleanse your soul. The expansion extends mile after mile forcing your mind to center itself and fill with thoughts you believe to have exited years ago. The world seems right contrary to the twisted reality we face on a daily basis. 

I travel around the world often and the same query always arises – “Where are you from?” When my reply is, “El Paso,” I’m met with dumbfounded expressions followed by, “Why El Paso”? The truth is I never have a good verbal answer because El Paso is difficult to explain. So, I take the old adage, “Show me, don’t tell me.” Si El Paso is a pictorial answer many El Pasoans want to offer to anyone curious about the Sun City, but we can’t quite put the feeling into words.