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franklin mountains

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There are few places in the world where you can stand in one place to watch the moon set then turn around and watch the sun rise simultaneously.  One such place in El Paso, Texas at the top of a road called Transmountain Road that runs through the Franklin Mountains.  The state road connects the east – northeast in particular – with the westside of the city.

I arrived at the location with the intention of capturing the sunrise and light streams of passing cars.  I knew I had to arrive around 6:30 to catch the rising sun and early morning traffic.  To be honest, I was ignorant of the fact that moonset was at the exact same time.  I was also oblivious to the fact that this spot on Transmountain Road would allow me to view the start of the day and the end of the day at the very same time.  

Needless to say my camera got a workout as did I pivoting back and forth to capture the photographs.

The experience had a profound affect on me as I couldn’t quite work out in my brain what a truly special moment this was.   How many places in the world is it possible to see both the sun set and the moon rise with unobstructed views at the same time?  I can’t think of  many.  It was also a special moment to be able to capture the experience with my camera.

Years later the photographs found a home in two of my books, “El Paso 120 : Edge of the Southwest” and “Sí El Paso.”

The experience also got me to thinking about El Paso’s Franklin Mountains.  For me, the mountain range is like an old comforting friend.  I see the mountain as a being as opposed to a thing.  And, as a being, the mountain must have a mood.

The Franklin Mountains display various moods through- out the day.  The temper of the mountain is calm at sunrise, almost in a slumber in the brisk January morning air.  There are no giant pine trees to soften the winter wind whipping around my face, no singing birds or running deer to take my eye off the sky.  Only high-elevation cacti and desert brush crawl along the slopes and boulders, often jutting out like nature’s high rises on either side of the mountain.

Moon SettingLooking 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 sweeps across the heavens.  In an instant natural fireworks fill the sky as the moon sets and sun rises and 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 them for another day.

Sunrise With Franklin Mountains in View

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.