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EP11 - Outdoors — Explore the Great Southwest

El Paso - Annual 2011

El Paso's vast open spaces have a rich human and natural history well worth exploring under the city's great big sky.

EP11 - Outdoors — Explore the Great Southwest
Claret cup cactus in bloom.
John Glover

Hiking, running, rock climbing, mountain biking, or simply taking in the sweeping landscapes are a few of the outdoor opportunities that await you.

El Paso's beloved Franklin Mountains State Park is right in the middle of the city. Mountain bikers rave about its fast, technical single track, including the Crazy Cat trails. Hikers enjoy 37 square miles of oasis surrounded by the city. Rock climbers rope up to tackle challenging routes. Photographers wait for stunning sunsets. And families spend time together picnicking.

McKelligon Canyon is great for rock climbing and bouldering. In the Tom Mays Unit are primitive tent sites for those who'd like to sleep under bright Texas stars and five RV sites. For those who'd like to learn more about the state park's history, ranger-led tours are conducted on the first and third weekends of every month. Call the park office at 915-566-6441 for camping spot and tour reservations.

Take Wyler Aerial Tramway to the top of 5,632-foot Ranger Peak in the Franklins. During the four-minute trip, the gondola operator describes the wildlife and geology of the Franklins. Don't forget to bring your camera.

At Hueco Tanks State Historic Site, 32 miles northeast of El Paso, spear points from the Folsom People have been found that date to the ice age. Later, in about the 13th century, the Jornado Mogollon people lived here. With its life-giving huecos (depressions), which hold rainwater in this arid climate, this site has attracted people and animals for millennia. Native Americans left pictographs, or rock paintings, that are thought to mark this place as very spiritual and important in nature. Visitation is limited and available on a first-come, first-serve basis. To make reservations, call 512-389-8900. Call 915- 857-1135 for camping and ranger-led tours of pictographs. Stargazing, bird watching, and other organized activities are available in the 860-acre park. Call for details.

About 110 miles east of El Paso on U.S. 62, Guadalupe Mountains National Park is a hiker's paradise. This area is the world's finest example of a fossilized reef and West Texas' only designated wilderness area. It also contains Texas' highest peak, 8,749-foot Guadalupe Peak. More than 80 miles of trails travel through woodland canyons and rugged mountainsides. Fossils from the Permian Age abound, remnants of the area's ocean past. Pictographs left by Native Americans and the ruins of Old West stagecoach stops speak of the human history of this storied region.

Over the border in New Mexico, Carlsbad Caverns National Park is 151 miles from El Paso and well worth the drive (575-785-2232). With geology similar to the once-ocean Guadalupe Mountains, sulfuric acid has dissolved away limestone at Carlsbad for eons, creating one of the world's largest cave systems. Take a self-guided tour of the main cavern or sign up for a ranger-led tour for a truly wild experience. Camping and backcountry hiking above ground in the Chihuahuan desert are also available.

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