Just 15 minutes outside of El Paso, the 9-mile Mission Trail takes you to three of the oldest churches in the United States — Ysleta, Socorro, and San Elizario — all of which appear on the National Register of Historic Places. The historic missions along this route may be stunning, but there's more to this day trip than photo ops.
Go For San Elizario Mission
Begin your day in San Elizario, where the stunning Presidio Chapel of San Elizario once served Spanish soldiers stationed at the military fort and their families. Today's chapel dates to 1877, and its striking adobe façade is a focal point for the San Elizario Plaza. Step inside the traditional Spanish Mission–style structure to take in the archways, gold-trimmed pillars, and murals framing the altar.
Stay For The History And Art
Steps away from the mission, the Territorial-style Los Portales Museum and Information Center relates the highlights of Mission Valley's past, including the First Thanksgiving held here in 1598 and Billy the Kid's jail break-in. Pick up a brochure for a walking tour through the town's historic district, which unfolds with distinctive artistic flare. Also in the district, explore the Veteran's Memorial Museum, a testament to the Spanish soldiers who originally served here and fallen American soldiers who are honored with a memorial walk.
The art-centric district boasts a half-dozen fine art galleries and hosts events throughout the year. Check for special events — such as the monthly First Friday ArtWalk and the Mission Trail Art Market, held select Sundays March to November — all in the San Elizario Historic Arts District. sanelizariohistoricdistrict.org, sanelizariogenealogy.com/veterans, missiontrailartmarket.com
From El Paso, take the César E. Chávez Border Highway to Socorro Road. Ysletta Mission lies north of the highway along the Mission Trail; the Socorro Mission and Presidio Chapel of San Elizario lie south of the highway. visitelpasomissiontrail.com
Go For Socorro Mission
The settlement of Socorro is among the oldest continuous settlements in the Southwest, so it comes as no surprise that its signature landmark, Nuestra Señora de la Concepción del Socorro, or Socorro Mission, bears the accolade of being one of the oldest missions in Texas. The 1691 church was erected in Mexico, but the mission was annexed by the United States when the mercurial Rio Grande docked it north of the border. Its design details, from its stair-stepped façade to painted vigas (ceiling beams) topping 6-foot-thick adobe walls, exude a blend of Spanish and Native American styles.
Photo by Brian Wancho
Go For Ysleta Mission
La Misión de Corpus Christi de San Antonio de la Ysleta del Sur, or Ysleta Mission, is the oldest continuously active parish in Texas. Tigua and Piro Indians established the church here in 1682 after fleeing their traditional homelands following the 1680 Pueblo Revolt, which unfolded in what is now New Mexico. The mission, with its domed bell tower and greenglass circular window, underwent a restoration in fall 2016.
Stay For The Culture
The mission stands on the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, home to the Tigua people. Learn about centuries of Pueblo history and tradition in the artifact-rich Tigua Indian Cultural Center. On Saturdays and Sundays (and Fridays during the summer), pueblo youth perform social dances sharing elements of ancient Tigua songs and culture. ysletadelsurpueblo.org