The Presidio Chapel of San Elizario is only the first stop worth exploring in this historic and arts district.
Photo by Jim Sweida/Wikimedia.
The 8-mile Mission Trail travels to three of the oldest churches in the United States, all of which appear on the National Register of Historic Places. The trail appeals to fans for more than its photo ops — art galleries and cultural centers await, too.
The community of San Elizario lures visitors with its stunning Presidio Chapel of San Elizario, which once served Spanish soldiers stationed at the military fort and their families. Duck inside the traditional Spanish Mission–style structure to take in its intricate interiors, outfitted with gold-trimmed pillars and murals framing the altar. Its 1877 adobe façade is the focal point for San Elizario Plaza.
The Territorial-style Los Portales Museum and Information Center is adjacent. Its homey displays highlight the Mission Valley's past — including the First Thanksgiving held here in 1598 — and local lore, namely the tale of Billy the Kid's jail break-in to free his friend.
Walking tour maps guide you through the town's historic district, which unfolds with distinctive artistic flare, and to the Veteran's Memorial Museum, a testament to the Spanish soldiers who originally served here and all fallen American soldiers.
Next, travel to Socorro. It's one of 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, is touted as one of Texas' oldest missions. Built in Mexico, the 1691 structure was annexed into the United States when the mercurial Rio Grande docked it north of the border. The mission's design details, from its stair-stepped façade to painted vigas (ceiling beams) topping 6-foot-thick adobe walls, blend Spanish and Native American styles.
La Misión de Corpus Christi de San Antonio de la Ysleta del Sur, or Ysleta Mission, is your next stop. Tigua and Piro Indians established the church, the oldest continuously active parish in Texas, in 1682 when they were forced to flee their homelands after the 1680 Pueblo Revolt unfolded in what is now New Mexico. Trivia buffs will note that the first Catholic Mass in present-day Texas was celebrated near here on Oct. 12, 1680. Parishioners recently restored the church, giving its stately bell tower and green glass circular window new life.
The mission stands on the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, home to the Tigua people. The culturally curious should head to the artifact-rich Tigua Indian Cultural Center to learn about pueblo history, traditions, and art. On Saturdays and Sundays (and Fridays during summer), pueblo youth perform social dances sharing elements of ancient Tigua songs and culture.
From El Paso, take the Cesar E. Chavez Border Highway to Socorro Road. Ysleta 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
Don't Miss: 2018 Mission Trail Happenings
First Friday ArtWalk
Each month, more than 20 galleries and studios welcome art lovers in the heart of the historic San Elizario Art District. Music and snacks are also on hand. visitelpasomissiontrail.com
First Thanksgiving Celebration, April
Don't expect turkey at El Paso Mission Trail Association's commemoration of the 1598 arrival of Spanish settlers to the area.
Mission Trail Art Market
May 20, June 17, July 22, Aug. 19, Sept. 16, Oct. 14, Nov. 18
Artists present dazzling pottery, jewelry, home décor, and other crafts and fine art.
Billy the Kid Festival, June 1–3
Celebrate the Wild West legend's 1876 visit to San Elizario with tours, stagecoach rides, and re-enactments.
Ysleta Mission Festival, July 6–8
This century-old festival celebrates the Mission Valley with live music, Southwest cuisine, and carnival-style games.
ChristKindle Market, First weekend of December
Shop for holiday gifts from an array of crafts and fine art.