12 Common Questions about El Paso - from a local

When I’m traveling and people ask where I’m from, I tell them I live in Texas. They’re often familiar with Dallas or San Antonio, but El Paso is more of a mystery. Check out some of the most common questions I get about El Paso – where it is, what it’s famous for and why it is safe to visit. 

1. Where is El Paso?

Lots of people know El Paso is located in Texas, but many probably could not point it out on a map. (I couldn’t before I moved here). While the bigger and more well-known Texas cities are in the eastern part of the state, El Paso is in the far western tip of Texas, nestled in between the borders of New Mexico (the US state) and Mexico (the country). It is the only major Texas city in the Mountain Time Zone.

2. What does El Paso mean in Spanish?

The name El Paso means “the pass” and was historically called El Paso del Norte or “the pass to the North”. The city is situated between the Franklin Mountains (which are the southern end of the Rocky Mountains) and the Sierra de Juarez range in Mexico. The Rio Grande River runs through El Paso, and along the US/Mexico border. El Paso is the most populous city in western Texas with nearly 700,000 residents and is the 6th most populous city in Texas. 

3. What is El Paso famous for?

El Paso is often known for the Marty Robbins song (and yes, there is an actual Rosa’s Cantina in town). El Paso is well known for its location on the southern U.S. border and proximity to Cuidad Juárez, Mexico as well as being home to the very large U.S. Army base Fort Bliss – which combined with the White Sands Missle Range – has the largest contiguous controlled airspace in the world, and is the 2nd largest military installation in the US Army. El Paso is also home to the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) and lots of great Mexican food.

Downtown El Paso

4. Is it safe to visit El Paso?

Yes. Many people I meet have heard of safety issues in Cuidad Juárez and assume that since El Paso is its neighbor, it shares in its crime problems – but that is not the case. While the national and international news often portray El Paso in a negative light, El Paso consistently ranks as one of the safest cities in the US. 

 

El Paso in general is very family-oriented, and the community tends to look after one another. While El Paso faces many of the same issues as any major city, a large military presence (Ft. Bliss) and an alphabet soup of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies keep the city safe. Go with the basic traveler precautions – such as being aware of your surroundings, staying in well-lit areas at night, and concealing your valuables. 

5. What is the weather like in El Paso?

In a word – hot. Known as the Sun City for having an average of over 300 days of sunshine a year, El Paso can get, and stay, rather warm. While this makes for much milder temps in the fall and winter, this year (2023), we’ve had 70 days that have reached over 100 deg F and are still reaching triple digits in the middle of September.

El Paso is located in the Chihuahuan desert and can be very dry.  The lack of humidity also means that the temperature can swing a lot when the sun goes down – as much as 30-40 deg F. Temperatures usually reach their peak around mid-afternoon, so if you can avoid being outdoors then, it’s a good idea. The sun can be harsh, so sunscreen is a must and a hat is always a good idea too.

 

El Paso can also get very windy (which doesn’t always work well with my previous advice to wear a hat), especially closer to the mountains. We do get dust storms, usually in the spring, where the normally lovely views of the Franklin mountains disappear in a brown, dusty haze. They aren’t frequent, but they happen.

 

Rain here is rare, though when it does happen, it can cause localized flash flooding. The monsoon season, where we get the heaviest rains, happens in July and August. The weather in El Paso can vary greatly depending on what part of town you are in, thanks to the large mountains that run down the middle of the city. I have friends that live only a few miles from me (as the crow flies) on the other side of the mountain, and they frequently have very different weather than I do. 

6. But does it snow in El Paso?

It does snow in El Paso – occasionally. It’s pretty rare, and it doesn’t stick around long. We’ve been here 13 years, and my kids just had their first official snow day last year. If we get snow, it’s usually a dusting that melts off by mid-day. If we want to go sledding during the winter months, we can head to the mountains in Cloudcroft, NM, or we can sled year-round on the sand dunes at White Sands National Monument.

7. Where should I eat in El Paso?

El Paso is famous for its Mexican food, and there are approximately 7,562,791 places to get Mexican food around town (OK – I’m guessing, but it’s a lot). Everyone you meet has their own opinion of where the best places are, and they often break it down further by type of food – best tacos, best burrito, best flautas, best tamales, etc.

Trying to rank the best places would be a huge (though delicious) task, so my advice is to ask a local what is good near where you’re staying and give that a try. There are lots of great local places all over the city, with their own take on the local favorites. If you’re in town on a weekend, you may want to try some Menudo, a traditional Mexican soup made with tripe. 

If you’re passing through town and don’t have time to ask around, here are a few personal favorites I’d recommend:

8. Do I need to speak Spanish in El Paso?

Speaking Spanish in El Paso is helpful but certainly not necessary. Most people here, especially in stores and restaurants, speak both Spanish and English fluently. If they don’t, there is always someone nearby who does and can help translate. I speak very little Spanish and I’ve never had a problem that a helpful bystander or Google translate has not been able to handle. 

9. How do I find my way around El Paso?

El Paso is basically laid out in a V shape, with the Franklin Mountains running down the middle. The city is divided between the west and east sides of the mountain, with downtown El Paso at the bottom of the “V”. Cuidad Juárez is south of downtown, Fort Bliss is on the east side, while the west side has UTEP. 

 

Interstate 10 is the main thoroughfare through town, it goes through downtown and runs along the west side, while U.S. Highway 54 runs along the east side towards the Northeast. The 375 loop around the city runs along parts of I-10 and U.S. 54, as well as the border highway. 

 

To get to the other side of the mountains, you can go around the southern tip of the Franklins via I-10, or take the Transmountain Pass which connects the northeast and northwest parts of town. Transmountain is a very pretty drive through the mountains, though it will be closed during inclement weather (heavy rain, snow/ice or high winds). I won’t address the drivers in El Paso other than to say ‘stay alert” – it can sometimes feel very much the Wild West on the roads. 

10. Where can I hike in El Paso?

El Paso Hike 1With a mountain range running through the city, there are lots of great hiking and biking opportunities. Franklin Mountains State Park (also called Tom Mays Park) has lots of trails, and a new visitors center where you can stop and get information on the various trails on where you can hike, bike or camp. Rock climbers love McKelligan Canyon or Hueco Tanks State Park (though you do need a permit to visit Hueco Tanks – check their site for info). 

 

Many popular trails are not staffed, and you are expected to pay a small fee to park and use the trail. Look for the info sign and envelopes to leave your payment in the parking lots. We often hike the Lost Dog trail, and have enjoyed the Tin Mines hike and the Ron Coleman trailhead in McKelligon canyon. I recommend checking AllTrails for more detailed maps and information. Always take water and sun protection.

11. Does El Paso have any sports teams?

While El Paso is not home to any major league MBL or NFL teams, we do have a variety of sports available for fans. The University of Texas at El Paso is home to the Sun Bowl game every January. The Sun Bowl is also home to the UTEP Miners football team. Every fall, local fans get excited about the battle of I-10, between the UTEP Miners and their rivals, the New Mexico State Aggies (located further west on I-10 in Las Cruces, New Mexico) UTEP also has a very strong basketball program.

 

El Paso is home to the El Paso Chihuahuas, a triple-A affliate of the San Diego Padres. They play in a lovely new stadium in downtown El Paso. They share the stadium with the El Paso Locomotive FC, the local professional soccer team that debuted in 2019 and has steadily grown in popularity. The El Paso Rhinos are a junior ice hockey team based in El Paso. Of course, it’s still Texas, so high school football is a big deal around town as well. 

Southwest University Field El Paso
UTEP Miners football

12. How can I cross into Mexico from El Paso?

US Mexico border signThere are 6 border crossing points in El Paso that allow commercial as well as private vehicles, trains, busses, and pedestrians to cross into Cuidad Juárez. You can check current wait times for border crossings here. 

 

The Ysleta-Zaragoza Bridge and the Bridge of the Americas allow commercial and non-commercial vehicle traffic, as well as pedestrians to cross into Mexico.

 

The Good Neighbor Bridge, also called the Stanton Bridge, serves non-commercial vehicle traffic into Central Juárez, while the Paso del Norte Bridge allows non-commercial and pedestrians to cross from downtown El Paso. Please note there may be a toll (going either way) for vehicles and pedestrians. 

 

The final 2 bridges, the Union Pacific Bridge and the BNSF Bridge, are for rail traffic. There are additional border crossing points nearby in Santa Theresa, NM and Fabens, TX. 

 

You can drive your own vehicle into Juárez, though many locals advise against it due to long lines at the border crossing checkpoints. There are often long lines to get into Mexico on the weekends, and nearly constant lines to cross from Mexico into the US. Please be sure to check current border entry requirements and toll rates before you go. 

 

Have more questions about visiting El Paso? Leave them in the comments below!

El Paso Pinterest Image

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