Desert Skies & Sunsets
One of my closest friends, Marcy, is from El Paso, Texas. If you're not from Texas then you probably don't realize how far away that is for someone living in Houston, Texas. The drive is over 700 miles, which could take up to 12 hours, if not more. No one in their right mind would drive to El Paso from Houston (or vice versa) over the weekend for fun. So I decided to fly out on a Friday night.
To my utter delight, I landed in El Paso on a cool, breezy Friday night. October in Houston is hit or miss. There might be a cold front or two, or it might just be 79 degrees with a balmy 95 percent humidity around 10 PM (which it was when I'd left), so landing to the cool, desert air of El Paso that night was a perk indeed. Since I gained an hour in Mountain time my flight time was just under 90 minutes, so I made it across the great state of Texas in less than 2 hours. Totally worth the price!
This was my first visit to El Paso, and whenever I visit a new place, I like to see how the people live. I'm interested in what their neighborhoods look like and where we gon' eat. Luckily, I was able to stay with Marcy and she hooked it up on the food. Saturday morning she took me to a local Juarez-style fast-food joint called Burritos Crisostomo. DAMN, y'all. So, first, let me say that a burrito in El Paso is not the same as a burrito in Houston. In my opinion (based purely off observations) they're extra large tacos, which I'm DOWN for. And, at a whopping $2.10 a piece, you can be done for the day with two burritos (or at least until you decide it's time to eat again) for under $6.00. The burritos at Crisostomo's are the length of the paper plates they're served on. I ordered a burrito de chicharron and bistec de res and ate them before I could catch a photo, but I want you to know that the flour tortillas are the softest known to man. Straight up. If you're from Houston, or anywhere southeast of El Paso for that matter, you might be skeptical of the long, skinny appearance of these "burritos", but, as the saying goes, just put in ya mouth.
Around noon on Saturday (neither one of us are early risers) we embarked on our 2 hour journey to New Mexico. Can I just say I love how El Paso is nestled between Mexico and New Mexico. As you drive east on I-10, you turn to your right and see the colorful housing of Juarez. I quickly learned that whenever I asked, "What's over there?" the answer usually was going to be: "That's Juarez".
First stop: Cloudcroft, New Mexico at Lincoln National Forest.
I know what you're thinking because, if you're an uninformed Houstonian such as myself, then you don't know that yes, New Mexico has FORESTS. Marcy had always told me stories about how she'd grown up camping in the forests of New Mexico but I'd never actually seen what she'd been referring to. We stopped at a wonderful lookout point in a forested area, where the fall colors were slowly taking over the greenery of the trees on the side of the mountain. Off to the west, between the valley you could see dust in the air where White Sands National Monument awaited us. On this mountain in Cloudcroft it was a dry, crisp 61 degrees - and I was COLD. I was standing in an autumn landscape that I'd only ever seen in calendars for the months of October and November. I could've stood there for HOURS if I'd brought an actual jacket with me.
Second stop: White Sands National Monument, Alamogordo, New Mexico.
If you want to see White Sands National Monument in your mind's eye before I share pictures with you, then picture what you've seen of the Martian landscape - make it a valley - and then surround yourself with the purest white sand you can conjure and the bluest sky. That is White Sands National Monument.
Now, I cheated. Before we went to White Sands I was already following the hashtag #whitesandsnationalmonument on Instagram and knew what we were about to witness. As we both walked barefoot atop the white gypsum sand dunes of this desert valley, I was overwhelmed by the magnitude and peculiarity of it all. We'd just driven 35 miles from Cloudcroft, where we stood on the side of a mountain admiring an autumn-colored forest, and less than an hour later we now stood in the middle of what looked like another planet, surrounded by white sand dunes and mountains. New Mexico, you WILD.
For me, having grown up on the Gulf Coast, it was surreal to be surrounded by such beautiful sand with absolutely no water or seagulls in sight. Before I began taking pictures, we walked up and down the dunes to get to a point where there was no plant life. You could see other people doing the same, yet they were so small and distant that the entire experience was extremely intimate. Bare feet on the sand, the wind in my hair, the clouds somehow seeming closer than ever right above my head, and a dear friend by my side - I couldn't have asked for a better day.
Near the golden hour before sunset, the people arrive to White Sands in droves to capture it. We attempted to do the same, but eventually put our phones and camera away and stood to take it all in. I can't wait to go back to see the sunrise.
So, if you're not from El Paso or don't know anyone from EP, then you may not have heard of Chico's Tacos. When I was an undergrad at UT Austin, all the kids from El Paso were always talking about Chico's Tacos and how they missed it. Chico's has been on the Food Network, so you know it's legit (ha!). Being the avid researcher that I am, I had to visit Yelp and see some pics and reviews. I don't take Yelp reviews very seriously because, as we all know, people suck and complain about petty s***. But I did read some reviews from both native El Pasoers (is that what you call yourselves?) and visitors. Of course, a lot of the visitors didn't get it. They thought Chico's was overrated, too hyped up by natives, and not worth a visit. But for native El Pasoers (still not sure about that word), Chico's is a place that feels like home. So I knew we HAD TO GO.
Marcy ordered me a double, a burger, and fries because she thinks I am a wild, starving beast of a woman, and she had the same. In Chico's terms, a double is 6 taquitos drenched in their signature red sauce and topped with shredded cheddar cheese; a burger is two hamburger buns lathered with beans and two pink wieners split in half, fried, topped with pickles and mustard; and the fries are crinkled. If you grew up eating any sort of Tex-Mex junk food as a kid, then you should dig what Chico's has done. They went and made the childhood junk food snacks your grandma used to make when you complained about being hungry into a fast food chain. I was into it.
Here's how you eat a double and fries: Don't take yourself so seriously and accept that your about to eat with your hands all up in your mouth, then pour the green salsa on top of the taquitos for spice. After you take a bite of your shredded beef taquito, dip a couple of fries in the red salsa and cheese and channel your inner fat kid. I finished my double but had no room left for the burger, so we ate it for breakfast Sunday morning!
Leading up to my trip, I was excited to see Marcy and her hometown. The day trip to New Mexico made the entire experience even better. Everything I'd ever heard about El Paso from natives made it seem like there wasn't anything great about it, but really its natural beauty and proximity to some great natural wonders was impressive. If you haven't already, book a trip out to the old west Texas town of El Paso. You won't be disappointed.