Known as the boot capitol of the world, El Paso is the place to go for a pair of hand-crafted cowboy boots. That said, El Paso offers visitors much more than fancy footwear; in fact this Texas border town is also home to a bevy of interesting museums. From traditional favorites to a few eclectic collections, there’s a museum for just about everyone in the rapidly growing cultural haven. And the good new is, not only are many of the area museums free, but they all offer excellent access for wheelchair-users and slow walkers.
Border Patrol Museum
At the top of the list is the fascinating, if not quirky, National Border Patrol Museum (www.borderpatrolmuseum.com). Located just off Highway 375 in the northeastern section of the city, this museum is hard to miss – just look for the Border Patrol helicopter in front. Accessible parking is available in back, with barrier-free access around to the ramped front entrance. Inside, there’s level access over to the information desk, the accessible restrooms and into all of the galleries.
Exhibits include a large gallery of Border Patrol vehicles, including a snowmobile, a Pontiac Firebird, an OH-6A observation helicopter, and even a 1931 Model A that was seized in a smuggling operation. There’s also a whole case of seized weapons, right next to an equally large display of duty carry weapons, as well as a memorial room for fallen agents.
The exhibits on the far end of the room trace the history of the Border Patrol, and include lots of photos, clippings, uniforms, training materials and equipment. Information about electric surveillance methods, the horse patrol and special operations is also presented. Perhaps the most interesting part of the museum is the section dedicated to confiscated vehicles that were used to try and cross the border, including motorcycles, a coyote’s boat, a motorized hang glider, and a smuggling cart that passed beneath a bridge at the El Paso port of entry. Top it off with some Border Patrol Art and a honor guard display, and you have a well rounded look at this federal agency that was created in 1924.
And although you can certainly spend some money in the gift shop, there’s no admission charge at the National Border Patrol Museum..
War Eagles Air Museum
Technically the War Eagles Air Museum (www.war-eagles-air-museum.com) is located in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, but since it’s just a 20- minute drive from downtown El Paso, it’s also worth a mention here. Housed at the off-the-beaten-path Dona Ana County Airport, the museum offers accessible parking in front with level access to the building, and plenty of room to maneuver a wheelchair around the vintage planes and autos in the adjacent hangar. And if you need a little help getting around, they also have a loaner scooter on hand.
The 30-some aircraft on display, which were flown in WWII, the Korean War and Vietnam, range from the popular Vought F4U-4 Corsair to a rare TF-51 Mustang trainer. Other Exhibits include vintage flight simulators, engines, models, old photographs, newspapers and uniforms. As an added bonus, the volunteers – many of who are veterans – are quite knowledgeable about the aircraft; and depending on how crowded it is, they might even let you behind the ropes for a closer look.
There’s also level access over to the ground vehicle annex, which has a substantial collection of over 50 vintage automobiles. Highlights include a 1914 Model T, a 1936 Packard convertible, a 1959 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud, and even a 1960 Nash Rambler. There’s also level access to an outdoor area that borders an active runway, where there are a few more warbirds. And if you’re lucky you may even see a touch-and go-or two.
El Paso Holocaust Museum
Although it’s a sobering memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, The El Paso Holocaust Museum elpasoholocaustmuseum.org is worth a visit, as it also puts a personal slant on this tragedy, and serves to honor those who survived by telling their stories. Accessible parking is available in the lot behind the museum, with barrier-free access over to the front door. Inside, the only place that isn’t wheelchair-accessible is the railcar – which has steps – but there’s an alternate accessible pathway around that exhibit.
The exhibits are laid out in chronological order, and include information on life before the Holocaust, events leading up to it, the horrors of the concentration camps, and the aftermath of this humanitarian crisis. Video clips and photographs provide some historical context, while uniforms, personal effects and family treasures put a human face on this horrific event. The photographs of the allies liberating the concentration camps are especially moving.
At the end, there’s a wall that honors non-Jews who risked their lives to help the Jews – from the famous Oskar Schlinder, to Andrus and Maria Urbanos, who hid eight Jews, including the founder of the museum. There’s also a gallery of Holocaust survivors who made El Paso their home, and some video clips that provide an oral history of their Holocaust experiences. A parting message of “Remember, Reflect, Respond” is engraved on a wall near the exit.
It’s a small but powerful museum. And although there’s no admission charge, donations are appreciated.
El Paso Museum of Art
Located in the heart of the revitalized downtown district, the El Paso Museum of Art (epma.art) is just across the street from the Judson F. Williams Convention Center. There’s level access through automatic doors to this 7,000 square-foot building, and elevator access to the second floor. The first floor houses a variety or rotating exhibits, the Museum Store and classrooms, while the permanent collection is displayed upstairs. There are accessible restrooms on both levels, and there’s excellent access through all the galleries.
The second-floor permanent collection includes contemporary works in a wide range of media, largely by artists from the Southwest; as well as an impressive Latin American collection of Spanish colonial paintings. The American Gallery features figure paintings still lifes, landscapes and portraits, and includes Gilbert Stuart’s iconic portrait of George Washington – the one that’s found on the one dollar bill. Over in the European Gallery you’ll be treated to an outstanding collection of oil paintings which date back to the thirteenth century. Finally don’t miss the little nook that houses a collection of Mexican retablos – domestic devotional paintings on tin or copper, generally created by anonymous artists.
Best of all there’s no charge to get your art fix at the El Paso Museum of Art.
And after you explore the galleries, don’t miss the beautifully restored Plaza Theater, which is located next door to the museum. It’s a work of art by itself.
El Paso Museum of History
Last but not least, don’t miss the El Paso Museum of History (history.elpasotexas.gov), which is just a short one-block walk from the El Paso Museum of Art. Not only is the route level and wheelchair-accessible, but there are also several pieces of public art to enjoy along the way. Alternatively the El Paso Streetcar – which stops right in front of the museum – is also wheelchair-accessible.
The museum is easy to spot, as a wall of LCD touchscreens adorn the building, and present an interactive collage of historic and contemporary El Paso. Past the touchscreens, there’s level access to the automatic front door, with plenty of room to maneuver a wheelchair around the galleries.
The museum serves to promote the understanding and significance of the rich multicultural and multinational history of the area. The majority of the first-floor is devoted to the permanent exhibit, Changing Pass: People, Land and Memory, which traces area history back 400-plus years, starting with the Jornada Mongollan settlers. Exhibits also focus on the Spanish colonial missions of the 1500s, and the creation of Fort Bliss in 1840. This US Army post began with just 257 men on a small ranch, who defended the town from Apache and Comanche raids. The exhibit concludes with a look at the 20th century, and offers a good collection of photographs and artifacts from all eras.
There’s also a children’s play area and a small gift shop on the the first floor, while the second floor – which features elevator access – is devoted to changing exhibits that focus on world history. Together the rotating exhibits and the permanent collection offer an enlightening look at the global community. And like the El Paso Museum of Art, there’s also no admission fee to the El Paso Museum of History.