The Pass to the North

The stories I always gathered were about the name, El Paso, which was short for “El Paseo del Norte,” which translates, in my mind, as “The Pass to the North.”

Interstate 10 bends around the Franklin Mountains, describing and following the Rio Grande’s pattern, with the tiny mountains hinting at the vestigial and primordial birth of the Rockies that soar as the range gets younger, further north.

As the lyrics go, “Mountains come out of the sky and stand there…” (Yes)

Fair enough. Digging around roadside history, though, I uncovered a tiny nugget: this is the most northern Rocky Mountain pass that stays snow-free year-round. It’s been a trade route since before the Spanish were the first Europeans to wander this way, circa 1536. (9th Century Runes in NM notwithstanding.)

I’ve seen El Paso itself snow-bound with the mountain tops sporting a dusting of dandruff-like flakes, but snow rarely sticks around. There’s a huge monument to Juan de Onate, celebrating his driving cattle through here (roughly thanksgiving week, 1598).

The name, then, is derived as much from it being the northern-most (essentially) snow-free Rocky Mountain pass, the Pass to the North.

Further north of El Paso, TX, there’s another roadside monument that testifies to the harsh conditions and rigors of travel, the “Dead Man’s Trail.”

jornada del muerto
Breezing along, early spring day, 90 miles takes just a few heartbeats longer than hour, in air-conditioned comfort.

About the author: Born and raised in East Texas, Kramer Wetzel, settled in a South Austin trailer park before trailer parks were cool. He now lives in San Antonio, Texas.

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