09 JUL 2018: Canadians are flocking to El Paso, but the city’s tourism marketing manager admits that she’s not yet sure why. It could be that Texas’s sixth largest city is the “cowboy boot capital” of the state, or, given its location on the Mexican border, the “Mexican food capital of the US.” My guess? It’s the area’s status as birthplace of the Margarita and that tours featuring the tequila-based cocktail are as ubiquitous as cacti in the surrounding desert landscape (more on that later).

Perhaps a little more likely, suggests Maegan Hruby of the 2018 surge, is that Canadians are discovering that El Paso is quintessential Texas.

“We’re what people think Texas is: very authentic, no skyscrapers… We’re very different than the Big Four (Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio),” she says.

Certainly, El Paso stands alone in one important respect: it is the westernmost city in the state, bordering New Mexico, but also closer to San Diego, Ca., than Houston (by about 50 kilometres). Combined with Ciudad Juárez, it is also the second largest binational metropolitan area along the US-Mexico border (after San Diego-Tijuana); as such, it’s not surprising that the city is home to the National Border Patrol Museum, which covers the history of the US border patrol and is a particularly timely attraction at a time when immigration issues are dominating US and global headlines.

But it is the natural surroundings that truly sets El Paso apart. Perched on the Rio Grande and in the midst of the Chihuahuan Desert, with three state parks within its borders, it is an adventurer’s and nature-lover’s paradise, boasting a parched frontier and mountainous foothills ideal for hiking, biking and rock climbing. Top of the list is Franklin Mountain State Park, only 15 minutes from the city, which boasts 160 kilometres of trails, as well as plenty of more sedentary activity options, from bird watching to picnicking. Hueco Tanks state park, meanwhile, is a world-class site for mountain climbing and, especially, bouldering, and is renowned for its native history, which is still accessible through thousands of rock and cave paintings.

For those looking to experience the natural setting in a more contained environment, Keystone Heritage Park and Desert Botanical Gardens features a wide range of desert vegetation and 206 identified bird species throughout its 21 hectares.

Of course, the city proper has plenty of cultural callings, from old Spanish missions to museums, and farmers’ markets to amusement parks, but we promised to talk tequila – as they do in El Paso-Juárez.

The famed cocktail is attributed to one Pancho Morales, a bartender at Tommy’s Place in Juárez who stumbled across the recipe while improvising a drink order in 1949. A customer, he says, asked for a Magnolia, but rather than admitting he didn’t know how to make the drink, he mixed tequila, Cointreau and lime and gave it to her.

In recounting the origin story to Texas Monthly magazine in 1974, he said, “She says, ‘Oh, this is not a Magnolia, but it is very good.’ And, I said, ‘Oh, I thought you said Margarita.’ You see, daisy, in Spanish, is margarita. The reason I called it the Margarita is because I was thinking of the flower margarita, like the magnolia. She liked it. That’s how it originated.”

And the rest is history. The drink spread – ultimately to be consumed in a salt-rimmed glass with lemon or lime slice; tequila imports into the US skyrocketed; and El Paso now claims “some of the best margaritas around,” with the city’s web site stating, “With so many quality options heavily populating the city, you can’t go wrong ordering a margarita from most bars and authentic Mexican or Tex-Mex restaurants here.”

To help the intellectually curious, the site goes on to list some of the top stops on its “Margarita Trail.” And if you ask me, any city that has one of those is clearly worth its salt.

For more, go to www.visitelpaso.com

email icon facebook logo twitter logo


Michael Baginski

Editor at Large, Mike Baginski is well known and well respected within the industry across Canada, the US, in the Caribbean, Mexico and numerous other destinations outside North America.

Read more from Michael Baginski

comments powered by Disqus