The mission trail was founded way back in 1598 by Governor Don Juan de Oñate of Spain, and was the first mission trail in America. Oñate led a caravan of 500 colonists along with 12 Franciscan missionaries on an expedition to settle a new province. The colonists traveled for weeks over miles of Chihuahuan desert before finally reaching the south banks of the Rio Grande.
It was along this route that Franciscan missionaries built the missions at Ysleta, Socorro, Presidio Chapel of San Elizario, and Mision de Guadalupe, which is in Mexico. Many of the displaced natives fled to start new communities along the Rio Grande after the 1680 Pueblo Revolt, which was the largest Indian revolt in the history of the Americas. Spanish conquistadors, Franciscan clerics and native Indians took refuge along the southern bank of the Rio Grande in these Missions.
Two of the missions are the oldest continuously operated missions in the United States and a chapel. An interesting fact about them is that they used to be south of the Rio Grande in Mexico, but since the river has changed its course over the years, they are now in the U.S.
We went to the Mission Trail Association to pick up some brochures and maps. Across the street was our first stop The Ysleta Mission.
The Ysleta Mission is recognized as the oldest continuously operated parish in the State of Texas.
The Mission has dance demonstrations in the courtyard and on Saturdays, visitors can watch bread baking and taste fresh samples. Boy that sounds mighty good about now.
Piro Indians built Socorro’s first permanent adobe church in 1691 in what was then Socorro, Mexico. The exterior of Socorro Mission represents a thunderbird, while the interior is in the shape of a cross.
The interior of the church’s ceiling has decorated vigas (wooden beams). The mission was rebuilt in 1843 after the Old Socorro Mission was destroyed by a devastating flood in 1829. The new structure reused the roof support beams and furnishings of the old church. The cross-beams in the ceiling are recognized as the oldest original relics in Texas.
The mission had a cemetery which was so old you couldn’t read anything on the graves. They were probably from the 1600s.
San Elizario Chapel and Presidio (fort) was established in 1789 as Spanish protection against foreign control and Indian raids. In 1829 there was a flood and the chapel was rebuilt by using the original bricks from the original Presidio walls in the 1840’s. It continues to be used as an active church to this day.
We didn’t hear the 4 bells but I heard that they sound great when their ringing in all their different tones.
All three missions are Texas Historic Sites, included in the National Register of Historic Places, and certified by the National Parks Service as part of El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro. The missions are owned and operated by the Diocese of El Paso and managed by a parish administrator.
The missions were all beautiful and kept very clean for visitors and for the services that they each have.
All 3 missions were built from mud bricks, they were made with a combination of dirt, water, and manure.
We didn’t know it at the time but where our last stop was at the San Elizario Chapel, the city of San Elizario has a history of it’s own. It’s listed in the National Register of Historic Places and was designated a Texas State Cultural District in 2013 (whatever a cultural district in Texas means who knows?) You can take walking tour of the city where it shows some of historic structures in San Elizario, they are a representative sample of the buildings and sites that formed one of the oldest villages in the United States.
Los Portales is the name of the road that the Museum & Information center is on in San Elizario.
We didn’t take a tour but we walked around the old town a bit.
Came to Shooters Smokin BBQ, which is named that because it’s right next to a famous jail. El Paso County’s first prison and . . . last but not least, The jail was made famous by the infamous outlaw Billy the Kid.
According to Sheriff Pat Garrett and legend, this is the only jail Billy The Kid ever broke into. Billy was said to have broken his good friend Melquiades Segura out of the Jail in December of 1876. Billy The Kid convinced Sheriff Charles Kerber that he was a Texas Ranger with a prisoner and he opened the door in the darkness. Billy overtook the Sheriff, no shots were fired and they escaped with a quick ride into Mexico.
We ended a great day by going to Carlos & Mickey’s for dinner, a highly recommended Mexican restaurant, it was as good as everyone said!