Downtown El Paso’s character is shaped by the US–Mexico border. In times past, outlaws and exiles from either side of the border would take refuge across the river, and today’s traffic remains considerable and not entirely uncontroversial. Manual labourers come north to find undocumented jobs, and US companies secretly dump their toxic waste on the south side. Drugs are a major issue, too. The border itself, the Rio Grande, has caused its share of disagreements: the river changed course quite often in the 1800s, and it was not until the 1960s, when it was run through a concrete channel, that it was made permanent.
An attractive 55-acre park, the Chamizal National Memorial, on the east side of downtown off Paisano Drive, was built to commemorate the settling of the border dispute; it has a small museum (Tues–Sat 10am–5pm; free). Elsewhere, the small but engrossing Border Patrol Museum, 4315 Transmountain Drive (Tues–Sat 9am–5pm; free), explains the work of the patrollers and highlights the ingenuity of smugglers.
Crossing into Mexico
On the Rio Grande, the Cordova Bridge – or Bridge of the Americas – heads across into Mexico, where there’s a larger park and a number of museums; there are no formalities, so long as you have a multiple-entry visa for the USA and don’t travel more than twenty or so miles south of the border. Crossing here is free; at the three other bridges – two downtown and one near the Ysleta Mission – you have to pay a 35¢ fee.