In 1598, an expedition led by Juan de OÃ±ate (known as “the Last Conquistador”) tried to take a shortcut through the desert to New Mexico. Desperate for water, they were elated to find the Rio Grande, which led them to the present-day town of San Elizario, just outside of El Paso.
An indigenous tribe of Manso Indians were living in the region at the time, and the story of their encounters, followed eventually by the founding of several missions in the 1600s and 1700s, is one worth exploring along the Mission Trail – one of the oldest roads in North America.
Nine miles connect three historic locations. Start out in San Elizario, a charming and well-preserved tiny borough with several historic buildings, including San Elizario Chapel. Kids might particularly enjoy the San Elizario Jail, rumored to be the only one Billy the Kid ever broke into to rescue a friend. The visitor’s center next to the chapel shows a video and has several informational pamphlets to start you on your journey.
The other two surviving missions along the U.S. portion of the trail are Socorro and Ysleta. Ysleta is the oldest continuously operating church in Texas. Each mission is uniquely stunning, some of the finest examples of living history in Texas.
Admission is free to all of the missions.
– Ysleta Mission: 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday; closed Sunday and holidays
– Socorro Mission: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday; 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday
– San Elizario Presidio Chapel: 7 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Monday through Friday; open for Mass services Saturday and Sunday
Things to Know/Bring
Restrooms are available along the trail at the Mission Valley Visitors Center, Speaking Rock Entertainment Center, Tigua Cultural Center and the Los Portales Museum and Information Center. Each of these historic mission locations is still an active church, and visitors are asked to be respectful of these places of worship.
Free at each mission location