Welcome to the El Paso Mission Trail
The two mission churches of Ysleta and
Socorro and the presidio chapel of San Elizario, located
along the El Paso Mission Trail, stand as enduring symbols
of the long and rich history of their respective communities,
as well as the nations of Spain, Mexico and the
United States. All three are privately owned by the
Catholic Diocese and are actively supported by their
local parishes. These landmarks and their environs are
listed in the National Register Historic Places.
Socorro Road (FM 258), which runs from Ysleta to
Socorro to San Elizario, is the designated Mission Trail.
This nine-mile route represents a segment of El Camino
Real de Tierra Adentro (Royal Road of the Interior), the
historic trail that extended from Mexico City to Santa
Fe, and linked the missions,-agricultural communites,
haciendas(landed estates) and presidios (military forts)
to distant trade and supply routes. It is thr oldest and
once the longest road in North America, and was designated
as a National Historic Trail in 2000.
Historic El Paso: The Mission Valley
The First Colonists and Missionaries
When the Spanish explorers arrived in this new world,
the semi-namadic Mansos and Sumas occupied the El Paso
area. The Mansos, many of whom lived along the Rio Grande, earned their
Spanish, manso means "quiet" or "tame". These people hunted, gathered
and practiced horticulture. For thousands of years, indigenous
peoples encountered each other as they traveled and traded
the many trails that later became El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro.
The Spanish colonial government chose Don Juan de
Oñate, a wealthy nobleman from Zacatecas, to organize an
expedition to settle the lands north of New Spain (Mexico) and establish
a "New" Mexico.
The expedition departed Santa Barbara, Chihuahua, in January
1598. The 500 colonists included soldiers, their wives, children, Franciscan
clergy, Indians and servants.
More than eighty carts and wagons and thousands of head
of livestock formed a caravan almost two miles long. The
caravan traveled a northerly route for weeks across the
Chihuahuan Desert, until it reached the banks of the Rio
Grande in the vicinity of present-day San Elizario on April
30, 1598, Onate called for a rest and celebration. The
Spanish were joined by local Manso Indians. Together they
held a Mass and enjoyed a Thanksgiving feast. This celebration
took place in an area that today the United States, twenty-three years
before the Pilgrims feast at Plymouth, Massachusetts.
Oñate performed the ceremony of La Toma (Taking
Possession), in which he claimed the new province for
King Phillip ll.
The colonists trekked upstream and crossed the Rio
Grande near today's La Hacienda Café on May 4, 1598.
They named that ford El Paso del Río del Norte (The Pass
Accross the River of the North). The caravan continued
north to found permanent settlements in northern New
Mexico, extending the Camino Real from Mexico City to
Santa Fe - a distance of more than 1,500 miles.
In 1659, Fray García de San Francisco arrived
at the Pass of the North to convert the local Manso and
Suma lndians. On December 8, 1659, he held a Mass in this newly
erected adobe struture that was dedicated Nuestra
Señora de Guadalupe del Paso (Our Lady of Guadalupe at
the Pass). In 1662, with the help of the Indians, Fray
García began building a larger mission on a rocky
plateau west of the river. The community of El Paso del
Norte grew up around the church, which still stands on
the Plaza in downtown Ciudad Juárez. It remains the
oldest structure in the El Paso area.
In 1680, the biggest Indian revolt in the history of the
Americas took place in northern New Mexico. Pueblo
tribes united to overthrow the Spanish colonial rulers.
Almost 2,000 Spaniards and hundreds of Tigua and Piro
Indians fled south on El Camino Real to the safety of El
Paso del Norte. As a result, new communities were established
on the south side of the river for the re-settlement
of the refugees - San Lorenzo, Senecú del Sur, Ysleta del
Sur and Socorro del Sur.
The refugees from New Mexico established El Paso del Norte as their
headquarters and prepared for the reconquest of northern New Mexico,
which eventually occurred in 1692.
A CHANGED RIVER VALLEY
The Rio Grande encountered by the early Spanish
explorers in the El Paso del Norte region was very different
than it is todav. Meandering over a wide flood plain,
the river teemed with more than twenty species of
native fish. Thr cottonwood bosque (woods), meadows
and wetlands that lined the river were alive with a wide
variety of birds and animals, including the majestic
jaguar. Most years, snowmelt in the upper basin
brought spring floods; this flooding provided fertile soil
for the planting of corn, wheat, grapes, apricots and
other crops. 'The Rio Grande is considered to be a
provider of life, and is central to many of the Tigua Indians
religious ceremonies and customs.
The river presented great challenges to the settlers of the El Paso del
Norte region. The Massive floods of 1740 and 1829 greatly damaged the missions
at Ysleta and Socorro, and the flood of 1829 also destroyed the chapel at
The turbulent Rio Grande also played a role in the shifting
geopolitical boundaries of the borderlands. Prior to 1829,
the churches st Ysleta, Socorro and San Elizario were
located on the south bank of the river. After the
floodwaters of 1829 had subsided, the Rio Grande had
,cut a new channel to the southwest, placing Ysleta,
Socoro and San Elizario on the northern bank of the
Following the U.S.-Mexico War (1846-1848), the deepest channel of the Rio
Grande was declared by the United States as the international boundary, thereby
permanently placing these three comunities in the Republic of Texas.
The construction of Elephant Butte Dam in 1916 put an
end to the annual floods that devastated the valley.
During the 1930s, thc river was straightened for flood
protection, and cottonwoods were cut clown. Today, the
river serves as an irrigation waterway for El and
the surrounding valley farms.
At the El Paso city limits, and adjacent to the Mission
Trail, is the 372-acre Rio Bosque Wetlands Park. The
park consist of trails and restored habitats, riverside
woods and native ecosystems once found in abundance
in the river valley. Managed by the University of Texas
at El Paso, the park is open to the public.
Mission Ysleta is located at 131 S. Zaragosa Rd. Spanish
services are offered Monday-Friday at 7:00am and 6:00pm;
the church is open to the pubic in the morning before 6:00am.
Call 915-859-9848 for further information.
Ysleta Mission is thr oldest continuously active parish
in the state of Texas, and the community of Ysleta is
the oldest town in Texas. The town was one of several
agricultural communities started along the Rio Grandc
by Spaniards and Indians after the 1680 Pueblo Revolt.
The Tigua Indians, who were forced to flee their pueblo
at Isleta, New Mexico, have since occupied the area
On October 12, l660, the first Mass was held in Ysleta,
and a temporary mission church wac built. In attendance
were New Mcxico Governor Don Antonio de Otermín,
150 soldiers, Spanish colonists and 317 Indians,
including more than 100 Tiguas. In 1692, the Tiguas
founded Ysleta del Sur Pueblo,and by 1692, the tribe
built a larger mission, Corpus Cristi de los Tiguas de
Ysleta. The Spanish term, del sur (of the south) differentiates
the southern pueblo from the northern mother pueblo of
Isleta, New Mexico. The church was also called the
San Antonio Mission after the patron saint of thr Tiguas,
This building, dedicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel
lasted until the disastrous flood of 1740, and was rebuilt
in 1744 on what was then established farmland.
1744 mission was later washed away bv the flood of
1829. In late 1851 the present Ysleta mission was completed
and reopened for services. The mission appeared as a
simple, rectangular stack of blocks. The facade was later
changed to a pitched, gable shape.
About 1897, the gable was enlarged and a beehive-shaped
dome bell tower was added.
In 1907, most of the church was destroyed by fire. Only
the sacristy remained unscathed. The church was
rebuilt using the original sacristy and the remaining
adobe walls. The gabled facade was stepped upward
with Mission Revival detailing, limited fenestrations
and unadorned surfaces, culminating with a high,
central arch. The massive bell tower was also altered,
adding the familiar silver dome, capping three centuries
of natural disasters.
The Tiguas are still loyal to their patron saint, San
Antonio de Padua, whose name they identify with the mission.
The Tigua feast day of San Antonio is observed on June
13, with a morning mass followed by traditonal dances.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel feast day is celebrated around
the 16th of July with a festive bazaar.
The Tiguas, who helped the United States military as
scouts during the 19th century Indian wars, were finally
recognized as a tribe by the state of Texas in 1967 and
by the United States Congress in 1968.
Socorro (help), took its name from Socorro, New Mexico,
from which the Piro Indians fled following the Pueblo
Revolt of 1680. Records show that Socorro was officially
founded during a Mass delivered by Fray Anonio Guerra
on October 13, 1680.
Socorro's first permanent mission was in use bv circa
1691. At that time, Socorro was comprised of sixty Piro
Indian families and fifteen Spanish families. The
mission was built by the Piros under the direction of
Franciscan missionaries and dedicated as Nuestra Señora
de limpía Conception de los Piros de
Socorro del Sur. (Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception
of the Piros of Socorro of the South).
Many of the parishoners refer to their
mission as San Miguel (St. Michael), in honor of their
patron saint; or as La Purísima, in honor of the
Blessed Virgin, Forever Pure. When the 1740 flood destroyed
the original structure, the parishioners replaced it
nearby. That second structure was also lost to flooding
in 1829. Rebuilding was completed in 1843.
Archaeological evidence suggests that decorative,
carved cottonwood and cypress roof supports called vigas
(beams) and decorative corbels supporting the vigas
were salvaged from Socorro's, first mission,
dating to circa 1691. Oral histories relate that the
Piro people painted the designs on thc vigas and corbels
using plant-based pigments. The walls were constructed
of adobe and finished with plaster. The front stepped
facade with its center-placed bell tower has been compared
to the decorative design motifs associated with
many Pueblo Indian tribes. the building represents
the best elements of Indian and Spanish design still
preserved in El Paso County.
Other significant features of the Socorro Mission include theadjacent rectory,
dating to the 1840s period of mission construction; the camposanto (cemetery)
featues four unique small descansos (structures) that serve as resting areas.
The large open area in front of the mission recalls the former plaza, and
adjoining portions of the acequias (irrigation system) also remain.
The mission was completely restored through a ten-year, community-based
collaboration and reopened for use with a Mass on December 7, 2005.
Presidio Chapel San Elizario
Spain sought to protect its interests in the northern frontier
by establishing a network of presidios (military
forts). A presidio was built in 1684 in El Paso del Norte. In
1789, a presidio named after San Elcear (San Elceario),
the French patron saint of soldiers, was established at
the site of the Hacienda de los Tiburcios, located some
thirty miles downriver from El Paso del Norte. The settlement
that grew up around the presidio became known
as San Elizario (a corrupted version of San Elcear). The
presidio included a post chapel that served the soldiers
and their families.
The flood of 1829 destroyed the original chapel, which was rebuilt
in the same vicinity. When Mexico won its independence from Spain in
1821, the importance of the presidio diminished. San Elizario gradually
became a prosperous farming community and became the first seat of
El Paso County government in 1850.
The present-day chapel was completed in 1882. Since then, the exterior of the
building has changed little, except for the front facade. The interior was
damaged by fire in 1935 and has experienced dramatic changes. A pressed-tin
ceiling covers the original ceiling beams, and the plain wood columns have
been boxed in by decorative posts.
The San Elizario Chapel reflects the influence of European
architectural styles on the earlier, box-like missions of the region.
this large, elevated adobe structure anchors the plaza, and its imposing
presence exemplifies the influence of the chapel on the surrounding
Features of the surrounding landscape, such as the orchard
to the east of the chapel, the plaza, and a substantial stock of adobe
buildings that comprise the San Elizario Historic District, provide
a setting compatible with the 19th century establishment of the present
chapel. The formal rectangular grid pattern of streets, plaza and building
orientation continues to reflect the elements of Spanish colonial town
LOS PORTALES (CASA GARCIA)
(Late 1850s) 12751 Church St.
"Los Portales" was constructed in the 1850s by Gregorio N. Garcia for
use as a residence. Garcia was a prominent citizen of the community who served as Captain of the Texas Rangers in 1870 and County Judge of El Paso in 1877. His son of the same name served as Justice of the Peace.
The structure has an adobe brick foundation and walls. The flat roof is supported by cotton-wood rafters (vigas), saplings and thatch. Its principal elevation is marked by a distinctive inset gallery (portal), hence the name Los Portales. Pedimented lintels on the window and door frames, along with milled wood supports, display the best example of Territorial Style on the tour.
"Don Gregorio" donated Los Portales to the town for use as a school in 1870. The first teacher, Octaviano Ambrosio Larrazolo, later became governor of New Mexico (1919-1921) and a U.S. Senator (1928-1929). The building was converted into apartments in the late 1930s and later served as offices for the San Elizario Independent School District. Owned by El Paso County, Los Portales was renovated in 2000, and it currently serves as a museum and information center operated by the San Elizario Genealogy and Historical Society.
The three historic churches are privtely owned by the Catholic
Diocese and preform regular services.
The Mission Trail is 15 miles from downtown El Paso. Take Interstate 10 east from downtown and turn right at Zaragosa Road. Follow the signs to Socorro Road. All three missions are accessible from Socorro Road.
131 S. Zaragosa Rd.
El Paso, Texas
Tours available, please call ahead.
Hours of Operation:
Monday - Saturday 8 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Monday - Friday 7:00 a.m., Saturday 5:00 p.m.
Sunday, 7:30 a.m. 9:00 a.m. 1:00 p.m.
Monday - Saturday 10:00 a.m, - 4:00 p.m.
July 11, 12 , 13
Ysleta Mission Festival weekend includes entertainment from top local bands, has been known to provide
heading acts from the Tejano capital of the world, games, booths, great food, and plenty to enjoy.
Socorro Mission (Nuestra Señora de la Purisima Concepcion de Los Piros) |
328 S. Nevada Rd, El Paso, Texas
Mass Schedule: Saturday 5:00 p.m., Sunday 7:30 a.m. - 10:30 a.m. & 12:00 p.m.
Hours of Operation
Monday - Friday 10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
Saturday 10:00 a.m. and Sunday 9:00 a.m. -1:00 p.m.
Tours available, please call ahead
Wednesday - Friday 10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. 1:00 p.m. & 3:00 p.m.
| Festival |
Our lady of the Immaculate
September 26, 27,28
Presidio Chapel San Elizario|
1521 San Elizario Rd. (On the Plaza)
El Paso, Texas
|For More Information Contact:
El Paso Mission Trail Association,
El Paso Convention and Visitors Bureau:
Los Portales Museum & Information Center
1521 San Elizario
(located across from Chapel)
Tuesday through Saturday Open 10:00 a.m. 2:00 p.m.
12:00 to 4:00 p.m., Sunday.
Admission is free. (915) 851-1632
Tigua Cultural Center
The center is home to several gift shops featuring Tigua
handcrafted pottery, jewelry, and fine art.
Gift Shops: Wednesday - Sunday 10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
Museum: Wednesday - Sunday 9:00 a.m., 4:00 p.m.
Native Dances: Saturday & Sunday 11:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m. & 3:00 p.m.
Tours available, please call ahead
305 Yaya Lane@Socorro Road
Our Lady of Immaculate Conception at Socorro of the South
328 S. Nevarez Road
Socorro, Texas 79927
Rio Bosque Wetlands Park
Managed by UTEP, this 372-acre city-owned park
sitsalong the original course of the Rio Grande.
Walk the trails and enjoy hundreds of bird species.
Open daily; dawn to dusk.
Loop 375 to Pan American Drive, 1.5 miles to bridge
First Thanksgiving Conference & Celebration
April 26, 2008, 8:00 a.m - 5:00 p.m.
San Elizario Plaza