Quick: Name the people in New York mostly likely to have never visited the Empire State Building or take the Staten Island Ferry to the Statue of Liberty. Without putting any thought into it, who in Seattle has probably never have ascended the elevators of the Space Needle or spent an afternoon at The Music Experience and The Science Fiction Hall of Fame? Who do you think has been to San Francisco, yet has never set foot on Alcatraz Island?
Answer: Those would be respectively the residents of New York, Seattle, and San Francisco themselves.
We’re all guilty of it. We all have a tendency to do it. We are, in fact, the least likely visitors to the attractions offered by our own communities . . . unless we’re trying to show off our cities or local areas to the occasional guest, and then only if we have the time to do so. Think about it. Do you go to your local art museum? Do you visit the zoo? Do you go downtown, camera in hand, and just photograph the glass and concrete edifices lining the canyon-like streets? Do you search for that one great photo composition of the statue in your town square? If you’re like most people, the answer is invariably, “Oh, I’ll get around to it one day.” In actuality though, chances are you never will unless you take off the weekend, get out of the house, get behind the wheel of your car or take city transit, and make the effort. It’s not so much that familiarity breeds contempt so much as the knowledge that you enjoy easy and quick access to those nearby sights.
I live in El Paso, Texas—one of the most beautiful and photogenic jewels in the American Desert Southwest located in an area rich with natural wonders and surrounded by quaint Western towns. Yet I frequently hear the lament that El Paso offers nothing to do.
Are you kidding me?
Art: We have in our local art museum a substantial portion of the incredible Samuel Kress Collection, not to mention the works of Tom Lea, Eugene Thurston, and many others. For more recent artists we have on display at various galleries the works of Krystyna Robbins, Mauricio Mora, Alberto Escamilla, Daniel Padilla, and many, many more. And the great thing about these galleries? Since they have works for sale, gallery owners just love to have you come in a browse for free hoping you’ll take advantage of the low prices and great artistry produced here locally.
Architecture: Hard to believe today, but El Paso was once known as the most progressive and modern city in the Desert Southwest. Henry C. Trost left his mark here with numerous examples. El Paso was the first city west of the Mississippi to have an indoor mall. El Paso claims the first concrete-framed skyscraper ever built in the entire United States, the Mills Building of 1911. Conrad Hilton built his very first Hilton Hotel here, the soon to be restored Plaza. Samuel Kress’s downtown building still stands today as an incredible tribute to Moor-influenced Spanish architecture. Just how innovative and modern were El Paso architecture and construction techniques? Not located in El Paso, but built by the El Paso-based Robert E. McKee Construction was the iconic, Paul Williams-designed Theme Building on the grounds of Los Angeles International Airport. For more historical sites El Paso offers the Mission Trail with the Ysleta Mission (established in 1682, rebuilt in 1851), Socorro Mission (built in 1682, currently under renovation), and San Elizario Chapel built in 1789. Now be honest—you though all the neat, really historic stuff 17th Century stuff was all in New England, didn’t you.
Day trips are something many people just do not do out of their home bases. In El Paso’s case that is really unfortunate. I’ve lost track of how many El Paso residents who’ve told me they’ve never visited the stark, blindingly white, surreal gypsum dunes at the White Sands National Monument. People who’ve never descended into the magnificent, jaw-dropping, stalactite-decorated Carlsbad Caverns, or who in the summer months stayed at sunset to watch hundreds of thousands of bats spiral out of the cavern in a dense cloud of fluttering wings. Fellow El Pasoans who have never made the drive to the tall pines surrounding the nearby mountain communities of Ruidoso and Cloudcroft in New Mexico.
Weekend trips get even more interesting. Historic Santa Fe to the north and Tombstone to the West have whole sections of town still frozen in the mid-19th Century or even earlier. Native American Country in the Four-Corners Area (where New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah all join at a central point) boasts the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde, Canyon de Chelly, the Painted Desert, the Petrified Forest, and little further up the road Barringer Meteor Crater, the Grand Canyon, and the red rocks of Sedona.
And I’m sure the area in which you live is no different. Don’t be the guy who complains that there’s nothing locally to do, or the one who says, “Oh, I’ll get around to it one day.” Make the effort now, before you find that “one day” never got here before time or physical ability deserted you. Leave a legacy of doing rather than merely thinking about it. It’s like the joke about the old air traffic controller who, at his annual flight physical, was ordered by the flight surgeon to give up half his sex life, and who later lamented he didn’t know if that meant whether he was supposed to give up thinking about it or talking about it.