As we were looking for the El Paso Zoo, we chanced upon a sign pointing to the Chamizal Memorial – of course, jumpingnorman (myself) got intrigued and so I asked my wife if she would allow me ten minutes to explore the area…hehehe…
I read of this historical site before in a magazine. It was built to recognize the 1963 (or was it 64?- whatever, it was before I was born) amicable resolution of the dispute between the USA and Mexico over this nice section of the borderland.
The 55-acre park look a bit dry (it was April) and I did not see any eye-catching monument except for a little building with very nice wall painting --- the Los Paisanos gallery. It does seem that the site also has an amphitheater and from the posters, I do see that they do hold amazing events in this location. The place is the home for the annual Siglo de Oro, Chamizal Festivals and Music Under the Stars.
But personally, I think the place really needs some kind of gigantic memorial – I mean if this was a border dispute (where USA got the best part of the deal), don’t you think we should put at least something that looks like the Eiffel? Oh well, I’m just too worldly…
The museum does have a 20 minute video documenting the history of the border – but remember, I had only 10 minutes (the family was waiting in the car!)
Back in the day, the US defeated Mexico in the Mexican-American War. The treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo which ended the war set the eastern border between the two countries at the "deepest channel of the Rio Grande" (Rio Bravo to the Mexicans, because frankly, it ain't all that Grande).
Unfortunately, the river moved a lot in the intervening years, leading to significant disputes as to where the border actually was. The nastiest dispute was just east of downtown El Paso, in an forty-acre area known as the Chamizal.
Kennedy eventually solved the problem in typical 1960's fashion: build a new drainage ditch to move the river to along the correct border. The disputed land the US kept became Chamizal National Memorial. The river became a nasty little drainage ditch which is often completely dry thanks to water consumption in El Paso, Juarez, Las Cruces, and points north.
The park is now used for summer concerts and other events, focusing primarily on the bicultural heritage of El Paso. The visitor center is painted with a variety of murals that also demonstrate the shared heritage of the US and Mexico. We're all just one big NAFTA family!
The Chamizal National Memorial honors the peaceful settlement of a long-term border dispute between the United States and Mexico. The border was accepted to be along the Rio Grande (US name)/Rio Bravo (Mexican name) as per the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which ended the US-Mexican War in 1848. In 1864 there was massive flooding which altered the course of the river starting a border dispute that would last almost 100 years. Several attempts to solve the dispute failed until President John F. Kennedy initiated the Chamizal Convention to resolve the location of the border with Mexican President Lopez Mateos. The dispute was resolved peacefully in 1963. It is nice to see two countries resolve a dispute in peace! Start your visit at the Visitors Center where the friendly, knowledgeable rangers can answer any questions you may have about your visit. Park grounds are open 5 AM and 10 PM and the visitors center is open 10 AM to 5 PM.
When I visited there was a display of dolls wearing traditional clothing from the various states in Mexico. I chose to photograph the dolls from the two states I have seen: Sonora and Chihuahua, then I chose three more with nice outfits. Love the dress on the one from Chiapas (photo 5).
Also on site is the Los Paisanos Gallery which showcases visual arts, to include paintings and sculptures, from around the world. Unfortunately, when I visited they were changing displays so it was closed.
Also along one corridor inside the Visitors Center are photographs and descriptions of some of the other National Park Service sites nearby. This one is Timpanogos Cave in Utah (which I have not seen yet).
One of the first things you will notice as you approach the Visitors Center is the bold, bright, and beautiful mural on the wall of the building painted by Carlos Flores. This mural highlights the differences and similarities between the cultures of the two countries and is designed to promote friendship and understanding between the US and Mexico and our peoples. A very worthwhile goal. There are also a couple of murals inside the building including one depicting the first Thanksgiving, in El Paso.
There are recreations of the original markers from the 1848 borders along with markers showing where part of the old border was located. For quite a while the border was at the mercy of the whims of the river and periodic floods changed the border. Modern techniques have given us a permanent demarcation between the countries and better control the whims of the river.
From here you can see the crossing point between Juarez and El Paso. Both countries have used the entire portion of the disputed territory as parks for the people to promote friendship between the two countries and to educate the people.
A colleague of mine in El Paso tells me that she likes to run in the park in the morning, before the heat shows up. While I certainly condone such activity, I'm not sure this is where I would do it. One morning, as I drove across the city, the haze was so thick over Juarez that you could barely see across the drainage ditch... I mean... river. Still, if the air quality is OK, this would make a nice place for picnics, jogging, or whatever.
There is a nice relaxing garden with a fountain just outside the Visitors Center. There are also several covered picnic tables inside the park.
There is a large stage set up outside where they very frequently have a wide variety of music and dance shows.
Also on the wall of the building is a plaque dedicated to Stephen Mather who helped develop the concept of the National Park Service.