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Wilderness retreat in El Paso.

In the 24,000 acres of Franklin Mountain State Park, visitors find wilderness solitude just a few miles from the bustle of the sprawling city below. "This is the largest urban park within city limits in the world," says Mike Episcopo, vice-chair of El Paso's chapter of the Sierra Club. "You've got 2 million peopl in the El Paso-Juarez area, but when you get up in the canyons, it's like you'r in the middle of nowhere."

The Franklin Mountains rise above the Chihuahuan Desert in a sparse display of exposed rocky slopes, steep shady ravines, and loose alluvial fans. Mule deer bolt up hillsides, raptors glide on overhead thermals, and occasionally a plump woodrat may be seen foraging among the trees.

For an overview of the area's habitat and history, stop at the Wilderness Park Museum, 4301 Transmountain Road. Outside the museum, native plant species such as yucca, ocotillo, barrel cactus, and agave line a looped 2-mile nature trail, along with examples of early Native American architecture. Inside, five life-size dioramas detail human progression in the region, from early hunters t the farming pueblo dwellers.

Right off Transmountain Road at the base of the western slope of the Franklins is the Tom Mays area, base point for hiking trails that lead to Aztec Cave, Wes Cottonwood Spring, East Cottonwood Spring, and Mundy Spring, the site of ancien Indian mortars. Expect terrific views of Texas, New Mexico, and Mexico from the Crest Trail, which follows the spine of the mountains (north and south access i from the Transmountain Road overlook at the summit).

Guided group tours of the museum and nature trails are available. Museum hours are 9 to 4:45 Tuesdays through Sundays. Admission is free; call (915) 755-4332. For hikes organized by other groups, contact the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition at 532-9645. For exact locations, hiking distances, or interesting features of the trails, check the map available at the Tom Mays area or get directions from park personnel.

To reach Transmountain Road from east El Paso, take U.S. Highway 54 (Patriot Highway) north; from the west, take Interstate 10.
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Title Annotation:Texas
Author:Porter, Pamela
Publication:Sunset
Date:Sep 1, 1994
Words:351
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