This post and reading list were compiled for the Detroit Hiking Club which is coming to the region in a few months. Others might find the list useful as well. Feel free to leave your favorite titles in the comments section.
Many books and a few films come to mind when asked for reading suggestions about the El Paso southwest. Here are a few of my favorite titles:
You can’t go wrong with the books of Cormac McCarthy. This modern-day writer lived in El Paso for many years (just down the street from where I now live) and the area comes through in many of his works.
McCarthy’s Border Trilogy consists of three novels (obviously) with overlapping characters. There is a fair amount of Spanish dialog in them, so knowing a bit of that language helps. The titles are: All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing and Cities of the Plain.
McCarthy also wrote No Country For Old Men. This thriller is set along the Texas/Mexico border, including El Paso. It’s a wild ride.
Both All the Pretty Horses and No Country For Old Men were made into fabulous films as well. No Country For Old Men won four Academy Awards in 2007, including Best Picture.
Author Nevada Barr has made a living penning mystery thrillers set in national parks. They may not be high literature, but sell well at national parks. Plus the novels are fun reads when you are sitting in the park featured. Barr was a NPS ranger before switching to writing full-time. Interestingly, her first book, Track of the Cat, was written in and about Guadalupe Mountains National Park when she was a ranger there in the 1990s.
Barr also wrote a book about Carlsbad Caverns titled Blind Descent. That book was set in one of the undeveloped caves at the park so readers get a feel for what it’s like to climb, crawl and get dirty in a much more primitive environment than most visitors will ever see.
This first book may straddle the line between fact and fiction. Legend and Lore of the Guadalupe Mountains contains many stories of the region – maybe true, maybe not. All are great stories to tell around the campfire.
The Butterfield Overland Mail route only ran for a few years in the late 1850s before the railroad made it obsolete. The southern route of the line ran through both El Paso and what is now Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Waterman Ormsby was a newspaper writer who rode all the way from St. Louis to San Francisco on the very first westbound coach. His book, The Butterfield Overland Mail, is a day-by-day account of that journey. People were tougher back then.
For many years Leon Metz was the go-to historian for great tales of the lives of people who shaped the El Paso borderland. Two good choices are El Paso Chronicles and Border. Border tells the story of the entire 2,000 mile border between Mexico and the US, with El Paso right in the middle. Chronicles is a timeline of milestone events in El Paso from 1300 to 1993.
The Great Southwest Nature Factbook is a guide to plants, animals and natural features in the southwest. Not all the items described exist in the Chihuahuan Desert, where our trip will take place, but it’s a great read to get fun facts to impress your family and hiking buddies.
Since I’m just a cactus-hugging hiker and mountain biker, I asked an English professor at The University of Texas at El Paso what she’d put on a list for a group of adventurers from “up north”. Here’s her answer:
“There are some good fiction books that aren’t about El Paso but are set in El Paso or the general area.
The Tennis Partner by Abraham Verghese and
Ben Saenz’s book Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club, which is a collection of short stories set in El Paso and Juarez.
For non-fiction, I think David Romo’s book Ringside Seat to a Revolution: An Underground Cultural History of El Paso and Juarez 1893-1923 is fascinating.
Another good book that is not set in El Paso but gives great insight into immigration issues is Enrique’s Journey: The Story of a Boy’s Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with his Mother by Sonia Nazario. It reads like a novel but is a true story based on a series of Pulitzer Prize winning stories by Nazario in the LA Times. I found it riveting.”
There won’t be a test at the end of your southwest adventure. That’s good for me as well. It’s been a long time since I’ve read many of books on this reading list and I might not score well either. The goal is to be entertained and educated and to take home fantastic memories.