That garrison, established in 1848, was the first of six different sites
that have been used for what is now known as Fort Bliss. Frequent Indian raids
necessitated moving the posts to deal with shifting threats -- as
did flooding by the Rio Grande. Its
location since 1893 has been on the east side of El Paso.
the moves, this post has withstood several name changes (it
became known officially as Fort Bliss in 1854), changes of command (including
Confederate forces in Texas), continued Indian skirmishes, a second
Mexican skirmish, and a war I've never heard of (the Salt War of San Elizario,
site of one of the missions I mentioned in the last entry).
The primary functions of the post have continued to morph through the
years, too: from an infantry station to the largest cavalry
post in the country (1921) to an artillery post and anti-aircraft (guided
missile) training center (beginning in the 1940s) to an army air field (Biggs,
established in 1966) and
U.S. Army Air Defense Center.
Fort Bliss is in the midst of another functional transformation right
now, thanks to the BRAC commission.
In 2005 the Pentagon began realigning and consolidating military posts
and bases across the country in an effort to streamline its unwieldy
I first learned about the acronym BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) when we
stayed at the FamCamp at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio the past two
Januarys. We could see
a lot of new construction on post in 2009 and 2010 as it prepared
for some changes in its structure and an influx of soldiers.
While some installations have been closed,
Fort Bliss is expanding its workforce by thousands of people (over
11,000, per one source I read) who are coming from
other posts in Germany and the U.S. It is being transformed into a heavy
armor training post (U.S 1st Armored Division) and its air defense
functions are being transferred to Fort Sill in Oklahoma. The transfers are
scheduled to be completed this fall.
Fort Bliss employs a lot of people: about 35,000 soldiers after
plus thousands of civilian support personnel. The majority of them work at the main post
on the east side of El Paso and
the adjacent East Fort Bliss.
You can imagine how large an economic impact this many people have
on the city of El Paso. Since they're already employed they're adding
revenue and jobs to the area, particularly in the areas of housing and
retail. The city is busy with infrastructure improvements to accommodate
them (roads, utilities, schools, etc.).
Hinman Hall, headquarters for the U.S. Army at Fort
Fort Bliss covers much more than the main post and eastern post. It's one humongous military installation
-- approximately 1,700 square miles in size! Most of the land is in New
Mexico, stretching north from El Paso to the southern boundary of the even larger White
Sands Missile Range. About 1,500 square miles of the land comprising
Fort Bliss are used for missile and artillery training and testing. If
you look at a map of New Mexico that includes the El Paso, Texas area
you'll see just how far these adjoining missile ranges stretch.
FORT BLISS RV PARK
Jim visited the post back in the '90s when one of his sons was
stationed here but this is the first time we've camped at Fort Bliss. We chose to stay
for seven nights because there is an attractive weekly rate (seven
nights for the price of six).
Although it's not
our favorite FamCamp among the dozen or so that we've used around the
country, it has enough positive features that we feel
comfortable recommending it to other active and retired military
families who are eligible to use the facilities. I must admit that we liked the
campground more than El Paso itself! Keep in mind that everyone has
different preferences re: what they seek in both a campground and
the local area. Our opinions are based on what matters to us.
Our camper and the view of the Franklin Mountains
to the west
Here are some of the things we liked about the RV park:
- easy to find following directions on the website
- no gate security to pass through to get to RV park
- convenience to facilities on the main post
- convenience to services and attractions in the city of El Paso
- good value for the cost -- $16/day for full hook-ups
(water, electricity, sewer) or
$14/day at the weekly rate
- dump station available
- 133 level concrete & gravel pull-through sites, each with a picnic table
- a generous 60-day limit in the winter and 90 days in the summer
(if you can stand the heat!)
- nice views of the Franklin Mountains to the west
- good TV, phone, and internet reception with our Verizon phones
- large activity room with TV, kitchenette, exercise equipment, and WiFi
- nice restrooms with showers for those who want to use them
- 24-hour laundry room
- everything as clean and orderly as you'd expect on a military post
- good RV neighbors (for same reason as above)
- group pavilions with BBQ grills
- pet walk areas
- military "shoppette" and gas station across from entrance to
campground (a little lower prices for fuel than private stations in
The view from my desk
Factors/features that were a little less than desirable to us:
- can't make reservations -- first come, first served (the
campground hasn't been completely full this past week, however)
- 4,000-foot elevation is a disadvantage in winter but an advantage
- not very convenient to trails in the Franklin Mountains
- situated next to US 54 (a freeway) = traffic noise
- road construction between the RV park and main post made
navigation a challenge on some days; that won't be a
problem when the work is done
- sites are fairly close together but not crowded
- lots of rules (of course, that can be a good thing)
- closest place to buy propane is several miles away on Dyer (Bob's)
- nowhere in the RV park to let a dog chase a ball or run free
- if you have a pet and stay longer than ten days, the pet must be
registered with the Fort Bliss Veterinary Service
- if you want to tent camp, I didn't see any suitable place for that
Despite the downsides we enjoyed camping in the RV park and were grateful that we
had full hookups at a reasonable cost and excellent TV, phone, and
internet connections. Those things more than made up for what we
considered to be disadvantages. When we weren't motivated to go out to
run/hike or sightsee it was nice to hunker down inside our warm camper
and read, get online, or watch TV.
OUR ACTIVITIES ON THE MAIN POST
The main post at Fort Bliss is easy to navigate compared to some
others we've visited and it's easy to reach from the RV park unless a
road is blocked during construction. When that happened, we just used a
different gate farther down US 54.
closest gate (Sheridan, on Haan Road) is about a mile south of the campground at exit
24 on US 54. That street took us directly to the commissary, PX, food
court/mall, Post Office, and hair salon where I got my hair permed. From
there it was simple to find a fitness center,
the replica museum, and a nice four-mile running-walking-cycling path.
Part of the crushed rock running
path goes by handsome houses for officers.
There are other gates convenient to the campground at exit 23 (Cassidy Road) and exit
22 (Pershing Road). Entry at the two gates we used was efficient with
our military IDs.
We bought our groceries at Walmart and Sam's Club so we can't comment
on the commissary. We did like the very large PX and the indoor mall
in which it's located. Jim and I avoid malls like the plague, but this
one is less obnoxious than most private retail malls. We enjoyed the
food court with its international selection of about fifteen different take-out and sit-down
restaurants. We had lunch there twice, which is also unusual for us. It
was hard to pass up the yummy Japanese stir fries when they gave out
generous samples and we could watch our selections sizzling on the big
grill! The price was right, too.
Outside the mall is an attractive street with a variety of specialty shops,
optical center, watch repair shop, barber shop, Paul Mitchell salon, dry cleaner,
UPS store, military clothing store, beer
and wine store, game room, etc. The complex also has a 10-screen
Above and below: more officers'
There are several fitness centers on the main post and in the
off-post residential area adjacent to the RV park. Every one of them was
undergoing renovations this week. We used two of them, both on Cassidy
Road. We preferred the one closer to Airport Road (Stout Physical
Fitness Center). Employees were busy
moving all the Nautilus equipment from one room to another but we were
able to use the machines we wanted. When the neighborhood fitness center
on Ellerthorpe is done, it'll be the most convenient to the campground
-- only half a mile away.
One day Jim went to the DEERS office on post for information about
using his Tricare insurance benefits. He also visited the Navy
recruiting office on Gerlich Street just south of the campground to
update his military records. They weren't busy; an employee
suggested he get a new ID, even though his card is permanent.
Christmas decorations are still up this week.
I went in later to get a new one, too, thinking it could be extended
another four or six years. That was a mistake. It still has the same
expiration date (too early to extend it) and the photo is awful! Jim
doesn't like his photo as much as the old one, either.
How come we both look older than our previous ID photos??? I
look ten years younger in the picture on my state drivers license,
renewed less than two years ago. I'm probably one of the few people in
this country that likes my drivers license photo!
A couple days ago while I was getting my hair permed, Jim discovered
a nice four-mile oval finely crushed rock path on the main post. We were
back out running/hiking on it yesterday and today. Too bad we didn't
know about it earlier in the week. It would have been a good place for
me to cycle, too.
Jim (in white shirt) runs ahead
of Cody and me on the path.
The trail winds past the replica museum, some impressive buildings, a Japanese
garden, large parade fields, officers' housing, and several memorials.
As I circled around one of the very long fields used for parades and drills I saw
several people crossing over to a small grandstand on the other side:
Above and below: the Franklin Mountains and
officers' housing form a backdrop to the large parade fields.
By the time I circled around to the other side of the oval on the running path, some sort of
ceremony was being conducted:
There are numerous access points to the trail. Twice we parked near
the replica museum, which made it convenient to visit there, too.
OLD FORT BLISS REPLICA MUSEUM
There are several museums on post that are free and open to the
public, not just military families. They include the Air Defense
Artillery Museum, Museum of the Noncommissioned Officer, Fort Bliss
Museum and Study Center, and the Old Fort Bliss Replica Museum.
The only one we visited during this
trip is the reconstruction of the Magoffinsville location of the post
from 1854-1868. It is called the Old Fort Bliss Replica Museum.
The replica was finished in 1948 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of
the establishment of the original fort.
Four adobe buildings contain exhibits that depict the lives of
soldiers and civilians at the fort in the mid-1850s. Daily activities
necessary to house, feed, and maintain a military force of about 150 men at a remote
frontier outpost are interpreted in the period rooms and work yard. All
of the uniforms, tools, and equipment are authentic reproductions --
rather than artifacts -- so they can be used by costumed
interpreters during school programs and special events.
I was able to see the exhibits in three of the four buildings but had
to stay behind "fencing" in two of them. The rooms are fully open only on days
when school kids are going through or for special museum events when
interpreters are available.
The first building I entered, Sutler's Store, was the most accessible
the day I visited. This is the reconstruction of a general store that was open to both the
soldiers and civilians at Magoffinsville:
The two buildings that aren't fully accessible house the
kitchen . . .
. . . the pottery, replica examples of Hispanic
and Anglo clothing of the era, a loom, spinning wheel, and other tools
of the clothing trade . . .
. . . the barracks, harness shop, carpenter's
shop, blacksmith, and wagon shed . . .
The fourth building was closed when I visited; it contains
interpretive exhibits and historical artifacts from subsequent locations
of Fort Bliss to the present time (remember I said its current location is the sixth?).
The Old Fort Bliss Museum is open Monday through Saturday. Entry is
free but donations are encouraged. If you're on post, it's worth the
time to check it out.
Next entry: hiking in Franklin Mountains
State Park and riding on the Wyler Aerial Tramway to mile-high
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2011 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil