Centennial Museum and Chihuahuan Desert Gardens

#5 in Best Things To Do in El Paso
 picture
Bill Herndon/Flickr

Key Info

610 W. University Ave.

Price & Hours

Free
Varies by attraction

Details

Free, Parks and Gardens Type
1 to 2 hours Time to Spend

scorecard

  • 5.0Value
  • 2.0Facilities
  • 4.0Atmosphere

Unsurprisingly, El Paso's hot climate is a result of its location in the Chihuahuan Desert, which extends through parts of western Texas, southern New Mexico and northern Mexico. The Centennial Museum and the Chihuahuan Desert Gardens, located on the University of Texas at El Paso campus, safeguard the desert's cultural and natural history. At the museum, permanent exhibits detail the Chihuahuan Desert's history. It also includes temporary exhibits that focus on various topics related to the area, such as children being held at Tornillo's detention center and life in El Paso during World War II.

The Chihuahuan Gardens showcase more than 800 different plants that live in the desert. Visitors can walk through the gardens to view the plants in their natural habitat, enjoy a few water features or sit on one of the benches to simply take in the atmosphere.

Several buildings on campus are modeled after traditional Bhutanese architecture. In fact, the campus has an authentic Bhutanese Lhakhang (or a traditional temple) that sits close to the museum and gardens. The Lhakhang, which was built in Washington, D.C., was a gift from Bhutan to the United States for the 2008 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. It was dismantled after the festival and rebuilt on UTEP's grounds in 2015. Today, visitors are welcome to tour the Lhakhang during special hours.

Reviewers gave mixed feedback about the museum. Many loved the temporary exhibits but felt that the permanent exhibition about the area's history needed some updating. They also said that, while lovely, the gardens had inconsistent labeling, so it was difficult to tell plants apart. All previous visitors unanimously agreed that the Lhakhang is not to be missed, routinely praising it for its beauty.

The museum and gardens are currently closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Normal operating hours for the museum are Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; it is closed on holidays and days when UTEP football plays at home. The gardens are typically open daily from sunrise to sunset. The Lhakhang welcomes visitors on Wednesdays and the first Saturday of every month from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., excluding holidays, game days and during times of inclement weather. Admission to all three sites is free. You'll find the property less than 2 miles northwest of the Plaza Theatre and the El Paso Museum of Art. Visit the university's website to learn more.

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Past tourists raved about the park. Many enjoyed their hikes and loved the views, adding that future travelers should try to time their hikes around sunset. Others warned that it can get particularly hot here in summer, so be sure to pack plenty of provisions.

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