Los Cuentos de Cristo Rey
What stories this mountain could tell!
By Lisa Kay Tate
Reprinted from El Paso Scene
(October 2001 issue)
©El Paso Scene
One of the area’s oldest residents, Mount Cristo Rey, stands
quietly and proudly at the edge of El Paso overlooking several
communities and two nations.
The mountain has been a place of worship, study, rest and
reflection for millions of years, providing a habitat for local flora
and fauna and a landmark for travelers. Even though thousands
of El Pasoans pass by the mountain everyday, most are unaware
of its legacy in shaping the history of their hometown.
With October hosting such events as Celebrations of Our
Mountains, and The Feast Day Celebration of Christ the King,
many individuals are eager to act as a voice for Cristo Rey and
share a few of its countless stories.
A witness to history.
El Paso historian Alex Apostolides said Mount Cristo Rey
served as, among other things, a landmark, an observation post
and an object of religious worship by the many cultures of the
El Paso/Juarez area.
“For thousands of years it was a landmark,” Apostolides said.
“It has seen Oñate’s people passing by, and the shifting of the
Apostolides said Cristo Rey also witnessed the travels of Aztec
empire traders, who went as far north as what is now Idaho, perhaps
building shrines to gods such as Quetzalcoatl and Tlaloc,
the god of wind and rain, just as Christian travelers erected their own shrines.
Long before the mountain was known as Cristo Rey, its peak
was known by some as El Cerro de los Muleros (The Hill of the Mule Trainers).
“Mule trains in the area were used to take salt down to
Chihuahua,” he said. “You could see some mule trains on the
roads around the mountains as recently as 20 years ago.”
Cristo Rey also saw its share of conflict between the area’s cultures
including Apache raids and Pancho Villa’s battle for independence.
The mountain was also a well-defended border during
World War II (some remnants of bunkers and fox holes can still
be seen), and is still the site of continual struggles between U.S.
Border Patrol agents and illegal immigrants.
Even though the mountain is smaller in scale to neighboring
ranges such as the Franklin and Juarez mountains, Apostolides
said Cristo Rey is “imposing” for its size.
“It has a personality all its own,” he said. “You can see it far
away from the south, and it is a hill like no other around it.”
Apostolides said Cristo Rey’s role in the natural, cultural and
spiritual past of the area makes it a vital part of Southwest history.
“It saw the landscape change, it saw the growth of El Paso del
Norte, and the building of Asarco,” he concluded. “It was an
eyewitness to everything that happened here for the past 47 million years.”