Friday, March 10, 2006

Fort Bliss (?)

I have been here almost two days now, and can honestly say I have never been to a place with a more deceptive name.

Okay, okay, so the post isn't named for the emotional state of bliss, but rather for General Tasker Howard Bliss, Army Chief of Staff and General of the Army after WWI. But I can say without much hesitation that Ft. Bliss is the ugliest Army post I have ever visited.

Although it occupies a seemingly ideal setting at the base of the Franklin Mountains, the post itself is almost completely barren. There are a few palm trees scattered here and there, but the landscape is mostly comprised of fields of gravel and dust, interspersed with motor pools or warehouses surrounded by barbed wire fences. The base is comprised mainly of Air Defense units, and for some reason they decided to paint each of the one-or-two story buildings either tan or brown, so that from a distance the installation is virtually indistinguishable from the surrounding desert.

(To be honest, the building I'm quartered in isn't that bad. It is one of a small conclave of buildings with red Spanish tile roofs, and a green courtyard in the center. But unlike Ft. Sill, OK -- another former frontier post out in the middle of nowhere -- which designed all of its buildings in this aesthetically pleasing style, these buildings are the exception at Ft. Bliss).

The city of El Paso, just outside the gates, is not much better. To the south of post, where it nestles against the Mexican border, is an ugly industrial district that looks like a continuous truck stop. To the north of post, as the town climbs the foothills, the residential neighborhood is comprised of small, one-story homes in various states of disrepair. I'm willing to be proven wrong about El Paso. If anybody knows any scenic drives or beautiful suburbs, feel free to pass along a recommendation. (I did have an excellent dinner the other day at a local Mexican restaurant, Carlo's and Mickey's). But otherwise, I have to think that El Paso/Ft. Bliss is one of the more depressing places in the USA.

I'm tempted to sneak across the border to visit Juarez, which is visible from the elevated portions of Highway 10. But having seen the movie Traffic, I'm afraid that with my haircut I'd be mistaken for a DEA agent, and thus immediately kidnapped and given the cattle prod treatment.