Stone Heart – 8″X10″, oil on canvas, 2012
I thought I would try my hand at capturing some HDR shots of the Smelter Cemetery on El Paso’s westside. This was a little different for me because I had to setup shots using a tripod. Normally I just shoot hand held. To create a shot in HDR, the software requires at least 3 shots to sandwich into 1 picture the total high dynamic range. These were the best ones:
Usually clouds vex me and are either blown out white or grey and nondescript. There are 16 shots in total and they really capture the range of whites to dark greys in the clouds quite nicely. The full set can be viewed here:
Usually about once a year I get a craving for El Paso’s favorite local rolled taco dive:
I called my friend Vince and we headed over to Chico’s and had double orders with fries (no extra cheese, I’m getting to old). We went to the Alameda location and across the street sits Evergreen Cemetery. After stuffing ourselves with rolled tacos, we finished up and decided to walk them off by checking the cemetery out.
View Evergreen Cemetery in a larger map
Concordia Cemetery may be the “big thing” in town, due to the John Wesley Hardin tie in but Evergreen has its own uniqueness that makes it worth visiting. It was established in 1894, about 38 years after Concordia and there’s quite a bit of different between the two. Most of Concordia is dirt and loosely organized; Evergreen has a lot of grassy areas, trees and tightly laid out plots.
The cemetery is still active so there are whole generations of El Pasoians here including many prominent names that you will find on businesses and streets. It’s a lot larger than it looks and it took us about 45 minutes to cover the main path, skimming the plots as we went.
Like most cemeteries, vandals have left their mark hacking off the heads and hands of many of the statues. For the most part though it seems to have survived better than Concordia. There were some neat features I haven’t noticed before at any of the other cemeteries I’ve visited, namely these old limey portraits affixed the graves:
Oxidation was really present on many of the markers and I’m not sure if that was just unique to the stone that were used there or if it was from watering over the years to keep the
weeds grass green.
Many of the headstones were really ornate, more than I’ve noticed elsewhere in town. There’s lots of statue use as well. We also found some cool gothic lettering on one:
There was even this odd juxtaposition of names that was quite amusing:
We even found this fellow who was waiting for his hole to be dug:
We had covered the main path and circled back to the entrance so it was time to pack it in and head back to our days jobs. You can visit my full flickr set here:
Tucked away high on a bluff off of I-10, is probably one of the most striking sights you will see on the westside of El Paso. The Smelter Cemetery sits in the shadow of Asarco’s huge stacks, a striking juxtaposition of industrial might to the bleak serenity of the cemetery’s many white crosses.
View Smelter Cemetery in a larger map
You’ed almost not know the cemetery is here unless you really looked around while sitting at the Executive exit light. There’s no signs and where it sits on the hill causes it to blend into the desert. It’s accessible from a dirt road off of San Marcos drive though there is a gate that is usually locked, preventing driving access to the main entrance. A sign states that a key is available in the San Marcos neighborhood but I usually just park and walk, its not too far.
The entrance is very utilitarian. The welded pipe and mesh are the biggest clue to the sites working class roots, most likely from the very same stacks towering above. I’ve been here many times and it’s always well maintained. There is some irony in the current dismantling of the Asarco site. Many of the cemetery’s residents were put here by those very stacks and they soon may be blown up leaving the cemetery as the last record to the cemetery’s industrial past.
Even though its apparent the relatives keep a watchful eye on the site it has not escaped vandalism that seems to be so prevalent in many of the cemeteries I’ve visited. Compare the same statue from 2004 to now:
Somewhere between 2004 and now there must have been a big effort to mark all the graves as well. The first time I was here many of the unmarked graves were just piles of rocks. Most now also have a simple white wooden cross. That really gives the place a old western feel, kind of like the Sad Hill Cemetery from “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”
Interestingly the cemetery did have a brief appearance in the NBC miniseries “Kingpin” in 2003. There was a scene where the main drug lord character meets with a DEA agent for information. The meeting takes place somewhere in or around the cemetery. I was probably one of 5 people who actually watched that miniseries but the scene stuck in my head and lead me to actually try and find out if the location was real. There are a bunch of unique grave markers, many handmade, which make the visit worth the short hike.