ARCHIVE: Secrets beneath our feet

El Paso News

If you’ve lived in El Paso for long — you’ve probably heard rumors of an elaborate maze of hidden tunnels beneath the city.

Their existence has been the stuff of legend for more than 150 years. We set out to separate fact from fiction — in our special report — the secrets beneath our feet.

From high atop Scenic Drive — the city is spread out before you…. but there’s more to El Paso — than what meets the eye.

“Right over there next to those orange barrels. That’s where it was.”

It turns out this city is full of secrets — many of them right beneath our feet.

According to historian Ken Hudnall, there’s several hundreds of miles of tunnels.

Hudnall is an El Paso historian and author — and perhaps the region’s leading expert on tunnels.

He claims El Paso once had upwards of 900 miles of secret pathways — most of which date back to the 1880’s.

 “I’ve had some tell me they’ve been out to Horizon City, up into the Franklins. The gentleman who showed me the tunnel area has been into Mexico a number of times.” Said Hudnall.

Most have since been destroyed or filled in — but you can still find several entrances in some of the city’s older buildings.

 “Over half the buildings downtown are connected. They’ve got openings even the owners don’t know about.”

One of the more notable entrances is located beneath the Turtle House Apartments, in what is now Sunset Heights.

According to legend, people used to walk into this building in the 1800’s, never to be heard or seen from again.

Hudnall explains “The legend says there’s a house on the other side of the river that also has the very unique turtle on the side and the tunnel went to there.”

He claims many of the tunnels were initially built to smuggle Chinese immigrants into the United States from Mexico, but as time went on — that changed.

The tunnels later used to transport alcohol during prohibition — and eventually- drugs and Mexican immigrants.

That leads us to some of the most legendary tunnels in El Paso – at historic El Paso High School.

Tunnel tours beneath El Paso High School help fund everything from graduations and proms to college scholarships, and after a trip beneath the 97 year old building — it’s easy to see why they’re so popular.

“As you can tell, cement was poured to fill in…” Linda Troncoso from El Paso High Alumni Association explains.

The school’s sub-basement was once used as a morgue to store bodies during the 1918 Spanish flu. At least one former teacher claims to have found an entire classroom supposedly hidden behind a wall of cinder blocks.

“He said he could just see books and pencils and everything stacked up. It was just like a fire drill and the students were gone” said Troncoso.

As for the tunnels themselves — four of them once departed from El Paso High’s basement, while the other two left school grounds.

“Tunnels were very active at the beginning of the century. That’s how Pancho Villa traveled from Juarez to the city. There were tunnels from sunset to Ysleta to downtown El Paso.” Troncoso told us.

There are even rumors of an underground city. “We’re talking about homes that would be every bit as beautiful as anything above ground.” Hundall said.

But not everyone is convinced the tunnels exist.

Customs and Border Protection only know of one, it was found in 2010,  and ran under the Rio Grande right near the Bridge of the Americas. They say it was a small tunnel. Two by two and ran 130 feet from Mexico all the way to the United States.

That tunnel has since been filled in with concrete. As far as how many others exist, it depends on who you talk to.

 “It’s a mystery to some extent, yes.”

A mystery hidden right beneath our feet.

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