The Arroyo: The Unknown Natural Feature of UTEP

By on October 9, 2012

Photo from 1965, the blue line traces the arroyo through the campus

Weaving its way through the UTEP campus, under buildings and roads, runs one of the university’s more natural features—the arroyo. The arroyo was created as water ran from the top of the mountain and hills downward creating a crevice in the stone. Only during heavy rainstorms does the arroyo have water streaming through it today; however, this geological element continues to house indigenous plant and animal life. When the campus was first built the arroyo remained exposed and, when dry, was used as a natural pathway between the campus and surrounding community. As the campus grew and more buildings sprang up on the mountainside the arroyo began to disappear under the structures and roadways. By constructing the buildings so that they straddled the gully, the architects were careful to preserve the arroyo.

Arroyo in 1986 from Dzong La

Naturally, the location and nearly hidden nature of the arroyo has caused the university some issues in the past. In 1954 several male students’ wallets were stolen. After an investigation it was found that the suspected thieves used the arroyo to gain access to the college and to elude the police by following it to the Rio Grande and crossing into Mexico. In the 1950’s and 1960’s it was a popular location for male dormitory residents to set off fireworks and play with dynamite. In 1972 The Prospector reported that they apprehended an average of 110 “aliens per month” who used the arroyo as a “natural passage way” into the United States. The arroyo was also used as a sewage dump from the Providence Memorial Hospital and caused an unhealthy and at times “foul” odor to emanate throughout the campus. The sewage problem was fixed in 1975 when a new sewer line was built into parts of the arroyo. The Transformations plans will allow students and faculty to enjoy the natural scenery of one of UTEP’s best kept secrets.

Artistic depiction of the arroyo after transformation

[Sources: The Prospector, 1/9/1954, 10/29/1956, 9/10/1972, 12/1/1972, 9/2/1975.]

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Ashley Swarthout was a student in the Masters of Arts in Teaching English program at UTEP. She graduated in May 2013 and is now teaches dual credit at Chapin High School.