On college campuses, few traditions last one hundred years. The constantly changing student body and faculty members make it difficult for established customs to survive but at UTEP the tradition of having picnics has not only thrived it has been a cornerstone of the Miner experience. The picnics have evolved from a small group of co-ed students meeting at park on a holiday to an annual gathering of the University’s alumni in cities across the globe on Miner PICK-Nic day.
In the early years of the University, when the student decided to have a picnic the location was of importance. In 1926, the students learned this lesson the hard way when they decided, at the last minute, to picnic at the Mesilla Dam on San Jacinto Day. Once they arrived they discovered they would have to share the Dam with ladies from the Junior College. “Not wishing to be associated with such people” the Miners had to find a new place to picnic. The popular locations for Miner picnics included such places as Leasburg Dam, Mesilla Dam, Dripping Springs, White Sands, and the Black Range Lodge all located in New Mexico. Closer locations included Hueco Tanks, MeKelligon Canyon, Tom Mays Park, the Franklin Mountains, the banks of the Rio Grande, and a place students referred to as “the Rocks” located in the Upper Valley. Fraternities, sororities, and dorm halls often opted to picnic on campus in the yards and canyons located around their lodges or halls. One of the more interesting and dangerous locations for a picnic was at the top of the Franklin Mountains at the KROD-TV transmitter. Those attending suggested that the ride to the top was “worse than a Coney Island roller coaster.”
The Miners hardly needed to find a reason to casually picnic, but some of the more prevalent picnic motives included the following: to attract perspective student members into clubs or organizations; to welcome new club members; to celebrate successes; to welcome freshmen students; to socialize with the student body; to raise money for war efforts; compete in games; to showcase talents; to fund-raise for activities; to participate in “senior-ditch-day”; to entice local high school students to enroll at the University; and, of course, to eat. Picnics were so common-place in 1941 that the Student Association created a picnic committee to organize and facilitate picnics hosted by the Student Association.
The centerpiece of every picnic is the food and Miner picnics featured typical and, in some cases, curious foods. In November 1941, the Varsity Singers hosted a picnic on the Rocks at which they featured their singing talents. The food was served chuck-wagon style and consisted of hot-dogs, potato salad, donuts, cokes, and coffee. The Student Association sponsored an All-Mines picnic in 1944 and served barbecue, potato salad, potato chips, and coke. The Press Club’s annual spring picnic, also in 1944, offered a similar menu with the inclusion of pickles, olives, and chocolate cake. In 1946 a group of engineering students met at Mesilla Dam with a picnic of hot dogs, potato salad, and popcorn. In 1973 hamburgers were added to the typical menu at a Fourth of July picnic outside Bell Hall. Watermelon also became a staple of UTEP picnics in 1970’s and was a featured food at picnics such as the “old-fashioned picnic” and a picnic for international students. A common ingredient in most picnic foods in El Paso, regardless of the chef, was dirt. In 1955, one student complained that at a picnic on the dry banks of the Rio Grande, “the food served was well sanded rate steaks, complete with gritty beans and similar potato chips.” The student also suggested that even though the food was grainy, everyone had an enjoyable time.
Picnics and barbecues have become ingrained into UTEP’s culture. In 2012, Alumni Relations organized the first annual Alumni PICK-NIC. Alumni chapters in twenty cities participated including many cities from outside of Texas such as Orlando, Florida, Chicago, Illinois, and Philadelphia as well as international locations in Mexico, British Columbia, and the Kingdom of Bhutan. On campus events like orientations, homecomings, graduations, blood-drives, club recognition, cancer-awareness, and fundraising are just a few reasons one might see a picnic at UTEP today. The strongest and longest lasting Miner tradition has changed little over the last hundred years and it is likely that Miner picnicking will continue for many more years to come.
[Sources: The Prospector, 30 April 1925, 24 February 1940, 20 April, 1940, 27 April 1940, 11 May 1940, 12 October 1940, 8 February 1941, 22 March 1941, 29 March 1941, 5 April 1941, 19 April 1941, 1 November 1941, 8 November 1941, 13 December 1941, 14 March 1942, 21 November 1942, 5 December 1942, 3 March 1943, 20 March 1943, 3 April 1943, 1 May 1943, 15 January 1944, 18 March 1844, 25 March 1944, 19 October 1944, 26 October 1944, 10 November 1945, 2 March 1946, 9 March 1946, 20 April 1946, 4 May 1946, 10 April 1948, 2 October 1948, 1 April 1950, 29 March 1952, 26 September 1953, 24 April 1954, 1 May 1954, 28 March, 1955, 18 March 1956, 29 October 1956, 24 October 1959, 17 March 1962, 1 March 1973, 28 June 1973, and 9 August 1973.]
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.