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Best Hikes In El Paso: The Franklin Mountains B-36 Crash Site

Basic Information

  • Name: Franklin Mountain B-36 Crash Site
  • Where: El Paso, Texas
  • Distance: 2.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,000 feet
  • Time: 3-4 hours
  • More Information: El Paso Times

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Narrative

A few months ago I became aware of a crash of a B-36 bomber in El Paso’s Franklin Mountains when doing some research on local air crashes for a class I was taking for my Masters Degree in Aeronautical Science.  In the 1950’s the B-36 was the key strategic long range bomber for the US Air Force.  During its time in service the B-36 was the largest piston engine aircraft in the world and the bomber is still recognized for having the longest wingspan of any combat aircraft ever built.  So this is obviously quite a big plane that went down in the Franklins.

The crash in the Franklin Mountains happened on December 11, 1953 when the B-36 was flying from Carswell Air Force Base outside of Fort Worth, Texas to Biggs Air Force Base (Now Biggs Army Airfield) outside of El Paso, Texas.  Due to poor weather conditions the B-36 was kept in a holding pattern over Salt Flat, Texas near the Guadalupe Mountains before finally be given permission to proceed towards Biggs.  It was during the landing attempt towards Biggs that the aircraft crashed due to a combination of winter weather and poor radio commands from the air traffic controllers on the ground.  Here is a great posting from an El Paso Times archivist that shows local reactions to the crash.

Last known picture of the plane taken from an observer on the ground shortly before the crash.

Here are the names of the nine crew members who died in the crash, there was no survivors:

Lt. Col. Hermen Gerick            Aircraft  Commander
Major George C. Morford       Pilot
Major Douglas A. Miner          Navigator
1st Lt. Gary B. Fent                  Flight Engineer
M Sgt Royal Freeman               Radio Operator
A/1c Edwin D. Howe                 Gunner
A/2c Frank Silvestri                  Gunner
1st Lt James M. Harvey            492nd Bomb Squadron Staff Flight Engineer
1st Sgt Dewey Taliaferro           Passenger

For those interested you can read the complete military report on this accident here.

b-36 crash site

Using Google Earth and searching the Internet I was able to pin point where the crash occurred in the Franklins. This location is little known and there is no trail to the crash site.  However, armed with my print outs from Google Earth I decided to go ahead and find this crash site on a recent weekend when the weather was cooperative.  Though there is no trail to reach the crash site there is at least a trail that accesses the lower slopes of the mountains before having to scale up the side of the mountain.  This trail begins at the very end of Stanton Street that begins in downtown El Paso and travels northeast and ends at this trailhead:

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The trail is easy to spot because you can’t miss seeing this water tower:

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In this picture I am standing next to the water tower and looking towards the parking area where I could see my Ford parked below:

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Here is the trail that leads to the base of the mountains with the antennas from the Wyler Aerial Tramway visible:

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As I followed the trail I could see that it turned towards the south and followed the base of the mountain in that direction:

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I stopped at this point on the trail where this pointed rock is located:

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Here is the view from the trail looking south with the pointed rock on the left:

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Here is the view from the trail up the steep side of the mountains where the crash site is located:

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However, this is the type of terrain I had to climb through in order to reach the crash site since there was no trail from this point on:

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The best way to reach the crash site is by climbing up the ravine pictured above.  As I climbed up the side of the mountain I took a look behind me and could see UTEP’s Sun Bowl Stadium back dropped by the slums of Juarez, Mexico:

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As I got to the higher reaches of the mountain I began to escape from the thick desert foliage that flourished in the ravine, but there was still plenty of cactus and yucca plants to be careful of:

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Something I wasn’t expecting to see on this hike though was wildlife:

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If you look closely at the center of the picture of above you can see the mule deer that I saw running up the side of the mountain.  The deer moved very fast and was soon out of sight before I could snap another picture.  I continued to climb up the mountain and towards the rock pillar pictured below:

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That is when I began to see the first signs of debris from the B-36 crash:

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Eventually I came upon a very large piece of debris which may have been part of one of the landing gears:

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This debris can be found by walking parallel to the large rock wall pictured below:

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If you look closely at the photograph above you actually can see the large piece of crash debris.  Here was the view from the upper reaches of the mountain looking once again towards Juarez:

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Here is a closer look of the Sun Bowl from this viewpoint:

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From this viewpoint I then began to walk parallel across the mountain to look for more debris:

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I was just above a prominent rock pillar on the side of the mountain when I noticed something peculiar on the rock:

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It looked like some kind of memorial on the rock:

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So I walked down to the rock pillar and took a closer look at the torch memorial:

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From the base of the rock I noticed a whole lot more of debris from the crash:

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Then I could make out even larger debris right below the rock:

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This had to be the epicenter of the crash because I could see areas where the fire from the crash was so hot that it melted and burned the rocks:

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Here was the B-36’s landing gear:

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Here is the view towards western El Paso from the crash site:

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Here is a zoomed in view from the crash site towards the trail head about 1,000 feet below:

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As I headed further down the mountain I came upon this propeller:

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The B-36 had six rear mounted propellers and this propeller was the only one I found.  Some prior visitor to the crash site was nice enough to leave this American flag patch on the propeller:

One of the jet turbines that powered these propellers was lying near by:

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There was plenty more debris that I continued to stumble upon as I proceeded down the mountain

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This debris may have been part of the frame of the fuselage:

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As I continued further down the mountain I was surprised to find yet even more debris:

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I even came upon another set of landing gear:

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As soon as I came upon this rock slab that was the point where I found no more debris and then proceeded to walk back down to the trail below:

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From this rock slab here is the view back up the side of the mountain where the debris field from the B-36 crash is located:

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By searching around the two rock outcroppings that is the easiest way to find the majority of the wreckage on the mountain:

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From the rock slab it was actually a pretty easy hike back down the trail through the ravine I accessed the crash site from initially:

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At the end of the ravine I came upon the trail again that would take me back to my truck.  Before getting back to my truck I just took one look at back at the side of the mountain where 9 Air Force veterans lost their lives in the terrible crash:

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In the picture above it is easy to spot the large rock pillar where the torch memorial is located.  Something I was surprised about is that neither the Air Force or the Army at nearby Ft. Bliss have done anything to erect a memorial in memory of the nine crew members who died at this site.  It would be classy of the military to at least construct something here to remember these Air Force veterans with after the passage of all these years.

Conclusion

The military may have forgotten about these veterans, but you don’t have to; if you want to visit the site it only takes about 1.5 hours to reach the site from the trail head.  Make sure that if you are visiting that you have a moderate level of fitness and bring water with you because like I said before there is no trail up the side of the mountain, which makes hiking difficult.  Budget about 3 hours for a round trip and be respectful at the crash site because nine people did die at this location and please do not take souvenirs.  May the nine personnel who died in this tragic accident rest in peace.

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