In Washington, D.C., every spring, people speculate on the best week for cherry blossoms.

In El Paso, we predict when the poppies will peak.

The goal is to plan the city’s annual Poppies Festival around the height, but who knows Mother Nature’s timeline?

The good news is that the El Paso Museum of Archaeology’s 13th annual celebration promises gold at the base of the Franklin Mountains on March 23.

Visitors can enjoy special exhibits, entertainment, films, demonstrations, and hands-on activities such as archery, as well as food trucks and arts vendors.

This year’s festival could draw more than 4,000 visitors – surpassing last year’s 3,500 – archaeology museum director Jeff Romney said.

Presented in partnership with the next-door National Border Patrol Museum and the Downtown Artists and Farmers Market, the festival highlights both the area’s natural beauty and rich history of American Indian artifacts.

Archeology spotlight

As more than 5,000 area students learn each year during field trips to the museum, local archaeological digs have uncovered pueblo homes and what is known as “El Paso Brown” pottery.

They’ve also learned that some artifacts here and elsewhere show influences from faraway tribes.

“El Paso has always been a crossroads,” said Romney, who took the helm of the museum in August 2016. “The whole Southwest was heavily networked in ancient times.”

After 10 years of fundraising at the El Paso Museum of Art, Romney, said he felt “like he was coming home” when he began exploring the museum’s extensive holdings and working with longtime archaeology museum curator George Maloof.

Romney said there are numerous changes in progress, including a new lecture series on archaeology research, with scholars coming in once or twice a month.

“It’s becoming known as one of the better lecture series in the Southwest,” Romney said.

The North Gallery is becoming more attractive with the new Casas Grandes pottery exhibit and other updates.

Romney, who grew up in a Mormon colony established in 1885 outside Casas Grandes, included his own photographs of the famous archaeological excavation in the exhibit.

Museum growth

“We want to continue to elevate the profile of the museum,” said Romney, who has seen attendance figures increase 20 percent year over year to about 26,000 in 2018.

He’s upped museum membership benefits to include a semi-annual glossy mini-magazine and membership has doubled.

Some longtime vacancies have been filled: New museum membership and outreach coordinator Itzel Barraza will strategize museum education and community programs; while Russell Ubinger is the friendly new sales clerk and greeter.

Regionally, the museum’s reputation is glowing and growing.

In February it hosted the Texas Archaeological Society’s Rock Art Academy in conjunction with the El Paso Archaeological Society and Hueco Tanks State Park.

In April, the Texas Association of Museums will hold its annual meeting in El Paso and attendees will tour the Museum of Archaeology.

Make the Most of Poppies Fest

Take the Nature Trail for maximum poppy exposure. Tip: Take the circuit twice and get in almost 5,000 steps.

Meander through the botanical garden. Started by the El Paso Cactus Club, the prickly patch includes labelled examples of all the cacti in our area.

Refuel at the food trucks.

Inside the museum, start in the South Gallery and take two clockwise circles through the dioramas. For your first circle, look left to travel back to 12000 BC and up to 1200 AD. On your second circle, look right to see reproductions of early pueblos and art from 1200 on up to the era of the Socorro Mission, built by survivors of the 1680s Pueblo Revolt.

Visit the North Gallery to see part of one of the best collections of Casas Grandes pottery and other artifacts. Pull out the drawers in the auditorium to see beautiful baskets, beadwork, leather crafts and other treasures.

End your Poppies Fest experience with some shopping at the vendors’ tents.     

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