If you’ve ever driven on Interstate 10 in the westernmost part of Texas, a few minutes from New Mexico around Canutillo, you’ve probably seen it. It’s almost impossible to miss, sitting on a blanket of desert with the Franklin Mountains in the background. The first thing that stands out is the old U.S. Navy plane that’s been raised some 30 feet above the ground. Once you drive closer to it, the next thing you notice is all the stuff—no better way to say it—behind a chain-link fence and concertina wire. It’s all part of the Whoopee Bowl, the self-proclaimed largest antiques mall in the Southwest. (Not to be confused with Canton, the largest flea market.)
On 7 acres of land stands an 11,000-square-foot building featuring more than 40 vendors. Walk around and it feels like you can get everything you came to find and even things you didn’t know you wanted because you didn’t know they existed.
Need a Bigfoot statue? They’ve got one for $1,750.
Have you been looking everywhere for an old slot machine? They’ve got one, named Fireball, for $2,500.
How about a corded push-button telephone that, if you still have a landline, let’s you switch between callers and put people on hold? That’ll be $45.
Everything imaginable seems to be had for a price at the Whoopee Bowl. There are vinyl records, old stoves, pianos, refrigerators, bathtubs, sinks, and lots and lots of books. There are wagon wheels of various sizes and small boats so old they make you wonder if they can still float. They’ve got loose and framed photographs of well-known people and those you’ve never even seen before. They have things that make you laugh, like a ceramic pink alien smoking, and things that are kind of creepy, like life-size cowboy mannequins sitting around a table playing poker. There are also things that are dark, like a horse-drawn hearse from the 1800s with a coffin inside.
“The weirdest thing I’ve seen in here was—this one guy, he’s not here anymore—but he used to have a human skull,” Charlie Rizzo says. “That was kind of weird.”
Rizzo, originally from Boston, first came to El Paso when he was stationed at Fort Bliss in the 1960s. He enjoyed the weather in Texas more than in the Northeast and decided to stay. He has been a vendor at the Whoopee Bowl for 21 years. His spot is called Unexpected Treasures.
“What sells a lot is anything that has to do with signs,” Rizzo says. “Porcelain signs, metal signs, gasoline, railroad stuff. There’s so much stuff here.”
The Whoopee Bowl is open six days a week and closed on Sundays. There’s always a steady flow of visitors. From travelers who couldn’t help but take a closer look at the curious place they noticed as they drove by, to locals who are recurring customers.
Araceli Bernal, from El Paso, visited the Whoopee Bowl for the first time around 2008. “My husband told me about it,” she says.
She’s back on a Saturday morning, looking for something for her front yard though she’s not sure what that is. It’s one of those things that she’ll know what it is as soon as she sees it. “Something amazing, at a great price,” Bernal says.
If she doesn’t find it today, she’ll return. New items are continuously for sale at the Whoopee Bowl. “I’d bring my parents,” Bernal says. She thinks they too will enjoy seeing all the interesting things inside this large two-floor building with just as many odd things outside of it.
They’ve also seen all the stuff next to the highway. They just haven’t visited yet.