Big Bend & West Texas: What To Do

Terlingua Ghost Town

Terlingua Ghost Town

On the random, I decided to finally (after many years of dreaming) visit Big Bend

National Park and make my way to West Texas. Driving from Houston, it’s an approximately 10 hour drive… did I mention I was doing this trip solo? No one to talk to for 10 hours which, honestly, was really nice. Now that I’ve “been there, done that” I thought I’d share what there is to do in this part of the (rural) world.

FROM HOUSTON TO BIG BEND
Seguin – wine
Del Rio – Lake Amistad & more wine (5.5 hour drive from Houston)
Langtry – the infamous Judge Roy Bean
Marathon – quaint town & the Gage Hotel
Alpine – another quaint town
Terlingua – ghost town (7 mi. from Big Bend)

Basically, from Houston, there are two ways to get to the Big Bend area:  1. Drive along

I-10 pretty much the whole way; or 2. Drive I-10 to San Antonio then go Hwy 90 the rest of the way. I wanted to drive both routes so, on the way there I took the more scenic road – Hwy 90. On the way back home, I went I-10. Since it’s such long drive (600+ miles – but who’s counting) and I knew that I probably won’t be doing this trip again, I decided to stop in several small towns along the way and take in the sights. This is how my solo excursion went…

SEGUIN – Right before you arrive in San Antonio, you pass Seguin. Why would I stop in Seguin, Texas? Well, Seguin has several museums,  art spaces and galleries. However, the real reason I went to Seguin was to visit the Blue Lotus Winery… I mean who doesn’t love a good winery. Blue Lotus Winery also offers honey mead and if you’ve never tried honey mead, run out to the liquor store RIGHT NOW. It’s delicious! The winery was a fun pit stop before I continued along my way. And PS, I didn’t drink as much wine as I would have liked… Being a responsible adult sucks sometimes.

Del Rio Sunrise

Del Rio, TX. Sun is beginning to rise.

DEL RIO – After Seguin, I continued down Hwy 90 to Del Rio. Del Rio is about 5.5 hours away from Houston and between my visit to the Blue Lotus Winery and many hours of driving, I decided to make Del Rio my home for the night. The town is a good stopping point for several reasons. It’s basically the half way mark to Big Bend but it’s also a pretty big town with many amenities including multiple hotels, a movie theater, a Starbucks (the true mark of a civilized people), museums, a community theatre, and the Val Verde Winery, the oldest winery in Texas (you know I like my wine). Also, Del Rio is about 6 miles away from Ciudad Acuna, Mexico (but remember to bring a passport if you want to visit). The real jewel of Del Rio, however, is Lake Amistad. The lake is truly spectacular with three rivers, Rio Grande, Pecos River, and the Devils River, converging to form one of Texas largest lakes. There are also several walking trails throughout the Lake Amistad area.

Lake Amistad

Lake Amistad. Me & my selfie stick in Del Rio.

A little side note, I stayed at the Studio 6 in Del Rio (which normally I would never do) and I was absolutely impressed! The property, as best as I can tell, used to be a small apartment complex so the hotel rooms are literally apartments. My room was a one bedroom apartment with a king size bed, a TV in the living room and a flat screen in the bedroom. The service was great and the rooms free WiFi… for $55- a night what more can you ask for?

LANGTRY – I continued on to Langtry, TX, named after Lillie Langtry, a British actress who was rumored to have had an affair with the former King of England Edward VII.

Interestingly, Lillie Langtry had absolutely nothing to do with Texas. Her only connection was that the, self proclaimed, Judge Roy Bean, fall in love with her photo and changed the name of his town to Langtry. Later, he also renamed the bar / courthouse he owned ‘The Jersey Lilly Saloon’ after Ms. Langtry.

Original home of Judge Roy Bean

The fore-mentioned Judge Roy Bean, according the the Visitor Center, “…arrived in Texas during the Civil War, showing up in San Antonio after troubles… in Mexico, then California (both San Diego and San Gabriel), and finally Mesilla, New Mexico. Bean spent a number of years on South Flores Street in the Alamo City, earning the location the nickname “Beanville”, and avoiding both creditors and the law… An escape across the Pecos River landed him at the heart of the railroad construction boom… Ever the opportunist, Bean established his Jersey Lilly saloon, helping to stir an already roiling pot of lawlessness, before capturing the position of justice of the peace, permanently securing his place in Texas folklore.”

This tall tail of the South brings me to what is interesting about Langtry. You can still go and visit the ruins of the saloon and the “Judges” home. Great stop, especially if you’re traveling with kids. Also, the visitor’s center offers a wealth of information and FREE maps for West Texas.

MARATHON – Another great town to spend a night at is Marathon, TX . Marathons claim to fame is the Gage Hotel, a striking property built in 1927. The Gage boosts 27 acres of lush gardens with ponds,  fountains, a nine-hole putting green, rose garden, a vineyard, a fruit orchard and a large fire pit with banquette seating (for special events). The gardens alone make Marathon a site worth seeing.

ALPINE – Unfortunately, I only drove through Alpine, the reason being is that coming from Hwy 90, the town looked rather uninspiring and I didn’t understand why people seemed to think is was such a great town. The only stop I made was to the hardware store (I had to perform emergency surgery on my selfie stick).

On my way back to Houston however, I drove through Presidio, which took me back through Alpine, and I regretted not having stopped to take in the town. From this direction, Alpine showcases all its charm. Best of all, the Big Bend Brewing Company is located in Alpine. The brewery offers tours and tastings for $10 per person on Wednesdays – Fridays at 3 p.m. and Saturdays at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. I tried a few of their beers in Terlingua – so good!

DSC_0038

Terlingua Ghost Town ruins

TERLINGUA – What can I say about Terlingua? It was so much more than I expected. In my mind, I thought it would be all bikers and cowboys. In reality, Terlingua has a vibrant arts and music community that began in the 1970s when the hippie generation took to the beauty and the isolation of this rural town, breathing life  into this once forgotten mining community. The arts and music culture that resonates throughout Terlingua is completely intoxicating. I absolutely understand why people are drawn to the locale. More and more, Terlingua is becoming home to the 20 and 30 something, counter-culture, off-the-grid types looking to live a different kind of life without the hustle and bustle of big city life.

Rear view of the Perry Mansion (Owner of the Terlingua Mining Company)

Rear view of the Perry Mansion (Owner of the Terlingua Mining Company)

 

First off, Terlingua proper is a bit of a larger town (relatively speaking). In the town itself, there really isn’t a whole lot to do. The Ghost Town is where you want to be. There, you will find all the necessities of life: coffee, WiFi, music, a stiff drink and a good burger.

Some of my favs include:  coffee / breakfast (La Posada Milagro – they have good food, good coffee and WiFi); several restaurants / bars / music… some famous infamous spots (La Kiva – read ¿Viva Terlingua?, High Sierra where AMCs Badlands is set… a fact that the locals aren’t very happy about), the Boathouse which offers live music and the best burgers in town, the Starlight Theater and several others.  Now don’t get me wrong, Los Angeles this is not, but you will be shocked to hear the caliber of talent that is in Terlingua. I completely fell in love the this town!

Terlingua Las Ruinas campsite - My tent was is the small green one in the front

Las Ruinas campsite. My tent was the small green one in the front.

And if you’re thinking about camping / glamping, which is what I did, you should absolutely consider Terlingua Las Ruinas. I found them on Airbnb because I was looking for a cheap lodging. For $21 a night, I got a 3 person tent with a queen size memory foam mattress. They also offer a variety of tent sizes and amenities depending on what you need. The campsite has a shower stall with dressing room (and plenty of hot water); as well as two restroom stalls with REAL toilets (no compost toilets). Best of all, the site is located right in the middle of the Ghost Town which makes it so convenient and you will LOVE Pat and Betsy. They manage the Las Ruinas and are so incredibly helpful and kind!

Big Bend

About to begin the Santa Elena Canyon Trail, Big Bend

BIG BEND – What can you say about Big Bend National Park? Big Bend is approximately 7 miles from Terlingua, which sounds great; however, what I didn’t realize was that Big Bend is more than 800,000 acres with an elevations ranging almost 6,000 feet (low elevation is 1,715 feet at the Rio Grande River; high

Big Bend

Big Bend

elevation is 7,832 feet on Emory Peak). So what I will say to you, be prepared to drive… A LOT. As a Big Bend first timer, I tried to hit at least a couple of trails at each of the major regions of the park:  Persimmon Gap, Chisos Basin and Rio Grande Village. If you’d like some suggestions on day hikes, comment below and I’d be more than happy to give you some. Alternatively, visit the National Park Service site for trail recommendations.

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Big Bend – Boquillas Hot Springs

Things You HAVE To Do:

  • Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive
  • Santa Elena Canyon Trail
  • Window Trail in the Chisos Mountain basin
    • Boquillas Hot Springs

      Big Bend

      Big Bend

Needless to say, Big Bend is a sight like none other. A space where you can find every type of terrain from lush, mountainous slopes to sparse, barren desert. A place that still is so untouched and rural, you begin to get an understanding of what the “wild west’ must have been like. You will completely fall in love with Big Bend National Park!

Sadly, I was forced to face the fact that my funds were quickly dissipating and that I that I was scheduled to return to my office hell. I had to return to Houston (a fate more tragic than death – have I mention that I hate living in Houston?). The following is the route I took back home:

FROM BIG BEND TO HOUSTON
Presidio – scenic drive to Marfa
Marfa – art galore & Donald Judd
Ingram – sculptural replica’s
Sonora – top rated cave system
Welcome to Presidio

Welcome to Presidio

PRESIDIO – Over and over again, locals kept saying I need to do the drive through Presidio if I was planning on going to Marfa (which was the plan). Also known as ‘the River Road’, I drove down Hwy. 170, coming from Terlingua, continuing north on Hwy. 67 toward Marfa.  Presidio is a tiny border town that really isn’t all that exciting but the views from Terlingua to Marfa going this route were breathe taking. A couple of sights worth stopping for along the way include the border town of Lajitas (Hwy 170), ‘Elephant rock,’ an impressive rock formation you can really only look at from the side of the road, and the ghost town of Shafter (Hwy 67) which is nestled at the end of the Chinati Mountains. In the 1880s, silver was discovered in the area. This led to the eventual establishment of the Presidio Mining Company. Now road-trippers can wander the area viewing the abandoned buildings and ruins.

MARFA – And finally, I arrived in Marfa, a town I’ve wanted to visit for years now. I expected to only spend a couple of hours in Marfa… I ended up getting a hotel room and spending the night. With all the charm of yet another spectacular West Texas town, Marfa stole my heart. If you have a passion for the arts, Marfa is a must see town.

Chinati Foundation. Marfa, TX

Marfa boasts more than 20 art galleries, exhibit spaces and museums; as well as the installation ‘Prada Marfa’ on Hwy 90 and the Ayn Foundation which is the permanent home of several paintings from the Andy Warhol ‘Last Supper’ series – some of Warhol’s last works before his death. The person responsible for the reawakening of the once sleepy town of Marfa is none other than renowned artist, Donald Judd. Judd purchased approximately 340 acre’s of land in Marfa and founded the Chinati Foundation in 1986 as a non-profit arts foundation. Judd’s work in Marfa includes 15 outdoor sculptural concrete installations and 100 aluminum sculptures housed in two separate painstakingly renovated artillery sheds.

Downtown Marfa

Hotel Paisano, Downtown Marfa

For all you “they’re out there” theorists, don’t forget to make a visit to the Marfa Lights Viewing Area. The unexplained phenomenon that is the Marfa Lights was first recorded in the early 1880s. These random patterned strobes of light are known to present themselves between Marfa and the Paisano Pass when the night is clear.

 

A couple of other places to check out:  Chinati Hot Springs and
 the Hotel Paisano (207 N. Highland Ave.) an ornate Spanish Revival style property, as well as a designated state historic landmark. Special guests have included Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean (during the filming of the 1956 film Giant).

SONORA – Sonora is a relatively ‘large’ small town and a good option for an overnight stay if you’re tired of driving. Plenty of hotel choices, camping / RV options, restaurants, etc.

Caverns of Sornora

Caverns of Sornora

The town’s claim to fame is the Caverns of Sonora.  Regarded as one of the most beautiful and active cave systems in the world, a staggering 95% of the formations in the cave are still ‘growing.” Visitors of the caverns can expect an intense 360 stair step climb in what feels like 85 degree and 98% humidity! Several tours are offered including: the 4 hour Discovery Challenge Tour which takes you through a maze of off trail passageways; the Photography Tour which takes photographers on an unhurried photo walk along the guided trails of the cave system; the approximately 2 hour Crystal Palace Tour; as well as custom group tours.

INGRAM – Another little art pit stop is the little known town of Ingram. Here, you can visit Stonehenge II and the Easter Island Heads… replica’s of course but it’s definitely worth a little stop.

So that was my eight night, West Texas solo adventure. I absolutely think West Texas with worth the 10 hour (each way) drive. It was a wonderful experience!! If you have the opportunity to visit, do it and if you have any question, feel free to ask in the comments.

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