Best of West Texas Part, II (The Top 5)
If west Texas hasn’t already impressed you with its reservoirs, deserts, ghost towns and BBQ, just wait until you see the rest. If you missed it, you can find the introduction and first part ten best places to visit in west Texas here here. Jumping right into it;
5) Marfa / Alpine
If you are a fan of artsy desert villages or small foothill towns, you might want to consider visiting Marfa or Alpine, Texas. Each town expresses different ways of best using the environment around them to enhance the quality of life, and really get the most out of the outdoors.
Marfa is a very strange town. It's almost as if all the people who moved to Austin to ‘keep Austin weird’ realized it wasn’t that weird and moved to Marfa instead. From store-sized art pieces to the Marfa Floating Lights, it is a stop for the more open-minded.
The Prada Store is one of the most popular destinations in west Texas, and one I had my eye on visiting for my three year sabbatical in the great state. 30 miles from the nearest town, lies a beautiful boutique Prada Store stationed in the middle of an enormous desert. The store isn’t in operation, instead, it is a ‘sculpture’ and acts a life sized art piece. Intended to never be repaired, the store (to me) represents how fashion is always moving forward, quickly leaving behind the fabrics of yesterday. I’m not big into modern art, but I really loved this piece.
There is a lot more to see in the proper town of Marfa including the Chinati Foundation and an interesting downtown. The Foundation displays several warehouses of interesting art pieces. There are both guided and self guided tours (although some areas of off-limits to self guided tours). If you like art at all, definitely go and check out the exhibits at the Foundation.
Just east of Marfa on Route 67 is a pull off for the Marfa Lights. In the expanse of the Mitchell Flat, people for years have claimed to see “ghost lights, UFOs, and Willow-wisps” dancing in the desert, as the sign read. Unfortunately I was not able to stop and watch the show, because we passed the area around 10 in the morning, it is something I plan to one day come back and see.
The home of Sul Ross State University, Alpine is a bustling little desert village with a colorful and historic downtown district. There are three reasons why Alpine is so high on my list, Big Bend Brewing Company, Big Bend Museum, and the drive from Route 118 to Fort Davis.
Big Bend Brewing company has to be one of the best breweries I have visited. The staff was super friendly, the facility impressive (especially for such a small town), and the beer fantastic. It also has what became my all-time favorite beer labeled West of the Pecos, a delicious raspberry maibock.
Apparently as a fan of anything and everything Big Bend, I needed to visit the Big Bend Museum that is located on the university's campus. The museum tells the cultural story of Big Bend and the surrounding areas, it shows the geological marvels and the Jurassic finds within the park. I found that Big Bend National Park is a fantastic excavation site for dinosaurs and they have actually airlifted 500-1200 pound bones out of the remote park.
Finally, another road worth traveling is Route 118 heading towards For Davis. The landscape morphs from a rough and rugged, rocky desert to a soft, golden high desert, complete with hills and trees. It was a place I quickly fell in love with.
4) Davis Mountain State Park
I wasn’t impressed with what I saw on Google relating to Davis Mountain, but we decided to go anyway because the landscape was so pretty on Route 118. Just past the town of Fort Davis is the Davis Mountain State Park. I immediately lost all prejudice and was completely overawe with the parks canyons, mountains, and golden hills. The area is a mix of rugged Texas mountains and canyons and soft and rolling New Mexican hills - making for some beautiful scenery. There are multiple camping and RV options, but they go quick, so make sure to reserve a spot ahead of time. Also the McDonald Observatory (which I placed at number 7) is only 13 miles from the park!
It is a small park with the longest trail being around only 5 miles. Sometimes a walk is all you need and it was nice to do a hike without my massive pack on my back for once. I normally try to keep to long distance backpacking, but I thoroughly enjoyed a casual hike around among the hills.
3) Big Bend Ranch State Park
Not to be mistaken as Big Bend National Park, the Ranch continues the protection of the west Texas mountains well past the borders of the National Park. Big Bend Ranch has its own wild feel and landscape apart it's popular neighboring national park. Generally, state parks offer more freedom when it comes to recreational activities, such as rafting, climbing, biking and hiking. There is even a 5,500 foot landing strip, making it (as far as I know) one of the only state parks you can privately fly directly into!
On what was supposed to be a crystal clear night, Dave and I were excited to try snapping some star photos. Throughout the entire night, a low and ominous cloud hung just above the tops of mountains. The cloud had an odd, rusty under glow to it, which confused us since were we dozens of miles from the nearest village. The light and cloud threw all of our night pictures off and we gave up. Continuing down the road, we found the 'cloud' was actually smoke, the the glow was a field of embers from a recent forest fire.
I wish I had more to write about the remote state park, but I decided to spend a majority of my time in Big Bend National Park. Even from what I saw of Big Bend Ranch, I knew it needed a high position.
With an abundance of trails, including the 20 mile Rancherias Trail that starts near Closed Canyon Big Bend Ranch is a must see when visiting west Texas.
2) Guadalupe Mountains National Park
I have written extensively on my time in Guadalupe National Park, but it never hurts to have a reminder. Guadalupe has been, to this day, possibly the most surprising park I have visited. Frankly, I wasn’t expecting much, but Guadalupe did nothing short of blowing me away at nearly every turn. The park has long trials, stunning remoteness, and the some of tallest peaks in Texas.
The Guadalupe Mountains are highly underrated in my opinion. They are remote, rugged, and wild (even if the national park is a relatively small one). Being one of the least visited national parks in the county (160,000 annually), I got the sense that many Texans wouldn’t even recognize it to be in their state. If you are lucky, you may even have the park to yourself (like I did when I visited). For those who like a challenge, the Guadalupe Mountains are also good option, being an experienced backpacker, I was not expecting such difficulty.
I don’t want to rewrite everything I have already said, but the Guadalupe Mountains are well worth the visit, and is easily among the top of top places to visit in west Texas. Some points of interest in the park:
- El Capitan
- Guadalupe Peak
- McKittrick Canyon
- Blue Ridge Mountain Loop
- Salt Flats
1) Big Bend National Park
It should be no surprise that Big Bend takes the number one spot to visit in west Texas. Dominating, rugged, and beautiful, the Chisos Mountains carved a place in my heart. Not only is Big Bend my favorite spot in Texas, but it also ranks among my favorite places I have seen in the county. Has just about everything for hikers; forests, deserts, mountains, rivers, hot springs, canyons, and much more. Big Bend also perfectly represents my feelings on Texas - Unexpectedly diverse, both the landscape and people.
Points of interesting in Big Bend National Park include:
- Emory Peak
- Mule Ears
- Hot Spring Trail
- Outer Mountain Loop Trail (for backpackers)
- Chisos Basin
- The South Rim
- Santa Elena Canyon
- Window Trail
So there you have it. My top ten favorite spots in west Texas! If you live in Houston, Austin, or San Antonio, there is really no excuse not to take a weekend trip and get intimate with your state. You are blessed to live in one with as many options as Texas.