The Borderlands of Texas
Crowned with a sky so wide that it threatens to define infinity, the Big Bend region of Texas is situated roughly west of San Antonio, east of El Paso, and north of the mythic Rio Grande River. It remains one of the last true frontiers in the Lower 48, a landscape unique in the world. The route starts in the oil town of Fort Stockton, continues to Alpine—gateway to Big Bend National Park—and through Paisano Pass to the quirky town of Marfa. From here it threads south past the ghost town of Shafter into the border town of Presidio, then continues along scenic River Road (FM-170) through Terlingua to Study Butte. Turning onto Hwy. 118/Maverick Road, the drive unspools into that Texas jewel, Big Bend National Park. From here choices include detours to Chisos, a not-to-miss mountain chain, and the funky old cattle town of Marathon.
(Spanish Mission in Texas Borderlands, photo courtesy of en.wikipedia.com)
Fort Stockton An oil town, Fort Stockton has so far thrived despite the ups and downs of commodity prices. The site of a fort established in 1858 to protect travelers and settlers in Comanche territory—reconstructed fort buildings are open to visitors—the town serves as a base for day trips into Big Bend country, which includes Carlsbad Caverns and Davis Mountain. The fort is just one of many historic treasures that await you in Fort Stockton. Embark on the Fort Stockton Historic Driving Tour to discover more than a dozen of the town’s historic sites, like the Pecos County Courthouse, the Historic Old Jail of 1884, and the Annie Riggs Memorial Museum. The latter includes amazing relics like the tusks of a Columbian mammoth in the Archeology Room and the desk of murdered Sheriff A.J. Royal. While not all the buildings on the tour are open to the public, the Grey Mule Saloon certainly is, and you won’t want to miss stopping in for a glass of wine at this unique tasting room.
(Fort Stockton, photo courtesy of mapio.net)
Alpine From Fort Stockton City RV Renters head west on Interstate 10, then exit to continue south on 67 before heading west on Hwy. 90 into the town of Alpine. The region's hub and a gateway to Big Bend National Park, Alpine is ringed by mountains and possesses the highest number of historic adobe structures in Texas outside of El Paso (found mostly on Alpine's Southside). Sul Ross—the University of the Big Bend—sits on the western slope of Hancock Hill, overlooking the Alpine valley. Along with irreplaceable contributions to the intellectual and cultural life of the region, Sul Ross boasts one of the most beautiful campuses in the state, or anywhere else for that matter. The Museum of the Big Bend is located on the campus of Sul Ross State University. This is a great starting off point for anyone coming to the region for the first time. Highlighting the vast geographical and historical record of the Big Bend region and the communities in it, the museum is a great way to not only get more knowledge but also be inspired to explore more of the sights and activities in and around Alpine.
(Sul Ross State University, photo courtesy of commons.wikipedia.org)
Marfa Leaving Alpine toward the west on Hwy. 90, cruise through photogenic Paisano Pass, dotted with juniper shrubs and dark outcroppings—the remains of an ancient volcano caldera. When you reach a grassy plateau, you're approaching the Marfa Lights Viewing Stand, a modern building where visitors can look for the legendary floating spheres known as the Marfa lights. The town of Marfa has garnered attention for turning the Minimalist art movement into a design aesthetic embraced by artists and writers who have come here to live and work. Accounts of strange and unexplained phenomena just outside of Marfa began during the 19th century and continue to this day. Ranchers, Apaches, high school sweethearts and famous meteorologists alike have reported seeing seemingly sourceless lights dance on the horizon southeast of town, an area that is nearly uninhabited and extremely difficult to traverse. The mystery lights are sometimes red, sometimes blue, sometimes white, and usually appear randomly throughout the night, no matter the season or the weather.
(Marfa, photo courtesy of glasstire.com)
Shafter Proceed south on Hwy. 67 toward the border town of Presidio, passing the ghost town of Shafter, nestled at the start of the Chinati Mountains. In the 1880s, silver was discovered here, leading to the establishment of the Presidio Mining Company. Now the town is deserted, its buildings abandoned to the wind—though day-trippers stop by to see the evocative ruins.
(Shafter Ghost Town, photo courtesy of flickr.com)
Big Bend National Park There is a place in Far West Texas where night skies are dark as coal and rivers carve temple-like canyons in ancient limestone. Here, at the end of the road, hundreds of bird species take refuge in a solitary mountain range surrounded by weather-beaten desert. Tenacious cactus bloom in sublime southwestern sun, and diversity of species is the best in the country. This magical place is Big Bend. The Park offers day hikes, backpacking, scenic drives, and river trips.
(Big Bend National Park, photo courtesy of nationalparksandmore.com)