West Texas Vacation Destinations
Those with a week to spend can travel a loop formed by Fort Davis, Alpine, and Marfa, with a short detour to Balmorhea. Those with only a weekend can choose any one of these points for an excellent getaway.
Activities for Nature & Adventure Lovers
Twenty-five percent of Texas terrain is karst, a paradise to geologists, paleontologists, archaeologists, photographers, and spelunkers. Caverns that are open to the public to attract many tourists. These underground sanctuaries naturally maintain a constant near-room temperature year-round. Some areas are wheelchair accessible, while a few offer ‘wild cave tours’ for the adventurous, with no trails or electric lights, and visitors, carrying flashlights, must be lowered into some passages by rope.
Continuing westward, Garner State Park encompasses canyons, streams, cliffs, and ten acres of riverfront. Enjoy river tubing, pedal boats, swimming, golfing, nature trails with an abundance of wildlife, bike riding, dancing, and a Cowboy Sunset Serenade. Facilities include campsites, screened shelters and cabins, a dining hall, and shower and laundry facilities. Note – pets are not allowed inside any of the buildings.
If you enjoy a good mystery, head to Marfa to see the famous Marfa Lights. Various explanations for the mysterious, dancing lights range from ‘ghosts of conquistadores’ to the more scientific ‘mirage caused by atmospheric conditions.’ They can be seen on clear nights about nine miles east of Marfa on U.S. Highway 90 between Marfa and Paisano Pass.
A few miles south of Marathon, on 385, civilization vanishes as you enter Big Bend country. Across the cactus-studded landscape, rock peaks and jagged cliffs reach into a clear sky. Big Bend offers a sense of freedom and wildness to those seeking escape from the stresses of modern life. Enjoy the quiet solitude of the Chisos Mountains or ride the Rio Grande River rapids.5
Scuba Diving in the Desert
Balmorhea State Park, just off Interstate 10, is home to the San Solomon Courts, a 1930s style motor court, as well as tent and RV campgrounds. The park’s centerpiece is a 77,053 square foot swimming pool, fed by San Solomon Springs, which pumps more than 22 million gallons of water through the pool daily. The waters then flow into shallow canals that wind past the motel and into a restored Cienega, or wetland, which houses endangered fish as well as other creatures.
The pool, open daily, is popular with scuba divers (Funky Lil Dive Shop across the street rents gear and provides air refills), offering excellent visibility, an abundance of fish, bubbling springs, and depths up to 25 feet. Visitors can also enjoy picnic tables, barbecue grills, and bird watching.
Davis Mountains State Park & Fort Davis
Hotel Limpia, a restored country inn from the early 1900s with a second-story veranda and turn of the century oak furniture, anchors the four or so square blocks that makeup ‘downtown’ Fort Davis. The hotel’s Boarding House Restaurant serves a full and varied menu. Davis Mountains State Park offers hiking, mountain biking, bird watching, and camping. Indian Lodge, a CCC-built hotel modeled after southwestern pueblos, with 18-inch thick walls and exposed roof beams, sits on a hillside deep within the park. It includes a restaurant and pool.
The park’s Skyline Drive leads to a scenic overlook that takes in the domes of McDonald Observatory, one of the highest points in Texas, and Fort Davis National Historic Site, a restored 1860s cavalry outpost nestled at the base of dramatic cliffs. A hiking trail leads from the state park to the Fort, which has a museum and a self-guided tour of the restored buildings and ruins.
The nearby University of Texas McDonald Observatory has public viewing nights Wednesdays nearest the full moon; star parties every Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday; and daily tours.
Many of the area’s working ranches have become guest ranches, offering lodging, horseback riding, and other activities. One of the oldest is the Prude Ranch, which has a lodge and family bunk rooms, a pool, horseback riding, hayrides, and cowboy cookouts.
Fort Davis Scenic Loop
The 75 mile Fort Davis Scenic Loop, which starts and ends in town, reaches 6,700 feet and goes through scenic canyons, past the State Park, the Observatory, and the Davis Mountains Preserve, a Nature Conservancy property with public hiking trails. The trails, open daily, start at the Laurence E. Wood picnic area on Highway 118. The loop route is outlined in the Fort Davis Visitor’s Guide (copies available at area hotels, restaurants, and attractions).
La Trattoria in Alpine is known for home-cooked Italian food and authentic espresso, and Alicia’s is the place to go for a hearty, but leisurely, breakfast. The Maverick Inn, a renovated historic motor court hotel, offers accommodations with the atmosphere. The Museum of the Big Bend is housed on the campus of Alpine’s Sul Ross University.
Art and Mystery Lights in Marfa
The rustic yet elegant El Paisano Hotel in Marfa opened in 1930 and hosted Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean during the filming of the movie Giant in 1955. Jett’s Grill serves dinner, and hotel guests can enjoy cocktails by the courtyard fountain. Food Shark, a diner truck under an awning between the town’s renowned book store and the railroad tracks, offers a unique combination of West Texas and Mediterranean food.
Art aficionados should drop by the Chinati Foundation, a contemporary art museum on 340 acres; Ballroom Marfa; and 2d Marfa. The mysterious Marfa Lights became so famous that the town built a roadside viewing area nine miles east of town on Highway 90, where thousands have reported seeing strange lights in the distance.