Big Bend Country – West Texas

When most first-time visitors think of Texas, they envision images straight out of old spaghetti-western movies, complete with rolling tumbleweeds, cacti, scrub brush, and miles of hot, sandy plains. If that’s the kind of Texas you’re looking for, Big Bend Country is the place to be.

West Texas is characterized by wide-open spaces, rugged plateaus (plat-toes), and desert mountains. The plateaus are covered in short grasses and brush. The desert is part of Mexico’s great Chihuahuan (chee-wow-when) Desert. This is the only place in Texas where you can find mountains.

Big Bend Country is a place of contrasts. The desert is hot and dry during the day, but cool at night. Plants and animals have adapted to life in the desert. In the winter, the mountains provide cold weather, with snow on occasion. On the slopes, forests grow. Because the high, cooler mountain tops cause precipitation to fall from clouds moving over the peaks, the slopes of these mountains can support tree growth.

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Chihuahuan Desert

The Chihuahuan Desert covers the majority of the landscape in this area. Despite its aridity, this remarkable area can burst with beauty after a brief rain. The mountains, valleys, and plains of the desert provide a diverse range of terrain and climates, and its rugged beauty must be seen to be appreciated.

The Big Bend Country stretches nearly 41,000 square miles from Midland-Odessa to the northeast and Del Rio to the southeast, bordered by Mexico to the south and New Mexico to the west. This is where you can get away from it all. Embrace the great outdoors and get lost in the mountains and wide-open spaces. There are nearly 1.17 million acres of wilderness terrain in the region. Hiking, biking, riding, birding, swimming, rafting, camping, photographing, painting, and simply relaxing are all options.

Big Bend Parks

Spend some time exploring Guadalupe Mountains National Park, which contains the state’s highest point as well as one of the most beautiful spots in the state—McKittrick Canyon. Expect to spend several days or more in Texas’ first national park, Big Bend National Park, which is roughly the size of Rhode Island. Monahans Sandhills State Park features rolling sand dunes and one of the country’s largest oak forests. Visit Balmorhea State Park to swim in one of the country’s largest man-made pools.

Big Bend Country is a great place to learn about life on the open frontier and in the Old West. The sometimes hostile conditions necessitated the establishment of forts such as Fort Bliss, Fort Davis, and Fort Stockton to protect pioneers and travelers. Visit the forts and other historical sites that helped shape the frontier. Throughout the region, numerous museums are dedicated to preserving the heritage and history of frontier life.

Gunfights, bank robberies, saloons, and boom towns abound in this region. The rustic saloon, courtroom, billiard hall, and opera house of Judge Roy Bean, the “Law West of the Pecos,” can be found in Langtry.

El Paso, the largest city in the United States on the Mexican border, combines the best of both sides of the border. Visit historic sites, the Tigua Indian Reservation at Ysleta, a performance at the Chamizal National Memorial, a ride on the Wyler Aerial Tramway, or any of the other activities available.

This region also offers unique experiences such as seeing the Marfa lights, participating in the Terlingua chili cook-offs, attending a production at the Globe Theatre of the Great Southwest in Odessa, eating a Pecos cantaloupe, hunting precious minerals at Woodward Agate Ranch in Alpine, and celebrating Roy Orbison’s music in his hometown of Wink.

Before visiting this area, keep in mind that people can drive for miles with only the desert landscape for company. Use the information on the following pages about the cities/towns and their respective attractions to help you plan your adventure. The overwhelming allure of Big Bend Country is sure to awe and inspire you!

Alpine

Established in 1882, Alpine is the seat of Brewster County. Centrally located between the Davis and Glass mountains and near Big Bend National Park, Alpine is a Texas Main Street City. It is a retail center and shipping point for a huge ranching area, headquarters for mining companies, and home of Sul Ross State University. There’s also a historic downtown shopping district with several antique stores and art galleries.

Several theater groups put on seasonal productions. Theatre of the Big Bend offers musicals and dramas under the stars during the summer. 432/837-8220. Big Bend Players present four to six shows each year. 432/837-2921. The theater department at Sul Ross State University highlights student talent from September through May. www.sulross.edu.

The climate and location make the town a popular vacation area. Visitors enjoy golfing, mountain climbing, rock and mineral collecting, swimming and camping amid spectacular vistas. During seasons, hunters take mule deer, white-tailed deer, pronghorn antelope, javelina and upland game birds. Special events include the Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering in February, Big Bend Balloon Bash during Labor Day weekend, and local and collegiate rodeo events. Bed-and-breakfast accommodations are offered in historic buildings.

Balmorhea

The original inhabitants of the area were the Mescalero Apaches. The town was established in 1906 by a firm of land promoters. The town site was in the center of a 10,000-acre tract watered by the San Solomon Springs.

Nearby Balmorhea Lake offers opportunities for birding and fishing, plus primitive and full-service camping sites. The lake is stocked with channel catfish, large mouth bass, sunfish and crappie. A fishing license can be obtained at Balmorhea State Park. The lake is along the North American Central Flyway and is a great area to view a variety of birds during the fall and spring migrations. Permit fees are required.

Other area sights include Calera Church. Originally named Mission Mary, the church first recorded baptisms and marriages in 1902. The mission was renovated in 2003 and now serves as an all-denominational chapel. It is two miles west of Balmorhea State Park on F.M. 3018.

Events include the First Friday Monthly Flea Market, Memorial Day Festival Softball Tournament and Labor Day Festival Softball Tournament.

Fort Davis

Fort Davis was established and grew under the protection of the U.S. Army post of the same name that was founded in 1854 at the crossroads of the famous Chihuahua Trail and Butterfield Overland Mail Route. The community has served as a county seat of Presidio County and later Jeff Davis County—created largely from Presidio. Fort Davis was among the 2008 Dozen Distinctive Destinations named by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Altitude and climate make it a popular tourist and camping area. Visitors will find specialty shops, restaurants and accommodations, including the oldest inn in the state.

The Prude Guest Ranch is popular for meetings and vacations. Horseback riding, hayrides, chuck-wagon cookouts and more. 800/458-6232. www.prude-ranch.com.

Fort Stockton

Town developed with the establishment of a military post in 1859. It was an outpost on the Butterfield Overland Mail Route at the crossing of the Old San Antonio Road and an ancient Comanche War Trail. Popular with Native Americans because of large springs nearby. Area was one of earliest irrigated farming efforts in Texas; about 8,000 acres were irrigated as early as 1877. Today, this is the seat of Pecos County; a retail and shipping headquarters for vast ranching, natural gas and oil activities; and a major West Texas crossroads. Hunting is excellent for mule deer and pronghorn antelope.

Kermit

Winkler County seat was a mere village in 1926 when the county population was 81. When oil was discovered nearby in the Permian Basin, the boom was on. Today, it is a center for oil and petroleum-based industries. County-owned golf course is open Tue.–Sun., seven miles west on Texas 302.

Marathon

Marathon’s name was suggested by a sea captain who said the area reminded him of Marathon, Greece. A cattle and mining shipment center in its heyday, today, the town on U.S. 90 at the junction with U.S. 385 is a tourist crossroads, a major gateway to Big Bend National Park and a headquarters for vast ranching activities. Visitors can catch glimpses of the town’s colorful past at the Marathon Museum, at North Third Street and Avenue E, and the old Marathon Jail at South Second Street and Avenue C. The town hosts West Fest, complete with a cabrito cook-off, in September, and the Fiesta de la Noche Buena takes place in early December.

Marfa

Marfa was established in 1881 as a water stop for the Texas and New Orleans Railroad. Today, it is a trading point for many large ranches in the surrounding mountains. Superb climate makes it a popular tourist center. In season, hunters are attracted by plentiful mule deer and pronghorn antelope.

In 1955, the El Paisano Hotel served as the base of operations for filmmaker George Stevens while filming the movie “Giant.”

Check out the highest golf course in Texas—the Marfa Municipal Golf Course—situated at 4,882 feet above sea level. The nine-hole course boasts a 360-degree view of mountains and open ranchland. Open Tue.–Sun. At the end of Golf Course Road. 432/729-4043.

Strong thermal updrafts and legendary soaring conditions make this an outstanding location for glider rides. Marfa Gliders: 800/667-9464. www.flygliders.com.

Monahans

Spanish explorers crossed the area of present Ward County more than 400 years ago, but it remained an undisturbed habitat of Native Americans until the mid-1800s. The city was established in about 1881 as a stop on the Texas and Pacific Railroad, which was building west from Fort Worth. It became the county seat and, today, is a financial and marketing center for more than 800 square miles of cattle and oil country.

Oil wells, drilled at a distance from the downtown area, are slanted to draw oil from beneath city hall, courthouse, banks and business houses.

Pecos

Established in 1881 as stop on the Texas and Pacific Railroad, Pecos gained early fame as a hangout for rowdy cowboys and fast-draw lawmen. Touted as the “Home of World’s First Rodeo,” Pecos was the scene of a cowboy contest in 1883 that was the forerunner of today’s popular sport. (West of the Pecos Rodeo, Fourth of July, re-enacts 1883 events.) Today, it is a hub of travel and a commercial center for ranching, irrigated farming, produce processing, and oil production. Area hunting includes mule deer, javelina and upland game birds.

Pecos is also known for cantaloupes. Grown in irrigated fields, this luscious melon is the delight of gourmets throughout the United States. Quality derives from natural combination of alkaline soil, western sunlight and altitude. Pecos cantaloupes enjoy comparable status with Maine lobsters, French wines and Swiss cheeses. Harvested late July through September with a festival held in late summer. For festival schedule, call 432/445-2406.

Salt Flat

Salt Flat, a small community in Hudspeth County that was the focus of a bloody dispute known as the Salt War in the 1860s and ’70s, was also located in the region. Some of the gray-white salt deposits can still be seen today from US Highway 62/180.

Small community that grew near extensive surface salt deposits left by intermittent lakes in Hudspeth County just west of the Guadalupe Mountains. Area was focus of bloody dispute known as the Salt War in 1860s and ’70s. Before the dispute reached a confused, tragic end, it had involved both Mexican and U.S. citizens, political parties, judges, legislators, mob action, army troops and Texas Rangers. Murder, assassination and revenge killings took place on both sides. Some of the gray-white salt deposits may be seen today from U.S. 62/180.

Sierra Blanca

Now on I-10 in far West Texas, town grew at juncture of the nation’s second transcontinental rail route in 1881 (Southern Pacific and Texas & Pacific). Historical marker—at the corner of Sierra Blanca Avenue and U.S. 80—commemorates the event downtown. Town named for Sierra Blanca Mountain (6,950 feet) to the northwest.

Van Horn

Town grew from a wayfaring stop on the historic Bankhead Highway and Old Spanish Trail from San Antonio to California in mid-1800s. It is still a primary road junction of I-10 (U.S. 80), U.S. 90 and Texas 54, and it is a hub to several state and national parks. In a broad basin devoted to irrigated farming, it is surrounded by Van Horn, Sierra Diablo and Apache mountains. Mining includes talc, sulfur and marble, plus undeveloped indications of copper, uranium and feldspar. A popular stop for travelers, it also caters to longer-staying vacationers with its sunny climate, interesting rock and mineral deposits, hunting for mule deer, pronghorn antelope and upland game birds.

John Madden, former colorful television football broadcaster, designated the Chuy’s Restaurant in Van Horn as his “Haul of Fame.” Just before Super Bowl weekend, he would name his “All-Madden Team.” Plaques and photos of “All-Madden Team” inductees hung in the restaurant. 1200 W.

Culberson County Historical Museum
Features displays of Native American artifacts, plus antique ranch, farm and home implements. A resplendent antique bar, complete with ornate hardwood, mirrors and brass rail, recalls lusty frontier times. In historic Clark Hotel, 110 W. Business Loop 10 downtown. Van Horn Convention and Visitors Bureau: 432/283-2682.