Road trip through West Texas
Be sure to visit Marfa and Big Bend National Park
West Texas is a land of contrasts. It's where Mexican culture meets the American frontier…where mountains meet the desert…and where tiny towns spring up out of the wilderness hundreds of miles apart.
Big Bend National Park stakes a claim to this wilderness. The least-visited national park, Big Bend is difficult to get to, breathtakingly beautiful, and home to one of the darkest areas in the US – so dark that the Milky Way is visible to the naked eye at night.
Then there’s the small town of Marfa – thrust into the national spotlight as a haven for artists, and a rural outpost where you can create in peace. It's one of a collection of areas where few people live year ‘round. The isolation of the region adds to its magic. With few distractions, West Texas preserves its untamed identity.
I've lived in Texas for almost five years. The state is so large that there's a lot to explore, but everything’s very spread out. I live in the center of the state, in the capital city of Austin. From there, locations in West Texas are an eight or ten-hour drive away.
Marfa takes you back in time, and the local artwork is fantastic
To have your own West Texas adventure, I recommend starting in Marfa. Nearly seven hours from downtown Austin, Marfa was founded in the 1880s as a train water-stop.
Today, it’s a haven for artists. Located far from major cities, Marfa has preserved its way of life. Everything is slower in Marfa. The population is about 2,000, but many thousands of people visit every year to take in the minimalist art scene.
The Judd Foundation and the Chinati Foundation help maintain and promote Marfa artists. Galleries probably occupy more indoor space than anything else, and art is everywhere you look.
Prada Marfa is one of social media’s most famous pieces of art. 37 miles outside of town, it’s a sculpture that replicates a small Prada clothing store sitting in the middle of nowhere.
Artist Donald Judd moved from New York to Marfa in the 1970s and started creating the large-scale installations the town has become famous for.
Click here for details. But be warned – Marfa doesn't operate on a 9:00-5:00 schedule. Most places are open at odd hours, so always check before you go.
Where to eat and sleep in Marfa
Despite its remote location, Marfa offers world-class food. Buns'n'Roses is a breakfast restaurant/florist, heavy on the flowers and the puns. It's a little difficult to find – so don't count on your map app to get you there. Instead, ask for specific directions when you arrive in town. Squeeze Marfa is a European-inspired bistro that makes you feel like a cowboy sitting in a Parisian cafe.
When it comes to hanging up your hat for the night, the options are plentiful. El Cosmico is probably the most famous spot in town. It offers glamping with a decidedly Texas spin. Spend the night in a trailer, a teepee or a yurt. With brick floors, communal bathrooms, and full-sized beds, it's a hybrid of camping and a classic hotel room. Book in advance, as rooms go quickly.
If you're looking for traditional camping, also head for El Cosmico and rent a spot in their campground. For a vintage indoor ambience, Hotel Paisano has you covered. With room names like the “Dennis Hopper Suite” and prices ranging from $129-$179*, it's a fun and affordable overnight option.
Explore the wilderness in Big Bend National Park
From Marfa, drive southeast to enter Big Bend National Park. Right on the border with Mexico, the park covers more than 800,000 acres of mountains, rivers, deserts and canyons. Plus, it has seemingly endless fields of wild flowers. It's a great place to find solitude and to reconnect with nature. 4 x 4s and other high-clearance vehicles will do best on the primitive roads.
Big Bend is the definition of affordable. There's a simple $25* per vehicle entry fee (or $12 per person) to get into the park, and there are three developed campgrounds. These campgrounds cost $14 per night* and offer easy access to the park’s most popular trails.
If you’re looking for a true “wild west” experience, you can apply for a backcountry camping permit for just $12*. Backpacking in Big Bend is for the experienced and the tough-minded – the conditions are often harsh and the heat can be punishing.
Big Bend is a terrain that demands respect, but inspires awe. Its vast expanse means there is always something to discover:
▪ The Chisos mountains will throw your definition of a flat desert
right out the window.
▪ The Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive is a winding road best taken slowly (for the
views and the steep grades it contains) and it leads to the mouth of
Santa Elena Canyon. This canyon contains one of the most spectacular hikes
in the park.
Other must-see spots:
▪ The hot springs, a quarter-mile hike from the Rio Grande Village. The short
hike is picturesque and takes you past abandoned buildings from days
gone by. There are even palm trees offering a tropical feel.
▪ The Window – a natural twenty-foot opening in solid rock. Here is
where all the rain and snowmelt in the Chisos Basin drains, and it's just
lovely at sunset. Don't try to climb on it, as the smooth rocks make it
Summer temperatures are high, so non-Texans should visit from October through May.
If you want to remember the magic of life, or enjoy a vacation on the quieter side, West Texas has just what the doctor ordered.
*All content provided in this blog is supplied by Kara Perez and is for informational purposes only. Barclaycard makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information contained in the blog or found by following any link within this blog.
*Prices may fluctuate over time. This article reflects price estimates at time of publication.
Image credit(s): https://www.instagram.com/restlessandroving/ (@restlessandroving)
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