West Texas Vacation Ideas
West Texas is a vast, stark and arid place where the desert meets the mountains. Although the trees might not be as plentiful as in the eastern part of the state, some of the most stunning views Texas has to offer are located in the Trans-Pecos area (the area of Texas that lies west of the Pecos river). The days are hot and the nights are cool in the mountains and the high plains of the region. West Texas is a vacation spot for those with a penchant for the outdoors, whose idea of night life is stargazing the constellations and by day exploring the scenic drives, rivers and mountain plateaus. Counties here are bigger than entire states in New England, so be prepared to do a lot of driving on your trip.
The Trans-Pecos Loop
Rising a mile above sea level in places, the Trans-Pecos loop connects the southwest Texas towns of Fort Davis, Marfa and Alpine. It has been called one of the most scenic drives in Texas by the National Geographic Society. The Davis Mountains seem to spring from nowhere on the Chihuahuan desert floor in West Texas. Highway 118 between Fort Davis and Alpine is the highest paved road east of the Rocky Mountains. Just outside the town of Fort Davis visitors can tour the renowned McDonald Observatory. Located in one of the least light-polluted places in the continental U.S., the observatory is a leader in astronomical research and offers daytime tours and nighttime viewing programs for visitors.
Marfa's claim to fame is the "Marfa lights," an unexplained phenomena that occurs in the nighttime skies east of town, where bright lights the size of basketballs are commonly seen hovering near the horizon. Fans of James Dean often visit Marfa, because the remote town served as the film set where the iconic actor filmed his last movie, "Giant," in 1955, shortly before his death. Fort Davis is the closest town in the Trans-Pecos loop to a major Interstate, 60 miles south of the Balmorhea exit from I-10, on Highway 17, which itself is a scenic drive.
McDonald Observatory Visitors Center
HC75 Box 1337-VC
Fort Davis, TX 79734
Home to a national park of the same name, the Big Bend area is where the Rio Grande makes a significant turn to create the distinctive southwestern horn of Texas.
One of the most extreme National Parks in terms of natural diversity, Big Bend stretches from the sandy banks of the Rio Grande to rocky mountains nearly a mile high within just one hour's driving time. It is often referred to as "three parks in one" due to its river, desert and mountain terrains. It it also one of the most remote National Parks, bordering Mexico to the South and hours away from any Interstate or major city. While it has all the amenities one would expect from a National Park, such as scenic paved roads, hiking trails and campsites patrolled by park rangers, it can be a dangerous place for visitors who venture off the beaten path, due to the harsh environment of its natural wilderness areas. Plan to camp in an official park campsite or book accommodations at the Chisos Mountains Lodge, the only lodging available in the park.
Chisos Mountains Lodge
Reservations: (877) 386-4383
Big Bend National Park
Basin Rural Station
Big Bend National Park, TX 79834
Visitor Information: (432) 477-2251
Within Guadalupe Mountains National Park, visitors will find the highest point in Texas, Guadalupe Peak, and the nearby --- and more photographed --- peak of El Capitan, which was used by the pioneers as a navigation point on their journey west and by Native Americans as a signal peak. Guadalupe is a place for hikers, horseback riders, nature lovers and history buffs, who will thrill at seeing El Capitan just as it was seen by Native American tribes and those pioneers on the wagon train who were passing though, but wisely decided not to settle in this beautiful wilderness. Accommodations are limited to camping. The nearest major city is El Paso,100 miles to the west of the park entrance, so, if you're planning a day trip to Guadalupe National Park, start your day early.
It's worth noting --- although it's not in West Texas --- another National Park located in the Guadalupe Mountain range: Carlsbad Caverns National Park is 25 miles to the north, just over the state line in New Mexico.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
400 Pine Canyon Road
Salt Flat, TX 79847
Visitor Information: (915) 828-3251
Blake Guthrie has been a professional journalist since 1996. His articles have been featured in the "Atlanta Journal-Constitution," "Creative Loafing" and on Travels.com. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in mass communications from Auburn University.
John E. Stout