A guide to the Big Bend region of Texas
If it were a state, the Big Bend region of Texas would rank 42nd in size. In the approximately 10,000 square miles between U.S. 90 and the bend in the Rio Grande, there are only five towns that are more than just a wide spot in the road and miles of highway through the desert and mountains. Here's a short guide to Presidio and Brewster counties.
It amazes me that the drive from Austin to Alpine can be done in six hours. With the speed limit at 80 mph on I-10 in West Texas, the miles just melt away. Once you get off the interstate, watch the speed-limit signs, especially around city limits.
One of my favorite small towns, Alpine is scenic and has a full range of services. I found the locally owned Maverick Inn across the street from Sul Ross State University to be very comfortable.
Food was a little more difficult to find. The Reata restaurant has a longstanding reputation and was adequate but overpriced. I highly recommend the Cowboy Breakfast at Judy's Bake Shop across from the railroad station.
Marfa is an interesting artists colony with a major art foundation, galleries, and a film festival. The temperature tends to be cooler on the Marfa Plateau than in the rest of the region.
Overnight accommodations include the Thunderbird Hotel and the Hotel Paisano, where the cast stayed while filming Giant. For a cheaper alternative, try the Riata Inn. The best restaurant in town is Jett's Grill in the Paisano.
While you're in town, check out Marfa Book Co. and the local public-radio station. The best time to see the Marfa lights is at sundown at the viewing area east of town. A great way to see the area is by taking a flight with Marfa Gliders. The cheap way to see the area is from the observation deck of the Presidio County Courthouse.
South of Marfa, Presidio is often the hottest spot in the U.S. It's a sad little town, but it's Mexican neighbor, Ojinaga, is a quaint little village.
From Presidio to Lajitas, Ranch Road 170 is a beautiful drive. The beer-drinking goat has retired from Lajitas, but the resort is still open. Don't miss the Barton Warnock Environmental Education Center for a scientific look at the region.
Study Butte is a good place to stop for gas and supplies. Go to Terlingua for a burger at the Starlight Theatre.
Panther Junction, the headquarters of the national park, is the place to stop for information. Even if you're not staying at Chisos Mountain Lodge, it's worth the drive to see the view. Take a side trip down FM 2627 to the Hallie Stillwell Hall of Fame Museum.
In Marathon, the Gage Hotel is popular. The hotel's Cafe Cenizo opens at 6pm daily. During the day, French Company Grocer at 206 N. Ave. D stocks quality food, supplies, and advice.
933nd in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of "Day Trips" 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.