Long, lonely highways. Big Texas sky. Plus, speed limits of 80 miles an hour and a host of unusual stops make West Texas the perfect road trip destination.
While most people pass through on their way to Big Bend National Park, the trio of towns – Fort Davis, Alpine, Marfa – make the perfect weekend itinerary. Set the cruise control on I-10 and take in oceans of wind turbines as they give way to pump-jacks bobbing up and down until you hit TX-17. From there, wind your way through the Chihuahuan Desert towards tiny Fort Davis.
Indian Lodge, the only hotel owned and operated by the State of Texas, located inside the Davis Mountains State Park, is a fantastic place to set up camp. With pristine, white adobe walls, natural landscaping, and a refreshing pool, the property offers plenty of rustic charm. Book early, as the 39 rooms in this Civilian Conservation Corps-built historic hotel stay full year-round.
History comes alive at the Fort Davis Historic Site, considered one of the best remaining examples of a frontier military post in the American Southwest. A 15-minute video in the Visitor’s Center telling the fort’s story is an excellent orientation before embarking on a self-guided tour. Check the calendar for living history days, featuring reenactments.
The undisputed star, no pun intended, of Fort Davis is the McDonald Observatory, located just north of Davis Mountains State Park on Highway 118. This must-see offers daytime solar observations, educational twilight programs, and star parties featuring views from multiple telescopes aimed at various “targets” in the night sky. Reservations are essential. Dress warmly – no matter what time of year.
Take Highway 118 south, passing the Chihuahuan Desert Research Center, worth a stop for the botanical gardens and hiking trails, and continue to Alpine; home to the Museum of the Big Bend located on the campus of Sul Ross State University.
Don’t miss the vibrant murals scattered throughout downtown and be sure to grab some oak-smoked brisket at Come and Take it BBQ before heading out of town.
A mecca for modern art in the middle of the desert, minimalist artist Donald Judd put the tiny town on the map when he discovered it in the 1970s. Today you can tour his buildings and view his work; it’s important to note that you must reserve a tour. Spend time downtown visiting galleries and shops; don’t miss the Hotel Paisano where “Giant” was filmed.
If you’re in Marfa after the sun goes down, head a few miles south for a chance to glimpse the mysterious Marfa lights. The unexplained phenomena were first spotted in the 1800s and continue to baffle believers and skeptics alike.
Take advantage of one of the most Instagrammable locales in West Texas at Prada Marfa. Thirty miles northwest, just past Valentine, Texas (pop. 215) the infamous art installation awaits. From here take Highway 505 to return to Fort Davis.
Not through driving yet? Continue on Highway 166 for 75 miles on the scenic loop. Soak in broad views of the Sierra Viejo Mountains until you ascend towards Sawtooth Mountain and Mt. Livermore. Finally, you’ll pass through the Madera Canyon on your way back to Fort Davis.
Balmorhea State Park
Don’t miss the chance to take a dip in one of the world’s largest spring-fed pools. The desert oasis was built by the CCC in the 1930s and holds 3.5 million gallons of water. Swim, snorkel or scuba dive in crystal clear water that boasts year-round temps between 72 and 76 degrees. Located directly off TX 17, this small park makes the perfect stop on the way back to I-10.
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Cover: The sun rising in the Davis Mountains, as seen from McDonald Observatory. Photo Ethan Tweedie Photography
Tami Brooks is a freelance travel and lifestyle writer living in East Texas and the creator of the online community, 52 Weeks 52 Hikes. When she’s not on the road, you’ll find her on the deck with a glass of wine, planning her next adventure. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.