Posted by: carogouin | August 28, 2009

the alps of Texas

One of many beautiful camp sites in west Texas.

One of many beautiful camp sites in west Texas.

First, we’d like to thank Faith, Robin and Jacob again (our friends from Austin) for suggesting we check out West Texas, an area we were not planning on exploring initially and knew nothing about. We consider it to be a little hidden treasure of Texas, or even the Southwest, and home to some of the most beautiful roads (per National Geographic), deserts and mountain ranges in North America.  We’ve spent the last week or so wandering quite a bit through the area, since it is no small corner; and we still didn’t get to see it all. However, we were blown away at what we did see: rolling hills topped with mesas and rocky cliffs, surprisingly green vegetation in a desert climate (Chihuahuan desert is the 2nd biggest in North America I believe), wind turbine farms feeding into the city grids, vast plains with dirt devils and thunderstorm patches, and loose livestock here and there. 

One of many massive wind farms along the way.

One of many massive wind farms along the way.

Our first stay was in Alpine, the regional capital and a stop on the Sunset Limited – the famous Amtrak train from New Orleans to Los Angeles.  We stayed 2 nights (and a 3rd almost a week later) at the Lost Alaskan RV Park: a great little rest stop where we met some interesting folks escaping the summer heat of Texas. Alpine is significantly cooler, drier and breezier. We took a bike tour through town and visited the Museum of the Big Bend, where we learned about the history of West Texas, geological landscape, nearby attractions and dinosaurs (we frequently hummed the theme song to Jurassic Park as we traversed the area- thanks Larry!).

Museum of the Big Bend

Museum of the Big Bend

Leaving Alpine, we headed north towards the Davis Mountains and stopped at Fort Davis National Park, a historic Fort established in the mid 19th century to safeguard travelers along the old San Antonio to El Paso trail. It was a chilling replica of the Fort as it was in 1885, with only a few rooms furnished and remains of other buildings.  We hiked up the hills around the fort and heard the traditional bugle calls played every half hour or so. The place was packed with enormous grasshopers!

Fort Davis then.

Fort Davis then.

Fort Davis now.

Fort Davis now.

Crazy grasshoppers!

Crazy grasshoppers!

Another awesome grasshopper.

Another awesome grasshopper.

Texas route 166 - the scenic loop

Texas route 166 - the scenic loop

We continued on the Scenic Loop (Route 166) towards the McDonald Observatory.  Although it was day, we toured the Hobby-Eberly telescope, one of the world’s largest and unique optical telescopes. It has 91 smaller mirrors joined together to make one big mirror. Back on the scenic loop, we liked the area so much, that we decided to stay the night at the Crow’s Nest – a small RV park tucked away in the mountains with jutting rocky cliffs in the background.  Eager to explore these, we bush-wacked our way through cacti up a steep hill and got gorgeous views of the mountains and plains in the distance.   We even spotted our first javelina (a peccary which looks like a wild hog but is actually related to a deer).

Telescope

The Hobby-Eberly telescope.

There are big hummingbirds everywhere.

There were many big hummingbirds near the telescope visitor center.

Javelina

Javelina

The hills we hiked behind the Crows Nest.

The hills we hiked behind the Crows Nest.

The next day we headed to Marfa, a small hipster town with a cool art scene.  Having lunch at Food Shark, a delicious Mediterranean food truck, we talked to a few locals who suggested we pay a visit to a peaceful retreat off the beaten path: the Chinati Hotsprings.  They said those 3 magic phrases: hot springs, communal kitchen and 4-wheel drive only – enough to steer us away from our northern trajectory and instead make our way southwest towards the Mexican border. 

Mmmmm Food Shark!

Mmmmm Food Shark!

Delicious kababs.

Delicious kebabs.

Indeed, Pinto Canyon Road turned into a gravel (and very rocky) road cutting through the Chinati mountains, though we safely made it to our destination 2 hours later.  Pat thoroughly enjoyed airing down the tires and switching into 4-low, after all the pavement we’ve been on.  After seeing first-hand how remote and magical this place was – we thought it best to stay 2 nights.  Chinati Hotsprings (owned by the CEO of Tyco) is situated about 10 miles from the Mexican border, so you can see the imposing Sierra Madre mountains in the distance.  As mentioned, the resort is equipped with a great communal kitchen, a natural hot tub, private hot bath rooms, a cold-water pool, an outdoor shower, and many cabins to choose from.  We opted for out roof-top bedroom.  It was a delightful and relaxing 2 days/nights – a little oasis in the middle of the desert.  

On the beautiful Pinto Canyon road.

On the beautiful Pinto Canyon road.

Chinati Hot Springs was worth the trip.

Chinati Hot Springs was worth the trip.

In the cool pool after a dip in the hot tub.

In the cool pool after a dip in the hot tub.

Sunset over the mountains of Mexico.

Sunset over the mountains of Mexico.

So close to the border, we decided to get as close as possible and drove down the Rio Grande from Presidio to Lajitas (after eating the famous green enchiladas at La Escondida – recommended by Tim at Chinata Hotsprings).  Voted one of the most beautiful roads in North America, the River Road did not disappoint.  We followed the picturesque canyons and dipped our feet in the river.  Our only interaction with the US Border Patrol was heading back North to Alpine.  Sergeant Rodriguez’ only remarks were “so you’re from Maryland huh?  I take it you’re US citizens?  OK – go on through.”  No checking for passports or anything.  We reunited with a few friends back at the Lost Alaskan in Alpine, and after our week-long detour through West Texas, headed back north to complete one last feat in Texas – climb the highest peak in the state in the Guadalupe Mountains!

Wild horses!

Wild horses - loose livestock all over the roads.

Pat runs for the border.

Pat runs for the border.

Caro dipping her feet in the Rio Grande.

Caro dipping her feet in the Rio Grande.

Mexico on the left, USA on the right.

Mexico on the left, USA on the right.

 PS: We’ve been getting some requests for photos of the inside of the tent, so we put some on the About page.

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Responses

  1. It looks beautiful! Mmmm TexMex food.

  2. p.s. Love the info about the javelina. It totally looks like a hog, its hard to believe its related to a deer. Its clearly the ugly cousin. I have now added “peccary” to my vocabulary, maybe it will come in handy when I play David in Scrabble.

  3. Your photos are fantastic! The scenery is gorgeous but I also love the javelina, grasshoppers and food! Caroline, how do you pronouce that critter–Habelena? It sure doesn’t look like a cute little fawn. Love you guys.

  4. Larry’s response to this entry: “Nee Nee Nee, Neeeneee!”

  5. dang ole’ javelinas!

  6. those grasshoppers WERE awesome! so pretty!

    haha and i totally love the fort davis photo 😉


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