Detail of one mural in the Gage Hotel, Marathon Texas
Brake for Turkey Vultures, Javelinas and Auodads
Americana, escape and wide open places – West Texas is good for what ails the urban spirit. I didn’t know how far gone I was until silence swamped me at a roadstop. A literal road stop. Just before entering Big Bend National Park, I couldn’t help but stop the car in the middle of the road and run out. On a rock cropping, as if posed for a John Huston western, at least a dozen black Turkey Vultures swooped and sat. There were no cars for miles until a Park Ranger pulled his rig close and cautioned us to pull over. The last thing he needed was a pair of tourist road kills.
Several times we did pull over for Javelinas. First we sped past an almond shaped creature who stood about four feet wide in the road. By the time we’d turned around he’d disappeared. They were good at staying out of camera range but I offer this picture, taken near Lajitas by the resort guide. The family of Javelinas, which are related to Pecaries, were in a canyon just beyond her home.
Javelina family spied near Lajitas
Auodads, large brown sheep, were imported into Texas after WW2 when soldiers returned from Africa. They’d learned what a delicious game animal they were. They also quickly learned that Auodads were not easy to keep. The animals escaped the original ranches and have flourished in the wild across West Texas.
One night in Lajitas, I looked out to the silhouette of a craggy mountain across the Rio Grande. The rocks moved! It was too far to capture on camera but there was a large four footed animal on the crest. I like to think it was an Auodad and so my only sighting.
Trip Planner Tip 1:
Research your options. The best we had for our road trip was a loose schedule. Lodging was set but how to get there and what to see was left up to us. It’s too easy to say that West Texas has something for everyone. I look for the off-beat, the historical quirks, the local hangouts that are usually just off the tourist radar. I’ve learned to surrender to the fact that you can’t see everything but look for the things that bring you joy and you’ll return home the happier.
The original El Caminio Real lobby
Dig into El Paso
El Paso brims with energy, history and revitalization. The city is easier to visit than ever with new flights at the El Paso International Airport. At this writing, five major airlines fly in and out. Of all the treasures we discovered, discovering El Paso was our road trip gold nugget. The city is full of urban delights – a restaurant and craft beer scene, theater, classic architecture and contemporary upgrades, sports, concerts, plus outdoor adventures nearby and the percolating exchanges of a long history with Mexico, just across a bridge from downtown. Read more about it in this post.
Enjoying the Balmorea Pool
Splash down in Balmorea
It’s not just the Tex Mex peppers, West Texas gets hot. The summers can be brutal and scorching. It was still warm when we visited in late September, after the monsoons passed, but comfortable. The idea of leaving downtown El Paso and diving into a natural spring pool less than 3 hours away, thrust us into the greening countryside early on our third morning in Texas.
The BIG Pool:
Part of the sweeping 1930’s New Deal plan brought workers to West Texas where the Civilian Conservation Corps built Balmohea State Park. Nearly eighty years later families, tourists and courting couples cool off in the waters of the ‘World’s Largest Spring Fed Swimming Pool.’ The depth goes from about three feet to nearly thirty and the water shelters small fish plus a feathery green growth coating the bottom. The fish were cute, the green slime bothered me, but the pool was clear and cooling. The reservoir is so unnusual that it’s a Texas Aquatic Science Certified Field Site and school field trips make good use of that in their curriculum. The idea that nearby fracking might impact the water tweaks my heart but it’s still in discussion across the region.
Trip Planner tip 2:
Don’t miss the drive from Balmorea to Fort Davis along Route 17. You could blast through in a half hour but leave time to meander and gawk. The canyon road is lined with rugged cliffs and on the afternoon we drove, sweetly devoid of big trucks that dog the main highways. It’s a short 32.4 mile drive but consider pulling over to hike or picnic.
The Drug Store Counter in Fort Davis
This small town is a find. The narrow main street hosts a few gift shops and small hotels. We stayed upstairs in the Drug Store in a large two, queen bed room with our own bath. Downstairs the old time drug store counter menu offers ice cream and milk shakes. A chorus line of round topped, red leather stools fronts the counter and wooden booths fill the dining room. The cash register sits atop a glass case full of fudge.
Fort Davis Drug Store Hotel
On our morning there I enjoyed a mug of complementary coffee downstairs before heading out for some exercise and to investigate the red rock bluff on the edge of the neighborhood. Turkey vultures caught the morning currents, their shadows crossed mine as I walked past small houses, churches and watched a backyard goat take to a tree. My sister and I had a fine dinner at the Blue Moon Restaurant across the street.
Trip Planner Tip 3:
There’s an Ice Cream stop on the outskirts of town. The Red Caboose is a local favorite and came highly recommended, plus it’s pet friendly.
Trip Planner Tip 4
History buffs can explore the old fort where Confederate General, Jefferson Davis, held his ground. The managers of Wall Drug Hotel are distant relatives!
Eve’s Garden BnB Marathon Texas
One of our draws to Texas was seeing Marfa, but we kept it for the end of our trip. Our night in Marathon was like an appetizer of things to come in the ‘art town.’ We swept into town late on a cloudy afternoon and barely checked in before taking off for dinner at the Gage Hotel.
Eve’s Garden is a visionaries delight with bright walls, colorful collections of art and less than 10 rooms, each unique and hand textured from recycled Papercrete blocks.
Seeing is believing, check out my video:
Gage Hotel Dining Room
Travel Planner tip 5
Don’t miss the White Buffalo Bar in Marathon. The Gage Hotel nods to shotgun culture but the sophisticated menu and graceful layout make this spot worthy of a celebrity sighting.
Part 2 of the West Texas Road Trip Planner is the next post. Continue the road trip through Terlingua, Lajitas, a bit of Big Bend National Park and Marfa.
Thanks for coming along for the ride!
Road view between Balmorea and Fort Davis
Links and other Trip Planner tips:
We used GPS but there are other sites with ample route suggestions for drivers and bicyclists, like: Distancesto.com
Plan your trip around weather. Check temperatures and weather patterns, then pack for comfort.
This list isn’t exhaustive. There’s so much to explore in West Texas like the McDonald Observatory near Fort Davis
Balmorea State Park has camping, trailer options and hiking trails as well as the famous natural spring reservoir. Check the website for hours and reservations.
Eve’s Garden in Marathon is worth a detour. The hospitality is warm, the organic cooking delicious and the space a unique, artful experience.
The Gage Hotel in Marathon is listed as #1 on many noted travel lists.
Fort Davis, – Spacious, comfortable and affordable. The upstairs room, with abundant WiFi, couches and tables is a great space for digital nomads!
Fort Davis, Lumpia Hotel: Fully restored historic property with a garden begging to be enjoyed.
El Paso Craft and Social – Jazz bar, beer on tap and Texas wines by the glass or bottle.
Fort Davis, – They don’t make them like this anymore. Family style cooking and a full service counter.
Fort Davis, Hotel Limpia Restaurant – Blue Mountain Bistro a fine dining experience with a full bar menu or dining room. Tapas and much more.
This trip was spurred by an invitation from Visit El Paso and the Brewster County Tourism Offices. Many thanks for their arrangements and guidance. All opinions as usual are my own.
Share please (and thank you!)
A Thanksgiving adventure – Lobster, a Fin whale and wild mushrooms
November 30, 2011
Country bliss – Lajitas, the best of Texas Resorts
April 21, 2017
Visiting Paris in Petaluma – Metro Hotel and more
July 25, 2015
Go with ‘Oh’ to Barcelona
April 4, 2012
Elaine J. Masters
Whether you're taking a short road trip or zipping across the planet, I'm be here to help. Learn from my years of travel for work and pleasure, solo, family and a few tours. The Tripwellgal mission remains: To help us connect with our beautiful planet and each other with care and wonder. Stay in touch and happy travels!
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This past summer our vacation consisted of a West Texas Roadtrip. We traveled all over West Texas, making several stops along the way. Our main destination was the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Originally we planned for it to be Big Bend, but the heat that time of year and the portable water shortage had our rethink our plans. I am still blogging about all the stops we made (I have 17 left to do), some many have never heard of. Feel free to check them out http://nuttyhiker.com/tag/road-trip-2016/
After reading your post, looks like we will need to make another trip!
I’d heard about the intense summer heat and was happy to visit West Texas after the monsoon season. Greens were popping and the temperatures plenty warm enough. I’d love to see the Guadalupe Mountains Park one day. So much to explore in Texas!
I have always wanted to go to Texas. It seems like a place right off the movies! I have a friend who’s from there and her accent just makes my day!
Love that accent too. You’ll just have to convince your Texan friend to take you home with her!
This looks and sounds like an epic road trip. What awesome landscapes. The tips are good and would make for an unforgettable road trip. We too believe in planning the basics and leaving the rest to our spur of the moment whims and fancies.
We have the same approach to travel, Vyjay! Love pulling over at a moment’s notice.
This looks like a road trip everyone should do, while around Texas. Such fun. I can imagine cowboys and ranches and swinging bar doors.
Didn’t find the swinging bar doors but the local color does not disappoint!
I haven’t been to West Texas yet but I love everything about Texas that I’ve seen so far. Hoping to be invited on a press trip to El Paso in 2017. Loved all the pictures and know that it would be a super fun and beautiful place to see.
El Paso is very, very cool. There’s so much being revitalized, I can’t wait to hear what you discover.
Sounds like an interesting trip. I haven’t done a lot of road trips but am always inspired to do so after reading fun adventures like this one. The Fort Davis Drugstore hotel sounds like a cool place to stay.
I hope you get a chance to visit.
Sounds like an epic road trip! I’ve always wanted to visit El Paso, but including it in a bigger road trip would be so amazing!
El Paso is full of wonders. Definitely include it in a bigger road trip through the West.
Wow what a comprehensive list- I have yet to visit either but it looks like there is so much to see and do here.
The list went on a bit long! There’s just so much to see and do in the area.
True Blue Americana. Wonderful post perfect for a drive vacation. Loved the photos and obviously the details are really helpful. There’s so much rustic charm in this region it is unbelievable.
Ready to put your cowboy boots on?! Truly rustic charm and surprising sophistication too.
A West Texas roadtrip sounds like so much fun! I drove through Texas a few years back and visited Luckenbach, San Antonio and Austin and loved them all! I can’t wait to go back and see more of West Texas, you images look like they’re out of a travel brochure!
So appreciate the complement, Vicki. I’d love to see all the places you’ve visited as well.
Can you believe that I’ve lived in Texas for practically my entire life, and I’ve never done a West Texas road trip. You make El Paso sound much more appealing than I imagined it would be. I can’t wait to read about Part 2 as I’ve always wanted to visit Marfa.
Thanks, Michele, I’m a California gal and haven’t seen everything here either. We’re both from massive states.
I lived in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area for 5 1/2 years and never made it to west Texas. There is so much to see in the Lone Star state! This area is like a whole different world. I would love to do this someday. I had never heard of the Auodad sheep but would sure like to see them!
I’ve never made it to Dallas/Ft.Worth either! You’re right about how much there is to see in Texas.
Texas is on my list for sure. When those Rib festivals come up here to Toronto from Texas the bring mouth watering BBQ ribs it makes want to visit for that alone. But clearly there is so much more. Great post!!!
Thanks, Chris. BBQ is big but there’s more Tex Mex influence, and French and organics and … to explore in Texas too.
I haven’t been to this part of Texas and appreciate your insight. Big Bend is on our list, El Paso is not, but now I’ll have to reconsider!
Check weather conditions for the best views and comfort when you do visit El Paso and West Texas.
This is a trip we’ve been wanting to do. Marfa and Big Bend are at the top of our list. After reading this I added El Paso. I had no idea it was so cool. I’ll use this when planning our trip. I know about javalinas from an Asleep at the Wheel song but Auodads were totally new to me.
Thanks, Billie. I hope you get to see much more of Big Bend than we did on our quick road trip and Marfa is a wonder. Don’t miss the Chinati Foundation and the Judd House if you can swing it.
Eve’s garden certainly looks very colourful, there would be no chance of missing this location as you drive past!! Your photos are very clear and bright – love them!
Thank you, Annette. Eve’s Garden is a wonder and the managers are delightful. Glad you like the pictures!
Elaine, you are having too much fun, girl! It looks like you had an amazing trip to Texas. Thx for sharing.
Never too much fun, Doreen! It’s been an incredible year for travel but I’m glad to be coming home for the holidays.
I’m similar to you – I also try to look for off-beat and historical quirks – that’s something that always makes my trips interesting.
We should compare notes sometime, Monika!
The road between Balmorea and fort Davis looks like a sweet road trip. The drug store hotel looks cool as well!
Thanks, Vedante, it was a great trip. Hope you can drive that road too one day.
Great comprehensive guide! Would love to have a road trip anywhere in the States actually and stop in the cute traditional diners! The Drug Store place looks really interesting. All the animal encounters sound quite interesting though a bit scary to drive with.
Driving across the US is one of my favorite trips. The animal encounters weren’t scary, just surprising. I love seeing wildlife.
Such an interesting landscape! A long road trip into both a city and national park like this sounds perfect, hope I could get to do this someday!
Truly a wonderful road trip. Hope you get to do it too!
Some great tips here. A really varied trip with lots of activities.
It was an incredible adventure, with something for everyone along the way too.
I think I’m long due for a road trip, Elaine. Your post made me yearn for one and since I’ve never been in Texas, I could head that way. Big Bend National Park seems to be right up my alley: rich wild life and a very beautiful nature.
It’s a truly unique part of the country. I hope you do get a chance to visit, Anda.
I’ve been hearing great things about El Paso recently! Definitely adding it to my 2017 travel list. Great post and photos, thanks for sharing 🙂
Thank you, Carmen. I think you’d find lots to enjoy in El Paso and the area.
Grew up in Texas and never made it to Big Bend. Have heard nothing but good things, so really need to visit myself at some point. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.
There’s much I haven’t seen in my home state of California, too. I hope you get to see more of Texas.
Sounds like a fun trip. Spas and pools are a big draw for us to relax and rejuvenate, so maybe we will consider a visit to Balmorea when we make it to this part of the States!
I hope you get a chance to visit Balmorea.
A road trip is always fun and exploring the West Texas sounds great! Love to see the animals in the Big Bend National Park but really have to be cautious about hitting any animals on the road 🙂 @ knycx.journeying
So right about being careful about hitting animals. Most of the Big Bend area was fenced along the roads and the wide open spaces made creeping up on Tarantulas safe.
West Texas looks made for road tripping, in fact, America was made for road tripping. Great post, bookmarked it for future reference.
Thanks, Mike. I love road trips and you’re right, America was made for them.
What a great taste of home for me! My niece and nephew worked at the Fort Davis Drug Store when they were in high school. I’ve swam at Balmorea a million times. Interesting about the auodads. I didn’t know that’s how they got to Texas.
What serendipity. I was such a newbee in Texas. Very cool that you called it home.
Road Trips….ohh yea. But US is quite far for me now. Will make it there one day and I am sure I will take a road trip across.
Road trips are a big American thing, I guess. So much land to cover and so many places to see. I hope you do get the chance to visit.
Your photos feels like it was out of a movie! Lovely shots! Thanks for sharing your awesome weekend!
Thanks, Carla. Love taking pictures and I’ll add videos as time allows. Glad you enjoyed the post.
Aww, I love javelinas! We used to have them come in to our neighborhood when we lived in Phoenix. And the Drugstore looks like a fun place! My arm can always be twisted for a good milkshake.
I really wanted to see more of the Javelinas but they were pretty skittish. Cool that they used to come into your Phoenix neighborhood – at least as long as they didn’t do too much damage.
This is awesome – a trip through Texas has been on my to do list for a long time, as it’s one of the few states I have yet to visit (outside of an airport or two!). I’ve always wanted to go Marfa, too, so I look forward to your blog post about that. White Buffalo Bar looks super cool, too!
Thanks, Sarah. I hope you get the chance to explore a bit outside of the airports!