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.
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Elaine J. Masters
Once we overcome the virus, the world will be waiting. Travelers know one thing - how to pivot and we will. We'll travel again and whether it's a short road trip or across the planet, I'll be here to help putting my years of travel to work. 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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