Long, lonely highways, big Texas sky and speed limits of 80 mph make West Texas a perfect place for a road trip. Most people pass through it on their way to Big Bend National Park, but stopping in the towns of Fort Davis, Alpine and Marfa make a great weekend itinerary.
Turn on the cruise control and coast along Interstate 10. On the way, take in oceans of wind turbines that eventually give way to oil pump jacks. Once you hit Texas State Highway 17, wind your way through the Chihuahuan Desert toward tiny Fort Davis.
At 5,050 feet above sea level, Fort Davis is the highest town in Texas. It’s home to Davis Mountains State Park, the Chihuahuan Desert Research Center, Fort Davis National Historic Site and the McDonald Observatory. Indian Lodge, located inside the state park, is the only hotel owned and operated by the state of Texas. With white adobe walls and natural landscaping, the property offers plenty of rustic charm. But book your stay early because the 39 rooms in this Civilian Conservation Corps-built hotel stay full year-round.
There, the Fort Davis Historic Site is considered one of the best remaining examples of a frontier military post in the American Southwest. Check its calendar for living history days, featuring reenactments.
The most popular attraction in Fort Davis is the observatory. It offers daytime solar observations, twilight programs and “star parties” that give visitors access to multiple telescopes pointed at the night sky. Reservations are essential, and don’t forget to dress warm no matter what time of year you visit.
From Fort Davis, take State Highway 118 southward. The Chihuahuan Desert Research Center is worth a stop for its botanical gardens and hiking trails. From there, continue to Alpine, home to the Museum of the Big Bend on the Sul Ross State University campus.
Alpine has vibrant murals throughout downtown. For food, be sure to grab some oak-smoked brisket at Come and Take It BBQ.
Marfa is next. It’s known worldwide as a destination for modern art, and minimalist artist Donald Judd put the tiny town on the map in the 1970s. Today, you can tour his buildings and view his artwork. You’ll also want to spend time downtown visiting galleries and shops. Don’t miss the Hotel Paisano where movie stars stayed during the filming of “Giant.”
One of the most Instagrammed spots in West Texas is the art installation, “Prada Marfa,” located 30 miles northwest of Marfa, near the tiny town of Valentine.
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 phenomenon was first spotted in the 1800s, and continues to baffle onlookers. Some have attributed the lights to supernatural forces and UFOs, but their source is unknown.
For one last jaunt through the high desert, take Highway 166 for a 75-mile loop. Soak in broad vistas of the Sierra Viejo Mountains until you ascend towards Sawtooth Mountain and Mount Livermore. Finally, you’ll pass through Madera Canyon on your way back to Fort Davis.
Finally, head back toward I-10, but make a pit stop at one of the world’s largest spring-fed pools, at Balmorhea State Park. The pool was built in the 1930s, and holds 3.5 million gallons of water. Swim, snorkel or scuba dive in crystal clear water that boasts a year-round temperature of 72-76 degrees.