Prada art installation outside of Valentine, Texas
In West Texas extremes play well together. International fashion brands mix with far flung art installations, ghost towns host chili cook offs. Dinner may be chicken-fried, wild boar or resort ranch-groomed beef served with beer, long neck or artisinal. There were more surprises than I have room to write about! Welcome to the second half of my West Texas, Road Trip Planner.
Terlingua Ghost Town Motel – Basic, clean & a decent night’s sleep
A week wouldn’t be enough to explore everything in this ghost town area. While on the road with my sister, we spent a night in the Chisos Mining Hotel
before leaving at dawn for a Saddle and Paddle tour
organized by Lajitas Stables
and Big Bend River Tours
. Wander we did though – through oddball delights, (just what I love) with trailer murals, roadside attractions, a hillside full of crumbling, adobe buildings from the last century; all of it hosted by a jumble of sweet-hearted eccentrics. We fit right in.
- Starlight Theater Dining – A great hangout but I sense it’s seen better days.
- Ghost town church that’s been turned into new businesses over the years.
Travel Planner Tip
If you love chili, camping out and camaraderie put one or both of the notorious Ghost Town Chili Cook Offs on your itinerary when visiting Terlingua. Held each November, it’s really not about the chili, but dueling parties.
Lajitas Resort – Badlands Hotel Lobby Photo by Jack Hollinsworth
Luxury refinements and true grit hospitality complement each other at the Lajitas Resort and Golf Course. Reach the spacious settlement by road or via the local airport with charter flights from Dallas. I don’t golf but truly regret the light showers kept me from touring the course by cart. What a gorgeous landscape and undulating greens!
- Lajitas Stables and bluff
Adjacent to the resort are historical sites – the golf shop is set into the old Trading Post. There’s a historical chapel, the Ocotillo Event space has seen its share of shootouts, and the Rio Grande borders the golf course. A decade ago golfers could swing to a green across the border and then back!
Our first night at the Lajitas Resort, a destination wedding unfolded on the terrace. Not surprisingly, the groom wore cowboy boots and his groomsmen had rhinestones on their jean pockets. Our room overlooked the greens and we toasted to the sunset from Adirondack chairs on the patio.
Ocotillo Events – Once the site hosted gunslingers & shootouts but peace reigns now. Photo – Jack Hollingsworth
Lajitas dining room just before dawn
The menu of services at the Spa was tempting for our sore muscles. The Restaurant offers a full buffet at dawn and dinners feature local game.
Riding through lunchbox canyon with our Lajitas Stables guide, Kelly
If you’re looking for adventure, Lajitas makes a fine home base. Guides will help scheduling ziplining, shooting practice, horse back riding and river rafting trips. My favorite outdoor experience in West Texas was a day spent horse back riding through canyons and up to mesas. Next we floated down the Rio Grande and even swam in rapids. The Saddle and Paddle package is an easy way to get into the countryside. If only we had more time for rafting and camping in the nearby canyons.
- The famous beer swilling Mayor of Lajitas & his missus
I’d been warned that the best of Big Bend National Park lays off the main road. It may be the case but even a few hours traversing the park is a worthy adventure. The bluffs and mesas are stunning. We spied Tarantulas crossing the road, Turkey Vultures and a family of camera shy, Javelinas turned tail quickly, scooting out of sight. The rock formations are formidable and while early fall was comfortably warm, I imagine the blazing summertime heat could melt tires. We drove through on a cloudy afternoon, which made it easier to stop for pictures… and wildlife.
Ranch signs dot the side roads.
The National Historic Landmark Paisano hotel in Marfa, Texas.
Paisano Hotel, headquarters for Elizabeth Taylor, the cast and crew of the classic film, “Giant”.
There just can’t be anyplace quite like Marfa in the world! When New York artist, Donald Judd, moved here after WW2, he brought a minimalist sensibility that is still reflected and cherished throughout the town.
Entrance to the Judd Block. No pictures allowed inside.
Before arriving one tour operator told me, “There’s not much to do in Marfa.” I couldn’t disagree more. It’s not a family vacation kind of place with adrenaline-pumping distractions and hangouts for the kids, but they’d still enjoy sleeping in Tee Pees or Silver Stream Trailers at El Cosmico. The Tex Mex meals at Mando’s Drive In (or dine in) are inexpensive and cater to the locals. Transplant hipsters eat there too but are spied more often at the St. George Hotel or sip coffee freshly ground at the Do Your Thing cafe. The main street features the Palacio Hotel, by the architect Henry Troost and the City Hall building, all Victorian embellishments, offers views of the flat countryside from the upstairs windows.
Donald Judd’s presence lives on in a spare, adoring manner inside the compound he left one morning and never returned to. After failing health confined him in Germany, then New York, he spent his final months putting his effects into order. One stipulation for his compounds in Marfa was that nothing be moved. To walk the grounds, where no pictures are allowed, is a study of pensive solitude. The main bulding where he lived with his daughter when not traveling, has his sleeping loft and reflects a more homey warmth – barely.
A few of the Chinati Foundation field sculptures.
We spent a morning on the grounds of the Chinati Foundation on the outskirts of town. Pictures are only allowed in the field where 15 of Judd’s monumental cement works are set into the landscape. The play of angle and light, discovering relationships between edges and alignment would be impossible in any other space. These works are site specific and the dimensions are echoed in pieces arranged indoors, inside the large buildings reclaimed by Judd from the military. The largest buildings offer 48 and 50 rectangles, each different and built of steel. They have never moved from the spot they were designed for and will never be rearranged unless the earth heaves. Judd would approve.
When we weren’t searching for the Marfa Lights
(unsuccessfully but with great company) and peering up at the Milky Way, our nights in Marfa were spent in town, courtesy of an Airbnb host. Our little casitas near the high school was well situated for walking to galleries and restaurants. Other accommodations include the Thunderbird Hotel
, Bed and Breakfast Inns and the Palacio Hotel
. I’d go back in a heartbeat.
Trip Planner Tip
Don’t plan on taking pictures or recording anything inside Chinati or the Judd Foundation. At first this irked me and I rebelliously took notes and sketched. Resistance was futile. I missed out and that’s kind of the point. To stand in those still spaces and just be, is to get a glimpse of what drove Judd to settle in Marfa. There is space and relationship, light and shadow. I surrendered to his vision and was far happier for the experience.
Return to El Paso
We met many Texans on holiday throughout our drive around West Texas. Most were road-tripping as we were and I wished there were time to continue on into the rest of the state. But our short visit came to an end with our return to El Paso. Before flying home to California, we toasted to the journey at Craft and Social while listening to a jazz combo over a happy hour priced bottle of wine.
Texas, we’ll be back.
Trip Planner Tip
There’s no one Texas. The second largest state in the Union, it’s vast regions are influenced by weather patterns, geography, history and proximity to Mexico. Don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll ‘get Texas’ with one visit. I imagine it could take a lifetime to discover everything.
Links and other Trip Planner tips:
- Chisos Mining Company Motel – Inexpensive, comfortable and a bit rough around the edges, but one of my best night’s sleep!
- Lajitas Golf Course and Resort offers hotel rooms, villas and vacation home rentals. There are also camp grounds and RV options.
- Saddle and Paddle day trip with Lajitas Stables and Big Bend River Tours
- Marfa, Hotel Paisano – An architetcural masterpiece by the renowned Henry Trost. Fully preserved and updated. Don’t miss the pictures from the making of Giant with Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and an effervescent, James Dean.
- Hotel St. George – Chic and austere but still comfortable with an inviting lobby restaurant and the best bookstore in town.
- El Cosmico – Tee Pee, tent and trailer campground on 18 acres.
- Thunderbird – Hotel and deep resource list for the area.
- Marfa Chinati Foundation – The open air exhibit and studios founded by Donald Judd . Open by reservation only.
- Marfa, Judd Block – The home compound of the artist Donald Judd. “Not a slipper moved” since his death, by mandate!
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Thank you to Visit El Paso and the Brewster County Tourism Offices for their arrangements and guidance. As always opinions are my own.