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West Texas: Rugged landscapes and a historic fort make for an unforgettable trip

Ready to go wild in Texas? The state’s so-called “bend” offers untamed landscapes for adventurers and quaint small towns for folks who like a slower pace of life. Bring a thirst for adventure and hunger for wide-open spaces on this trip.

Drive 144.3 miles, 2 hours, 51 minutes

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Getty Images/iStockphoto

1. Terlingua

Starting Point

Forget the “Lone Star” nickname. The night sky over Terlingua is jam-packed with constellations. In fact, the firmament is so free of man-made light pollution that nearby Big Bend National Park has been recognized by the International Dark Sky Association. Daytime visits also are worth making. The isolated yet stunning mountainous park landscape is composed of ancient sandstone, shale and limestone, with embedded fossils and igneous rocks. It’s also a birding hotspot, with more than 450 species. Nature gives way to ghosts of the past in Terlingua’s ghost town, which was once a cinnabar mining operation that went bust.


2. Alpine

83.6 miles, 1 hour, 36 minutes

Situated on a high plateau in the Chihuahuan Desert, Alpine is known as the “Home of the Last Frontier,” and the Museum of the Big Bend shares the legacy and culture of the region, along with a history of the missions, mining companies and the railroad. Grab a map and take a driving or walking tour of the historic town; check out the Wall of Pioneers and the hand-painted murals scattered throughout. Stop by the Brewster County Courthouse, built from bricks shaped and kilned on the site. Roam the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center and Botanical Gardens for a glimpse of local geology, desert mining and a wildscape garden.

3. Fort Davis

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Getty Images/iStockphoto

23.9 miles, 30 minutes

Fort Davis has been called the “Best Preserved Fort in the West.” Twenty-six restored and refurbished buildings are intermingled among 100 ruins from the military post’s heyday, when hundreds of Buffalo Soldiers were stationed here to protect emigrants, travelers, mail coaches, and freight trains (stagecoaches) traveling the San Antonio-El Paso Road on their way to the gold fields of California. Re-enactors in period dress bring the fort to life, explaining why it was key to defending western Texas against the Apaches and Comanches, and how this strategic location protected the fort during the Indian Wars. Each day, the haunting bugle call and the sounds of Retreat Parade can be heard drifting through the fort.

4. Balmorhea

36.8 miles, 45 minutes

Situated in the foothills of the Davis Mountains, Balmorhea State Park is truly an oasis, providing cool, clear water in the high desert. The Civilian Conservation Corps established the park in the 1930s, and its infamous swimming pool is the largest spring-fed pool in the world, with more than 22-million gallons of water from the San Solomon Springs flowing through it each day. Trees, rushes, cattails and reeds dot the cienegas (desert wetlands), which support endangered fish and other aquatic life, along with birds and a variety of wildlife.