The West Texas sky is one of the marvels of nature. From pure blue days to spectacular sunsets to nights filled with countless stars, the sights overhead will take your breath away. But make time for the region’s terrestrial attractions, including Big Bend National Park, Marathon, Alpine, Marfa, Fort Davis and Balmorhea. This is the wild side of the Lone Star State in all its glory.
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Big Bend National Park
Big Bend is Texas’ best-kept secret. The 800,000-acre park is a stunning mix of topography and ecosystems, from the rugged Chisos Mountains and the Chihuahuan Desert to the verdant banks of the Rio Grande River.
Located 36 miles to the north, the tiny community of Marathon is dotted with adorable old-time eateries and other super Texas-y things. Built in 1927 by acclaimed architect Henry Trost, the legendary Gage Hotel offers authentic laid-back luxury and a first class dining experience.
Established in 1991 by Shirley Rooney, Shirley Burn’t Biscuit Bakery is a Marathon institution providing fresh baked goods daily.
Alpine is a gem. A remote, high-desert jewel nestled in the tall hills of West Texas at an elevation of 4,475 feet. You’ll immediately take note of the natural beauty surrounding the city.
For more than 70 years, the Museum of the Big Bend has been collecting and exhibiting artifacts of the vast Big Bend region. Located on the campus of Sul Ross State University, this is a great starting-off point for visitors to the region.
Fort Davis is pure Texas, as genuine as the working cattle ranches on the outskirts of town. The area’s military history is preserved at Fort Davis National Historic Site. This 19th-century frontier fort has one of the best preserved “Buffalo Soldier” outposts.
Another internationally known attraction is McDonald Observatory, a 17 mile drive up a pretty canyon north of Fort Davis.
The Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center and Botanical Gardens is located on 507 acres, four miles south of Fort Davis on Highway 118. The Center is an interesting blend of informative exhibits and programs, a greenhouse and botanical center, and picturesque hikes.
Marfa has long been known for its art-world, off-beat cool factor, a mix of kitsch and bizarre.
Donald Judd, the late minimalist artist, moved to this tiny town to escape New York’s art scene in the ’70s. Today Marfa is home to the Judd and Chinati Foundations and Ballroom Marfa, a cultural arts center, as well as several galleries.
Accounts of strange and unexplained mystery lights just outside of Marfa began during the 19th century and continue to this day. The Marfa Ghost Lights are sometimes red, sometimes blue, sometimes white and appear randomly throughout the night. The official Marfa Lights Viewing Area is located 9 miles east of town on Highway 90, toward Alpine. Bring an open mind. The Marfa Lights Festival kicks off on the Labor Day weekend (29th annual; September 4-6, 2015).
Balmorhea State Park is an oasis in the desert north of Big Bend. The San Soloman Springs feed the swimming pool, keeping the water at a refreshing 74 degrees. The size (1.75 acres, 25 feet deep), temperature and chlorine-free water make this a great scuba-diving spot.