Best west texas attractions
170 miles southwest of Midland
(432) 837‑2326 | www.visitalpinetx.com
Take a day trip to the edge of the Chihuahuan desert – between Big Bend National Park and the Davis Mountains – and discover renowned destination Alpine, where downtown art galleries, antique shops, bookstores and distinct restaurants await. Boasting tree-lined streets and Sul Ross State University, it’s a favored stop of cross-country bicyclists and commonly used as base for visitors exploring the high desert country, mountain ranges and Rio Grande canyons.
Take in a rodeo, enjoy a Cowboys baseball game at historic Kokernot Field or bask in summer theater productions under the stars. Museum of the Big Bend, on the university campus, features exhibits and collections relating to the prehistory and history of the Big Bend of Texas and northern Mexico. The Yana & Marty Davis Map Collection is one of the largest and most diverse collections of Texas maps in the world.
Trappings of Texas, the longest-running event of its kind in the country, has been exhibiting cowboy gear and fine Western art since 1986. Big Bend Trading Company, the museum’s gift shop, hosts a wealth of books on the Big Bend area plus clothing, gifts and crafts.
Balmorhea State Park
150 miles southwest of Midland
9207 Texas 17 South, Toyahvale, Texas
(432) 375‑2370 | www.tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/balmorhea
In the foothills of the Davis Mountains four miles west of Balmorhea, Texas, Balmorhea State Park spans 46 acres and was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps between 1936 and 1941. The world’s largest spring-fed swimming pool, with a depth of 25 feet, lets swimmers and scuba divers enjoy a comfortable 72- to 76-degree dip year-round.
The Cienega (wetland) offers visitors a great view of aquatic life through a specially constructed underground window. (The Balmorhea Cienega Project won a 1998 Texas Quality Initiative Award for innovation from the Texas Department of Transportation and its cooperative partners.) The park is popular with birdwatchers and nature lovers and features a variety of wildlife, including roadrunners, hawks, endangered fish, turtles, deer, javelina and ground squirrels.
San Solomon Courts offers retro-motel lodging and camping facilities. Amenities include restrooms with showers, water, electricity, cable TV, shelters and pull-through sites.
Big Bend National Park
230 miles southwest of Midland
(432) 477‑2251 | www.nps.gov/bibe
There is a place in Far West Texas where night skies are dark as coal and rivers carve temple-like canyons in ancient limestone. Here, at the end of the road, hundreds of bird species take refuge in a solitary mountain range surrounded by weather-beaten desert. Tenacious cacti bloom in sublime Southwestern sun, and diversity of species is the best in the country. This magical place is Big Bend.
Named the 2011 “Official Best Outdoor Adventure Destination in Texas” by the Travel Channel, Big Bend National Park is the largest protected area of Chihuahuan Desert topography and ecology in the United States. The park ensconces over a million acres and offers a wide range of recreation and sightseeing opportunities.
More than 300,000 people visit Big Bend each year for hiking, camping, backpacking, mountain biking, horseback riding and off-road touring. A raft or canoe trip through the Rio Grande River’s gorges treats paddlers to stretches of spectacular scenery.
Big Bend’s fascinating history is chronicled in visitor center exhibits at Panther Junction, Chisos Basin, Castolon, Persimmon Gap and Rio Grande Village, from archeological sites dating back nearly 10,000 years to ranches and mining operations of the 20th century. Eight National Register of Historic Places sites and districts dot the park, including Burro Mesa Archeological District, Castolon
Historic District, Hot Springs Historic District, the Mariscal Mining District, the Homer Wilson Blue Creek Ranch Site, Rancho Estelle, Daniel’s Farmhouse and Luna’s Jacal.
Famous for its natural resources and spectacular geology, Big Bend boasts more types of birds, bats and cacti than any national park in the United States. The Chisos Mountain Lodge offers a variety of rooms and cottages, and the National Park Service operates three campgrounds.
Big Bend Ranch State Park
278 miles southwest of Midland
1900 Sauceda Ranch Rd., Presidio, Texas
More than 300,000 acres of Chihuahuan Desert wilderness welcome you to the largest state park in Texas, four miles southeast of Presidio and one mile east of Lajitas. Two mountain ranges with ancient extinct volcanoes, precipitous canyons and waterfalls and a vast network of interconnected trails for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding awe and inspire visitors. The International Mountain Bicycling Association designated the Fresno-Sauceda Loop “an epic ride,” and the drive along River Road (FM170) rewards visitors with amazing scenery and access to rafting and canoeing on the Rio Grande River.
The area has been a crossroads of human activities for over 11,000 years, as diverse people and cultures have been drawn by the abundant resources of the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo corridor. If you are looking for a “Wild West” experience, Big Bend Ranch State Park has an abundance of options.
Big Spring State Park
40 miles east of Midland
No. 1 Scenic Dr., Big Spring, Texas
(432) 263‑4931 | www.tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/big-spring
Extraordinary vistas from a 200-foot bluff are the prime attraction for this 382-acre park, which also offers picnic areas, playground equipment and a lighted pavilion. Hikers, joggers and cyclists traverse the loop built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, and sightseers enjoy spectacular sunrises and sunsets. The Fourth of July fireworks display at the park is one of the largest in the area. An interpretive center offers ranger programs and exhibits of Indian artifacts and fossils.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
150 miles west of Midland
3225 National Parks Hwy., Carlsbad,
(575) 785‑2232 | www.nps.gov/cave
Visited by more than 41 million people since it opened to the public in 1923, Carlsbad Caverns National Park is explored by more than 400,000 tourists each year. This World Heritage Site in southeastern New Mexico was established to preserve the unique geology and caves of the Guadalupe Mountains.
Its Cavern Historic District and Rattlesnake Springs Historic District are on the National Register of Historic Places, and the park museum and archives contain well over 1 million specimens of cultural resources, preserved and protected for future generations.
Formed in the 250-million-plus-year-old Capitan Reef Complex, the cave system, including 117 known caves, is one of the oldest and most famous in the world. The Big Room is the world’s largest underground chamber, with stunning limestone stalactites and stalagmites in a variety of configurations resembling icicles, lace and natural sculptures. Many types of cave tours are available, including self-guided areas of the Big Room and ranger-led tours of the Spider Canyon and Slaughter Canyon caves.
The park also offers opportunities to hike, bat-watch, stargaze and camp in the backcountry, plus an extensive lineup of educational programs and exhibits at the Visitor Center.
Davis Mountains State Park
170 miles south of Midland
N. Highway 118, Fort Davis, Texas
(432) 426‑3337, Park Rd. 3
Indian Lodge: (432) 426‑3254
Davis Mountains State Park spans 2,709 acres in the most extensive mountain range in Texas. Four miles northwest of Fort Davis – halfway between Guadalupe Mountains National Park and Big Bend National Park – the area was shaped by volcanic activity 65 million years ago. The mountains’ namesake is Jefferson Davis.
Camping, backpacking, picnicking and biking opportunities abound. Scenic drives with two overlooks, 12 miles of hiking trails, seven miles of equestrian trails and interpretive programs are throughout the park. Stargazing is permitted after-hours on Skyline Drive. Indian Lodge, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the early 1930s, features 39 rooms, a restaurant, a store, a swimming pool and meeting rooms.
Fort Davis National Historic Site
170 miles south of Midland
(432) 426‑3224 | www.nps.gov/foda
Fort Davis is one of the best surviving examples of an Indian War frontier military post. Named the “Best Preserved Fort in the West” by True West magazine in 2011, Fort Davis protected emigrants, mail coaches and freight wagons from 1854-1891 as they traveled the Trans Pecos portion of the San Antonio-El Paso Road and the Chihuahua Trail. The fort’s role of protecting the frontier against Comanches and Apaches continued until 1881. After the Indian Wars ended, Davis’ garrison escorted railroad survey parties, repaired roads and telegraph lines, and pursued bandits until the fort was abandoned in 1891.
In 1961, Fort Davis was designated a national historic site and a unit of the National Park Service. Visitors may view five furnished buildings restored to the 1880s era and explore 20 other buildings and 100 ruins. During holidays and special events, staff members and volunteers in old-timey garb entertain visitors with programs on the fort’s history. Hiking trails offer scenic views, and children’s activities include fun and educational Junior Ranger events.
Fort Stockton, Texas
Paisano Pete, the world’s largest roadrunner at 11 feet, beckons travelers to Fort Stockton. This Main Street City’s self-guided, two-mile tour whisks visitors through the National Register Historic District, brimming with stores, churches and historic homes. Brochures with a map of the route are available from the Chamber of Commerce (1000 Railroad Ave.).
A turn-of-the-century adobe hotel houses the Annie Riggs Museum, which offers exhibits on area history. Further tour stops include the 1912 Pecos County Courthouse, the 1883 Jail, Grey Mule Saloon and the oldest remaining school. The Fort Stockton army post, active from 1867 to 1886, features a museum, officers’ quarters, a guardhouse, parade grounds, barracks and the fort cemetery. Visitors also pleasantly discover an excellent 18-hole golf course, motels, bed-and-breakfast accommodations, RV sites, restaurants, a winery and more. ›
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
180 miles west of Midland
400 Pine Canyon Dr., Salt Flat, Texas
(915) 828‑3251 | www.nps.gov/gumo
A renowned paradise for hikers with more than 80 miles of trails winding amid woodland canyons, lush springs and switchbacks, Guadalupe Mountains State Park is the only legally designated wilderness in West Texas, boasting gypsum dunes, salt flats, streamside woodlands, rocky canyons and mountain forests. The park is also a select spot for bird watching, horseback riding, camping, wildlife viewing and stargazing.
The park hosts over 400 species of wildlife and 1,000 species of flora. It is also home to Guadalupe Peak, the tallest mountain in Texas at 8,751 feet. A premier specimen of a fossil reef from the Permian Era, the park allows visitors to search for fossils and learn more about geology through interpretive exhibits at the Visitor Center. Pinery Trail, a short paved path with scenic vistas, leads to the historic ruins of the Butterfield Overland Mail stage station.
The Pinery Station, located in Guadalupe Mountains National Park, was one of the most favorably situated stage stops on the original 2,800-mile Butterfield Overland Mail route, and was also the highest, located at 5,534 feet in Guadalupe Pass. Gypsum Dunes Preserve, the second-largest dune field in the United States, became a part of Guadalupe Mountains National Park in 2011 through a donation announced by the Nature Conservancy of Texas.
190 miles southwest of Midland
(432) 729‑4772 | www.visitmarfa.com
For 33 years, people have flocked to Marfa over Labor Day weekend for the annual Lights Festival. The puzzling lights that appear in the night just east of town have been attributed to UFOs, ghosts, mine gases and vehicle headlights.
Marfa placed eighth on Smithsonian magazine’s 2012 “20 Best Small Towns in America” list. The eclectic town of 2,100 is often described as a Texas version of Santa Fe, New Mexico. With a rich farming and ranching heritage, Marfa has enjoyed a renaissance, attracting artists, filmmakers, boutiques and restaurants to its diverse cultural scene.
Donald Judd, the late sculptor and critic, bought and restored several buildings, and his works have attracted visitors from around the globe. The Chinati Foundation’s museum and sculpture park includes 340 acres once used as an Army camp just outside of town.
A popular location for movies, Marfa served as a backdrop for the classic James Dean/Elizabeth Taylor film “Giant,” and more recently, “No Country for Old Men” and “There Will Be Blood.”
165 miles southwest of Midland
(432) 386‑4205 | www.marathontexas.com
The chief gateway to Big Bend National Park for visitors from the north and east, Marathon grants views of Iron Mountain to the north and Santiago Peak to the south with outdoor recreation and a variety of accommodations, restaurants, shops and galleries. Popular yearly events include the West Fest Cabrito and Barbecue Cookoff in September and the M2M, a 26.2-mile marathon in mid-October.
Million Barrel Museum
50 miles west of Midland
1500 E. Sealy, Monahans, Texas
(432) 943‑8401 | https://texaspecostrail.com/plan-your-adventure/historic-sites-and-cities/sites/million-barrel-museum
The main attraction of the Million Barrel Museum, located in Monahans, is its cement oil tank the size of three football fields. Built in the late 1920s during a big oil boom in the region, the reservoir was designed to store the mass quantities of crude coming in from the oilfields in an era with few pipelines or existing oil tanks. The engineering marvel is now the heart of the Million Barrel Museum, a Monahans attraction opened in 1987. Today, the grounds include the mammoth reservoir as well as the historic 1909 Holman House, moved to the site for preservation, and the Rattlesnake Bomber Base Museum, telling the story of the nearby World War II-era Pyote Air Force Base. A section of the concrete reservoir wall also serves as the Meadows Amphitheater, venue for musical concerts and performances.
Monahans Sandhills State Park
50 miles west of Midland
Park Rd. 41 , Monahans, Texas
(432) 943‑2092 | www.tpwd.state.tx.us/state-parks/monahans-sandhills
With 3,840 acres of dunes, some as high as 70 feet, this unique state park is a popular destination for hiking, camping, picnicking and sand surfing. Sand toboggans and disks for surfing the sand dunes may be rented at park headquarters.
An 800-acre equestrian area with no marked trails offers a fenced corral where riders can tie and water their horses. (Visitors must provide their own horses). The Interpretive Center is the perfect spot for bird watching and wildlife viewing or learning more about the historical, geological and archaeological features of the park through educational exhibits.
97 miles west of Midland
(432) 445‑2406 | http://visitpecos.com/
A friendly competition sprung up, and on July 4, 1883, Pecos became home to the World’s First Rodeo. Braggin’ rights were on the line to find out just who was the best cowhand in the West. You can also discover rodeo’s great history and honor those who helped further this thrilling sport – all at the Texas Rodeo Hall of Fame. Round out your trip with a visit to the West of the Pecos Museum that houses original memorabilia and artifacts from an era long ago. Located in the restored 19th-century Orient Hotel, complete with the old saloon, explore over 50 rooms of exhibits, artifacts, history and West Texas lore.
175 miles south of Midland
(432) 426‑3201 | www.prude-ranch.com
At a century-plus, Prude Ranch is a guest ranch/working cattle ranch run by six generations of the Prude family for eight decades.
Offering a fun-packed vacation for all ages, the ranch combines the best modern-day comforts in an Old West wilderness setting. Guests may select a variety of accommodations, including bunkhouses, cabins, lodges and an RV area. Savory breakfast, lunch and dinner fare is available at the on-site restaurant. Other amenities include horseback riding, a swimming pool, tennis courts, fitness center, meeting rooms, satellite TV and wireless internet access.
Old-fashioned stagecoach rides and chuck-wagon cookouts prepared on the open range are available for groups of 25 or more. The Prude Ranch also operates a children’s summer camp and outdoor education program.
U.T. McDonald Observatory
170 miles south of Midland
3640 Dark Sky Dr.
McDonald Observatory, Texas
McDonald Observatory – situated atop Mount Locke and Mount Fowlkes in the Davis Mountains – is a research unit of the University of Texas at Austin and one of the world’s leading centers for astronomical research, education and outreach.
The site offers some of the darkest night skies in the continental United States. Cutting-edge research tools include the Hobby-Eberly Telescope, one of the world’s largest optical telescopes; the Harlan J. Smith telescope, the world’s third largest; and the Otto Struve Telescope, constructed from 1933 to 1939. (It was the first major telescope to be built at McDonald Observatory and the second largest in the world at the time).
The Frank N. Bash Visitors Center, perched at an altitude of 7,000 feet, offers daily tours of the research facilities. Up to 60,000 visitors each year participate in observation activities, including Solar Viewing and Star Party programs.
Outreach efforts include K-12 teacher and student activities and special programs for hundreds of elementary and secondary teachers across the country. Visitors to the StarDate Café enjoy Southwestern-style meals on a patio with astounding mountain views.