Texas. If the rumor is true, everything is bigger here.
But the fact is, ever since Forbes nominated the city of Houston, TX as #1 for its “coolest cities to live in” list, the city is starting to run out of room. Now, two-thirds of the way through 2016 and 27+ million strong, Houston is bulging at its high-tech, interurban, energy-centric seams.
Cowboys? No room for ‘em. Cattle? You can find that in aisle 7, the one labeled “frozen packaged meats.” As for wide open spaces: most of those are now hidden beneath a vast network of industrial parks and shopping malls. In this era of explosive urban growth, it’s easy to forget city life isn’t all Texas has to offer. But that doesn’t mean you can’t set out on your own “Wild West” adventure in the Lone Star State, and we’ve got some suggestions for you here.
Dell City, TX (Guadalupe Mountains National Park)
Check out Laura Lynch’s White Adobe Church guesthouse, a cool, calm desert oasis packed full of small town charm. If the Adobe Church is booked for your dates, she also has several other equally wonderful guesthouses you can reserve.
If you want to scale Guadalupe Peak, which is the highest point in Texas at 8,749 feet, be sure to set out in the early a.m. and not in full mid-day sun when heat exhaustion is a real risk. If you still have energy left over, be sure to visit the park’s most popular scenic attraction, McKittrick Canyon. While hiking McKittrick, you can see examples of each of the region’s four major ecosystems, as well as capturing some truly gorgeous photos to show family and friends back home.
One of the best aspects of Dell City is how close it is to not one, but two amazing national parks. Drive for one-half hour and cross the Texas-New Mexico border and you can squeeze in a visit to the famous underground cave system at Carlsbad Caverns National Park.
Marfa is a retreat site for artists, musicians, creative types and free thinkers, both as visitors and as permanent residents. Celebrities also favor the town, and recent sightings include Beyonce and Solange Knowles, Robert Plant, Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman and Robert Pattison, among others.
When it comes to lodging, El Cosmico is a popular choice for those seeking an alternative to hotel accommodations plus a soak in one of the compound’s soothing wood-fired hot tubs. Paisano Hotel is famous as the sight where the movie “Giant,” starring Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean, was made. And the Thunderbird Hotel does a fabulous job of sticking to its 1959 roots while providing lodgers with the best in updated amenities.
Before you depart, be sure to make the trek a few miles outside town to try to glimpse the famous and elusive Marfa Lights. The Marfa Lights were first observed in 1883. Appearing in red and yellow, the lights glow, flicker, and dash across the nighttime sky. To date, the Marfa Lights are considered one of the nine biggest unsolved physics mysteries, and they draw thousands of visitors annually, each hoping to say they’ve seen the lights with their own eyes.
Balmorhea, TX (Balmorhea State Pool)
Pronounced “balm-ray,” Balmorhea pretty much has one of everything: one restaurant, one grocery store, and one natural spring-fed pool, which is reputed to be the world’s largest. Not surprisingly, the 3.5 million gallon artesian pool enjoys a steady stream of visitors. Because the spring-fed waters consistently remain between 72 and 76 degrees, the pool is open year-round. In summer, enjoy a pleasurably chilly dip in its refreshing waters. In winter, sink down into a steaming outdoor spa of immense proportions.
In any season, you’ll feel time stop as you dip down under the clear, natural spring waters and come face to face with curious pond fish, pond turtles and other local denizens. Diving is encouraged – the pool has both high and low diving boards dotting its perimeters. Scuba diving is also permitted with the proper certification.
When you’ve finished your swim, there is a lot more to see and do at the nearby Balmorhea State Park and Balmorhea Lake. After-dark adventures include night diving (check with the park for hours and dates) and starry views from the McDonald Observatory, which is just a short 45-mile drive away and hosts the most amazing star parties as well as day and twilight events.
Pecos River/Rio Grande River
Last up on the itinerary is a viewing of the historic point where the south-flowing Pecos River merges into the mighty Rio Grande River. Each river has its own rich history in Texas folklore, literature and song. For those who can stay awhile, river permits cost just a few dollars a day and you can launch a boat right at the site where the two converge.
For shorter or drive-by visits, the drive itself is undeniably scenic, thanks to Amistad National Recreation Area’s many lookout points. Stop periodically to enjoy views of grazing wildlife, lovely flowing waters, and maybe even a special treat – a real live wild agave plant.
Agave, of course, is a primary ingredient for that most classic of Mexican/Texan beverages, tequila. And what better way to conclude your Wild West Texas adventure than with a refreshing sip of pure history?