Big Bend in a day

Big-BendThis is where the Comanche War Trail crossed the Texas-Mexico border . . . buffalo soldiers fought Apaches  . . .  Judge Roy Bean ruled . . . scalphunter Ben Leaton and army hero Benjamin Grierson called home . . . and a Texas epic, Giant was filmed in 1956.

West Texas’ Big Bend is full of history—plus society dropouts and stunning vistas. We’re talking about 14,671 square miles—Big Bend National Park alone encompasses 801,163 acres—so to cover this in a day, get a car with great gas mileage and start early.

From Lajitas to Presidio, The River Road (El Camino del Rio) winds along the Rio Grande and Big Bend Ranch State Park, which was the location for movies including Gunsmoke: The Last Apache and Streets of Laredo. Presidio’s Fort Leaton State Historic Site is a fine example of baronial forts built in the 1840s, but the must-see site is Fort Davis National Historic Site. Established in 1854 and deactivated in 1891, it’s one of the best preserved frontier forts.

While in Fort Davis, Western art aficionados should visit Bill Chappell’s Western Gallery. Need a hat? Try Limpia Creek Hat Company also in Fort Davis. Antiques? Stop in Marathon. The best shopping, though, is at Big Bend Saddlery, an Alpine, Texas landmark supplying saddles, hats, tack, spurs, slickers, bandanas and books since 1905.

Cacti are plentiful here, but museums aren’t. Hattie’s Hall of Fame Museum is north of Big Bend National Park, and Fort Davis offers the Overland Trail Museum. You have time for only one museum if you’re making this trip in one day, so opt for the Museum of the Big Bend at Sul Ross State University in Alpine. Exhibits chronicle the area for the past 11,000 years.

After sunset, check out the Marfa Mystery Lights, which have dumbfounded folks since 1883. Indian spirits, aliens, atmospherical anomalies, headlight reflections? No one has figured it out. A viewing area is located nine miles east of Marfa—home of Giant—on U.S. 90.

The Big Bend has great accommodations. In Fort Davis, the Hotel Limpia and the Veranda B&B are romantic getaways, while Indian Lodge (Davis Mountains State Park) and Chisos Mountains Lodge and Cabins (Big Bend National Park) are convenient and affordable. Marathon’s Gage Hotel, circa 1927, is a Texas tradition, and Fort Davis’ Prude Ranch is a family-oriented dude ranch popular with star-gazers. The best place to hang your hat, however, is in the middle of nowhere near Shafter ghost town:

The Cibolo Creek Ranch features three restored historic structures and an exquisite contemporary hacienda. It was rancher-trader Milton Faver’s home from the 1850s until his death in 1889, while recent guests have included Mick Jagger, Dan Rather and Larry Hagman.

For information, write Big Bend Area Travel Association, P.O. Box 401, Alpine, TX 79831, call (915) 837-2326 or log on to www.visitbigbend.com.

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