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Apr 23, 2024

10 min. read

Image courtesy of jamespharaon (iStock).

Wide open spaces and flat stretches of highway abound in the Lone Star State, which boasts more than 127,000 km of pavement. And Big Bend Country in the southwest corner of Texas, which includes Far West Texas and the Upper Rio Grande region, offers some of the most strikingly beautiful landscapes in the U.S., including mountains, rivers and desert. A road trip is the best way to take it all in at your own pace. —Truc Nguyen

A brown shelf lined with leather cowboy boots in an array of intricate designs and colours.

Image courtesy of Rocketbuster.


We began our grand Texas adventure in the border city of El Paso, on the Rio Grande, that was part of Mexico until 1848. One of the oldest cities in Texas, El Paso has a fascinating, complex history and distinctive cultural mix. Even the local food is different here, according to David Varela, our Downtown Walking Tour guide.

“Our Mexican food is not anywhere near Tex-Mex— it is not cheese-heavy, salt-heavy or heavy in bread or flour.” I savoured pork carnitas with house-made corn tortillas at Ámbar Restaurante, in The Plaza Hotel Pioneer Park, and relished the refreshing flavours of shrimp aguachile verde (a traditional Mexican dish of fresh seafood marinated in lime juice) at Lapa Lapa Seafood & Drinks.

Once you’ve eaten your way through El Paso, it’s time to get moving—but not before dropping by Rocketbuster to browse “Bosslady” Nevena Christi’s one-of-a-kind footwear. This is where celebrities Leon Bridges, Kendrick Lamar and Taylor Swift get their handcrafted cowboy boots.

Switch to hiking boots for a trip to Franklin Mountains State Park, just a 25-minute drive from El Paso. With more than 160 km of trails across 11,000 hectares, this magnificent park is an excellent introduction to the Chihuahuan Desert’s fascinating flora and fauna. The park’s superintendent, Cesar Mendez, recommends September through March to go hiking for glimpses of local wildlife—deer, javelinas, foxes, skunks, rabbits and bobcats.

A woman stands behind a salmon-coloured desk in the lobby of an art gallery with pink carpet. Above her is a rainbow-coloured chandelier and behind the desk are various art pieces including a painting of a man on a motorcycle.

Image courtesy of Alex Marks.


From El Paso, drive roughly three hours to Marfa, where “ghost lights” have been spotted for more than a hundred years. These mysterious orbs, which occasionally appear on the horizon just after sunset, are one of the many oddities that draw people to this one-traffic-light town.

Marfa is also renowned for its vibrant creative community. At its heart is The Chinati Foundation, established in 1986 by the world-famous American minimalist artist Donald Judd. Here you’ll find large-scale works by Judd and his contemporaries, including John Chamberlain (best known for his crushed-car sculptures) and light artist Dan Flavin. Book a guided tour or take a quiet stroll through the museum grounds, populated by Judd’s untitled works. View his slab concrete pieces framed by the desertscape for a beautiful meditative experience. The Judd Foundation offers guided tours to see more of the artist’s works at various locations in downtown Marfa, including his former residence and studio.

Expect the unexpected when shopping in town, where boutiques reflect the city’s quirky, yet sophisticated aesthetic. You’ll find very stylish vintage clothes, for example, at Raba Marfa. At the store-cum-gallery Wrong, I was drawn to the colourful souvenirs and artworks—and decided I must have a resin popsicle by Marfa resident Lisa Chestnut.

A dog drinks water from the bottom tier of a beige fountain surrounded by bright green plants and trees

Image courtesy of The Gage Hotel.


From Marfa, we drove for about two hours to Terlingua, best known for its ghost town, where you can see abandoned buildings from its heyday in the 1880s as a bustling mining town. It’s a good home base from which to explore Big Bend National Park. We stayed in spacious yurts at Terlingua Escondido and enjoyed glorious sunrise and sunset vistas. In Terlingua, set aside time for a trail ride with Big Bend Stables. The half-day Chihuahuan Desert Ride winds through an old mercury mine, a mesa and part of the Indian Head Trail. Visit Many Stones, a local rock shop, if you want to bring home a geode or local gemstone.

And be sure to schedule at least a full day for exploring Big Bend National Park, one of the largest (although least-visited) national parks in the continental U.S. For great photos, take the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive and stop by Sotol Vista and the Santa Elena Canyon Overlook. And if you have the time (and energy) for a day hike, go for the moderately challenging Lost Mine Trail for breathtaking panoramas of the Chisos Mountains, the desert and several canyons.

A hotel room with two beds and an open door leading to a garden. On the beds are brown pillows and white sheets, and between the two beds is a small table with a lamp.

Image courtesy of The Gage Hotel.


After Big Bend, we headed to the town of Marathon, where the picturesque historic Gage Hotel is located, for stargazing in the 39,000-square-km Greater Big Bend International Dark Sky Reserve. Even though it was a cloudy evening, we were able to see Jupiter, Saturn and the Andromeda Galaxy through the Dobsonian Reflector telescopes at Marathon Sky Park. We made one last stop before flying out of Midland/Odessa Airport—Monahans Sandhills State Park. For just a few dollars, you can rent a plastic disk and try sandboarding on the park’s vast field of rippling sand dunes.

In just a week, our road trip through Big Bend Country took us to some remarkable locales, from the rugged terrain of the Chihuahuan Desert and the majestic Chisos Mountains to historic El Paso. Everything is indeed bigger in Texas and that includes our adventure on the road.

Plan your next road trip using digital TourBook® Guides, featuring maps, CAA-approved attractions and special Member discounts. For Ontario, visit caasco.com/travel to learn more. For Manitoba, visit caamanitoba.com/travel.