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Written by Lois Rodriguez

In the Davis Mountains of West Texas lies a small town that evokes equal parts frontier days and space age. A trip to Fort Davis proves well worth every mile it takes many of us to get there.

Big Bend Balloon Bash in Alpine. (Photo courtesy of Barbara Richerson/visitalpinetx.com)

Don’t let the still, ancient expanses of the Chihuahuan Desert fool you—there’s a lot happening out here, from cultured art festivals to white-knuckle car racing. You just have to know where and when to look. In Alpine, that might mean watching the skies for a colorful, high-flying balloon festival on Labor Day weekend; or in Terlingua, following your nose to its storied chili and black-eyed pea cook-offs. Try any (or all!) of these annual festivals—by no means the only events going on in this part of the state—to get in on the far West Texas fun.

The Texas landscape has often served as both origin and inspiration for the creative mind. The stark, windswept plains of the Panhandle drew painter Georgia O’Keeffe west to Texas in 1912. The humid shores of Port Arthur gave us singer Janis Joplin and modern artist Robert Rauschenberg. Archer City, hometown of author and screenwriter Larry McMurtry, provided a prototype for the human landscapes that appear in many of the writer’s stories. And the late sculptor Donald Judd loved the West Texas community of Marfa so much that he made it the heart of his legacy.

Yoga teacher Sandi Turvan leads a session on the property of Terlingua House, an adobe-style guesthouse a few miles west of Terlingua.

La Posada Milagro Guesthouse and Casitas, an eclectic restoration of historic stone architecture located in the Big Bend ghost town of Terlingua, rises above a desert floor dotted with greening acacias, blooming yuccas, and flowering stems of tri-colored mustard. Although it’s only February, spring has arrived in this region of the northern Chihuahuan Desert, as it often does when winter moisture and warming air animate a sleeping arid landscape. With its commanding vistas of the surrounding area, framed by the Chisos Mountains in nearby Big Bend National Park, La Posada is perfectly positioned to provide you with a front-row seat to this desert awakening. It also offers desert lovers conveniences such as private baths, air-conditioning, and fireplaces, plus design features like handcrafted doors and windows, tin roofs, and sotol-stalk ceilings, all enhanced by the breathtaking view.

Dalhart, named for its location on the Dallam and Hartley county line, originated as a railroad town and developed as a shipping center for area ranches, including the renowned XIT Ranch. The XIT Museum chronicles the region and its history, ranging from its namesake ranch to area wildlife.

Ah, mysterious Marfa. Founded in 1883 as a railroad water stop, Marfa existed as a remote West Texas ranching town until James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor arrived in 1955 to make the movie version of Edna Ferber’s epic novel Giant, kicking off a slow trickle of tourism.

Not many places have the distinction of inspiring a George Strait hit such as “Amarillo by Morning.” 

Travelers make tracks to this idyllic hamlet to view prehistoric footprints in the Paluxy River at Dinosaur Valley State Park and the native and non-native species that roam the rolling hills at nearby Fossil Rim Wildlife Center. Known for its abundance of petrified- wood structures, Glen Rose also harbors a picturesque courthouse square, diverse shops, restaurants, and lodging, and a restored 19th-Century gristmill and surrounding buildings that serve as a museum of history and art.

WEB EXTRA

When you plan a trip to Fredericksburg and are seeking places to stay, eat, and shop, along with ideas for other activities, make a point to visit the website of the Fredericksburg Convention & Visitors Bureau, which provides detailed information about lodging, food and wine, attractions and activities, and shopping. The town has more than 150 shops, mostly along Main Street (US 290) and cross streets, and offerings range from fine furniture and antiques to jewelry and novelty items. Here are some of our favorites:

WEB EXTRA

In the February 2014 issue, writer Eric Pohl takes readers to La King’s Confectionery in Galveston, where saltwater taffy flies off the shelves year-round. Most fans of saltwater taffy have memories of making it (or trying to make it) at home; taffy-pulling is a time-honored group activity that has the added benefit of providing a decent upper-body workout. Don’t attempt a taffy-pull on a rainy or humid day; wait for a dry day and be patient. Here’s a recipe to try.

Illustration by Michael Witte

Babs Rodriguez recalls her German mother-in-law’s Big Bend epiphanies. Here’s the full story from the February 2014 issue of Texas Highways:

In the Movement Gallery, more than 100 spurs are displayed in an aquarium-like setting.

The late, great Texan Dolph Briscoe Jr. loved his native land as much as anyone who gazed upon the storied walls of the Alamo, beheld the timeless passage of the Rio Grande, or strode both proud and humble beneath a vast Texas sky. Born in Uvalde in 1923 and raised on the 50,000-acre Chupadera Ranch, he served as governor of the state from 1973 to 1979.

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