Stargazing can be an out-of-this-world experience, but here in Texas, there are a few places that are able to magnify that experience even more.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has introduced its first new conservation-themed specialty license plate design in a more than a decade. Sales of the plate, which depicts a campfire and tent under a starry sky, help fund state parks. The camping plate won the department’s online survey last year, garnering more than 6,000 votes.
Sunday mornings in the West Texas town of Alpine are remarkably quiet for a community with a population of around 6,000 people.
The main entrance roads to Big Bend National Park offer about 50 meandering miles of glorious scenery.
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.
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.
The approach of a Texas winter brings with it mesquite smoke above Hill Country chimneys, migrating sandhill cranes over the Panhandle plains, and blue northers churning coastal bays. Our winter’s mild frost still reminds us that seasons do change in Texas; without an occasional freeze and its icicles, our memories of past summers might not seem so sweet. Fortunately, Texas also offers the ideal antidote for those prone to the winter blues—a vacation in the remote Big Bend Country, where warm afternoons and crisp nights are common from December to February.
The Boquillas Hot Springs, a collection of 105-degree springs located along both sides of the Rio Grande in Big Bend National Park and Boquillas, Mexico, was a popular bathing spot long before settler J. O. Langford arrived in the 1900s and turned the U.S. side into a health resort. Reports from the mid-1800s indicate that the hot springs served as a stopover on the historic Comanche Trail. Records also document Apaches growing crops and living in settlements around the springs as early as the 1700s. In fact, pictographs above the springs provide evidence that ancient peoples constructed bedrock mortars and bathing pools for capturing the warm water. Today, the foundation of the more recent Langford bathhouse still holds enough hot water to create a shallow pool for visitors to enjoy. Located along the Hot Springs Trail just a short hike from the Hot Springs Trailhead, the small pool offers a relaxing respite after a day of winter trekking across the national park.
My family has made a number of trips to Big Bend National Park over the past 30 years, driving the scenic routes, hiking its many trails, camping, and enjoying stargazing and hot springs. We love this 800,000-acre park for its incredible and diverse landscape: swaths of thorny Chihuahuan Desert, verdant springs, sand dunes, rocky ridges, and entire mountain ranges hiding waterfalls and spruce-filled canyons. Even more, we cherish its opportunities to get away from the madding crowds.
With pleasant late-September temperatures and a picture-perfect blue sky overhead, I shrugged on a backpack loaded with overnight gear and made last-minute hiking plans with friends in the Basin parking lot of Big Bend National Park. Above us towered the craggy heights of the Chisos Mountains, daring us to hike up into the rocky peaks.
For the enlightened and adventurous traveler, serendipity transforms every trip: Hiking a new trail and rounding a bend to encounter an unexpected vista, journeying to a destination you’ve heard about—or visiting a familiar place with someone who’s never been—without an agenda. Or, in the case of pursuing Texas wildflowers, finding yourself surprised with the splashes and brushstrokes of red, blue, orange, and purple that appear in the landscape.