I’m basking in a hot-springs pool, soaking it all in: the immense desert solitude, serrated mountains ablaze in the morning light, and a trio of high notes—babbling water, rustling cottonwood leaves, and sprightly birdsong.
This is my heart’s destination: Chinati Hot Springs, a rustic resort tucked away near the U.S.-Mexico border in the wilds of Presidio County.
I traveled here to satisfy two desires: wanderlust and tranquility. My “inner Cabeza de Vaca” wanted an adventurous West Texas road trip, a journey beyond where the pavement ends. On the other hand, wouldn’t it be delightful to turn off the ignition and kick back at a secluded hot-springs oasis?
The road to Chinati begins in Marfa, where I head southwest on FM 2810, a blue highway that winds 54 miles to the tiny border village of Ruidosa. Also called Pinto Canyon Road, FM 2810 is one of the most spectacular drives in Texas. The blacktop cuts across mile-high desert grasslands rimmed by the Davis, Del Norte, and Chinati mountains. If the stark scenery looks familiar, you might have seen this big country in recent films like There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men, or in the 1955 classic Giant—all shot around Marfa.
Most maps show FM 2810 petering out 32 miles south of Marfa. Indeed, the pavement ends. But the road goes on—a rough, unpaved track that slices through Pinto Canyon and the forbidding Chinati range and rolls toward Ruidosa on the Rio Grande. The stretch plummets into a chasm awash in ochre and amber hues, hence the name “Pinto” (Spanish for painted). The rust-colored rimrock of the Chinati Mountains—a tossed salad of igneous intrusions, uplifted lava flows, and metamorphic and sedimentary rock—towers overhead. The massif tops out at 7,728-foot Chinati Peak, one of the Big Bend region’s loftiest.
Chinati, or chinate, means “black bird” in this region. Why the mountain range bears that avian name is as much a mystery as the bobbling Marfa Lights, said to arise near the Chinatis at night.
Private ranch land borders both sides of Pinto Canyon Road. Mindful of trespassing, I stop here and there to gather colorful rocks at stream crossings, photograph javelinas and free-range horses, and ponder some adobe ruins built for the 1950 Western High Lonesome.
From the June 2008 issue.