Pinto Canyon Road: A Drive on the Wild Side
By Charles Lohrmann
Even though the most rugged piece of the Pinto Canyon Road, which winds through the mountainous Chihuahuan Desert northeast of Ruidosa, does not appear on many maps, the rocky thoroughfare occupies a cherished place in regional lore. From Ruidosa headed northeast, it’s an ultra-scenic back road to Marfa. When traveling south, this normal road exits the Presidio County seat disguised as FM 2810. This first stretch, paved for 32 miles, affords grand scenery in a ranchy grasslands kind of way, but it does not survey the tough desert vibe that takes hold soon after the pavement ends. Both pieces, the paved and the raw, constitute the Pinto Canyon Road, but the truly memorable Pinto Canyon Road begins when you leave the road on the map and start with the rocks and gravel.
From the southern end, off FM 170 (aka The River Road), the first specific warning of what to expect from Pinto Canyon Road comes from a sign in Ruidosa that advises the next 54 miles will be characterized by narrow roads and steep inclines.
Even though the trip is a relatively rough ride, the visual reward is worth the effort.
Reminiscences and warnings aside, we’re talking about a truly remote stretch of road. The Ruidosa intersection is 36 miles west of Presidio, itself 50 miles west of Lajitas. Even though the trip is a relatively rough ride, the visual reward is worth the effort, with enchanting mountain and desert landscapes for the first stretch, giving way to the high grassy plains punctuated by mountains farther north.
Such roads are an everyday concern in Big Bend Country, where locals and adventurers (in fact, locals usually are adventurers) regularly driving the spiky thoroughfares typically carry two spares and other tools, as well as supplies, to negotiate seasonal variations in weather effects and road repair. Pinto Canyon Road’s much-discussed tough road conditions vary with weather and maintenance budgets
From the February 2011 issue.