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Desert Awakening

Get a Jumpstart on Spring With a Big Bend Weekend Getaway
Written by E. Dan Klepper. Photographs by E. Dan Klepper.

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.

It may seem like spring here, but it’s also February, meaning that winter’s not through with Texas just yet. But luckily for visitors to these parts, any Panhandle cold front usually arrives in the Big Bend all tuckered out, capable of chilling the evening air just enough to warrant a cheerful blaze. Bring
a warm beverage and a blanket to the communal firepit just outside your La Posada room, and watch the late-winter sun paint the Chisos in a raspberry glow. Above you, high on the hill, a blue neon Pegasus slowly flickers to life, a fanciful addition to the Terlingua ghost town’s silhouette courtesy of La Posada Milagro’s matriarch Mimi Webb Miller, whose creative vision for a perfect desert getaway is a result of a lifelong dedication to the Big Bend style.

After nightfall, head over to La Kiva, a local underground hangout that’s popular for dinner, refreshments, and music. Located above the banks of Terlingua Creek, La Kiva requires a descent into a cave-like environment festooned with cow skulls, Mardi Gras beads, and a bronze vulture sculpture at the end of the bar. Try the “Bag o’ Bones,” fresh bread sticks made to look like femurs, which are served with four different dipping sauces—spicy salsa, barbecue, marinara, and chimichurri. For a hearty entrée, order the Brisket Calzone, a combination of brisket, marinara sauce, and provolone cheese wrapped in hand-tossed dough, then baked in La Kiva’s wood-fired brick oven. Finish it off with cheesecake or chocolate mousse, or skip the calories and segue directly into a song. Every Tuesday night features karaoke with “Cooter,” Terlingua’s resident karaoke microphone master, and Wednesdays are reserved for open mic.

For enlightenment to balance your entertainment, consider booking the very private Terlingua House, a comfortable three-bedroom, two-bath, adobe-style guesthouse a few miles west of Terlingua. Bring some like-minded friends and enjoy a weekend yoga or meditation retreat. The Terlingua House property extends for 15 acres along the top of a small ridge above FM 170 with a horizon view of the Chisos Mountains. Guest quarters include a full kitchen and can sleep up to eight people.

Visitors relax on the grounds of Terlingua's La Posada Milagro.

The tranquility of Terlingua House offers an ideal environment for refining your Lotus pose. But if you need some professional guidance, call local yogi Sandi Turvan, a skilled and gentle practitioner who makes house calls and can lead you or your entire group in yoga sessions. Or join her Viva Yoga classes at nearby Desert Lotus Healing Arts in Study Butte. Desert Lotus is a Big Bend enterprise headed by Ceil Drucker and Bob Sutherland, lifelong students of the healing arts who offer therapeutic massage and bodywork in a beautiful desert environment.

Once you’ve got your chakras aligned, take in the morning sunrise with a plate of chili eggs Benedict and coffee from Espresso…y Poco Mas Café in Terlingua, which also serves as the office for La Posada Milagro. Open for breakfast and lunch daily, Poco Mas serves homemade apple crumble, brownies, meatloaf, and rotisserie chicken along with fruit smoothies, fresh orange juice, and organic coffee from Marfa’s Big Bend Coffee Roasters. After breakfast, take one last peek at your emails courtesy of Poco Mas’ 24-hour Internet access, then turn off your electronic devices and prepare to immerse yourself completely in the Big Bend’s natural, unplugged world.

Down the road, just past Lajitas, you’ll find the eastern entrance to Big Bend Ranch State Park and its more than 300,000 acres of raw, unencumbered country characterized by volcanic uplifts, deep riparian canyons, and tremendous natural diversity. Here in the Big Bend, the real beauty is often in the details, so bring plenty of water and hit the trails. For a short morning or afternoon hike, try Closed Canyon, a 1.4-mile, round-trip excursion through a deep canyon dividing a massive uplift between FM 170 and the Rio Grande. For an all-day adventure, hike the Rancherias Canyon Trail, a strenuous, 9.6-mile round-trip trek featuring seep springs, steep canyon walls, and a sizable pour-off at the 4.8-mile turnaround point. This riparian corridor into the environs of the volcanic Bofecillos Mountains harbors a rich variety of wildlife, along with such early-blooming wildflowers as the yellow rock rose, the thistle-like Mexican poppy, and the Big Bend bluebonnet, a big sister to the smaller, more common bluebonnet found elsewhere in the state. The Big Bend bluebonnet’s flower stalks, which grow three to four feet high, make for an impressive sight when they fill the canyon floor.

As attractive as this rough country is, hikers should never forget that it is also a desert mountain environment, where temperatures can suddenly drop to precarious lows and a shortage of drinking water can quickly lead to dehydration. Before hitting the trail, check in at the Barton Warnock Center in Lajitas to obtain your hiking permit and learn about trail conditions and wildlife sightings. Advise park rangers about your plans, dress appropriately, and carry more water than you think you might need. Then you can relax, take your time, and enjoy the adventure.

All those miles of desert hiking will probably result in some sore muscles, so reserve a day for soaking in the warm mineral baths of Chinati Hot Springs. Located about 37 miles northwest of Presidio, Chinati offers natural hot and cold pools, cabins and rooms, overnight camping, and a communal kitchen for preparing your own meals.

Along the way, stop in Presidio and let Don José Panaderia and Bakery do some of your food preparation for you. This family-run business offers dozens of kinds of fresh-baked goods (including seasonal treats like handmade tamales at Christmas and heart-shaped sugar cookies for February). The bakery has a long list of dedicated customers, thanks in part to the cheerful smile of matriarch Lupita Hernandez. The goods sell quickly, so buy early and stock up.

Chinati Hot Springs opened to the public in 1937, but the earliest published reference to the hot spot—a reliable source of water in the rugged, remote canyon northwest of Ruidosa—occurred in an 1885 report to the State Land Board. “These Springs are … pronounced by those who have tested it to be of equal merit to the Hot Springs of Arkansas,” wrote inspector William M. Baines. “Several families are camped on the ground now, testing its medicinal virtues.”

You can test those virtues yourself by booking one of several cabins with a personal hot tub or ditching privacy and slipping into the outdoor soaking pool. The communal tub, hand-constructed from native rock, can accommodate about a dozen people and is deep enough to allow you to soak up to your neck when seated.

Lean back, take it easy, and squint your eyes against the gold-spun rays strand-
ing through budding leaves and bur-
geoning yuccas of this desert oasis. Although the sun may be setting, it’s not
quite time to start your long trip back home.Not just yet. 

“Great hikes, hot springs, and cool destinations,” says writer E. Dan Klepper. “I dig it all.”

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