Is there stuff to do in west Texas (if you're not utterly outdoorsy)?
February 16, 2017 1:34 PM   Subscribe

My boyfriend and I are planning a trip for the summer and one possibility that I'm weirdly into is going to west Texas, which I am given to understand is not everyone's dream vacation spot! I've only been through on the train but I love the landscape and I love Texas. What I'm trying to figure out now is whether there's enough to do around there to make it a worthwhile trip.

Marfa is kind of the draw, because apparently the Chinati foundation is worth seeing, but I'm not sure if there's more to do there/reason to stay several days. I'm not terribly outdoorsy but would be into a night or two in a cabin in Big Bend and a couple of long walks. I'm also curious to see Terlingua but it might be kind of an "ok, there, we've seen it" kind of deal. Is there other stuff I'm not thinking of? Are there good places to eat?

I guess since we are separately flying/Amtrakking into El Paso, things around there/Las Cruces could also be of interest.

Anyone done a similar trip or live around there? Great idea? Terrible idea? Thanks!
posted by Smearcase to Travel & Transportation around Texas (12 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I went to Marfa, and it is still one of the best trips I ever made. Chinati Foundation in itself is maybe two days in order to see everything, and there is also a lot of cinematic and ufo* stuff in Marfa. And then it was also really soul-cleansing to be out there — part of it is that you are out of everything and just need to relax and do nothing for a few days. The landscape is spectacular, and I saw tons of wildlife (got up early in the morning for walks before breakfast, then relaxed during the hottest time of day, and returned to explore in the last hours before sunset).
Because Marfa is such an artsy town, with both art people and film folks, there is a fairly good restaurant and bar scene. Maybe it would be a good base for excursions? While I felt uncomfortable about the legacy of Fort Davis, it was interesting to visit (maybe this works better if one is a foreigner)

I wish I had also gone to Big Bend.

To me your plans seem good.

*I'm on team highway lights
posted by mumimor at 2:02 PM on February 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

Stay at the Thunderbird, check out Ballroom Marfa (including Prada Marfa), get a cup of coffee at the Tumbleweed Laundry, visit the historic Gage Hotel down the highway in Marathon (pronounced "Marathin"). Both times I've been to Marfa, I've wandered around and seen cool art/film/yoga/whatnot happenings posted and lucked into great experiences, including being invited to house parties or having strangers make lunch for me. It's a very chill place and I think you could spend a week there with a venture out to Big Bend and some day trips and really enjoy yourself. I think the slogan says it all: Marfa -- Tough to get to, tougher to explain, but once you get here you'll get it.
posted by *s at 2:41 PM on February 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

There's some great dark sky that far out in the country, and Fort Davis in particular has the McDonald Observatory which has programs available to the public.
Make sure to check the weather for the times and places you're going. Because of the altitude it looks like average highs in the 90s and record highs in the 100s are common; most everywhere will have air conditioning but that is still quite hot if you're not used to it -- and especially as a tourist, when you presumably want to be out and about sometimes during daylight hours -- so it's worth keeping in mind.
posted by katemonster at 3:05 PM on February 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

Agreeing with all of the above -- West Texas is a special place and there's plenty to do -- but warning you that in the summer it's going to be uncomfortably hot, and there aren't a lot of trees out there.

If you do get out that way in the summer, though, take a dip at Balmorhea State Park.
posted by mudpuppie at 3:17 PM on February 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Is Lubbock considered wtx? The buddy holly museum is there.
posted by brujita at 4:21 PM on February 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Oh, I spent seven years in Austin. I can handle the heat--I actually miss it!
posted by Smearcase at 4:30 PM on February 16, 2017

Best answer: All of the above and no one has mentioned Alpine, which has a small university and is where I always stay for trips to Big Bend. The Saddle Club is amazing and Alpine is also home to Bid Bend Brewing. Marfa Public radio is pretty spectacuar and you MUST go to the Davis Observatory. Their star parties are great fun.

I love Big Bend and Big Bend Ranch more than almost any other place on earth, and simply do not understand the people who make regular trips to Marfa but never bother to explore the mysterious desolate beauty of the parks, so I obviously recommend that too, even if just for a day or two.
posted by Brittanie at 6:38 PM on February 16, 2017 [5 favorites]

Absolutely go see Terlingua if you are out that way! Its a heck of a place. I'd say a day trip, or an overnight. They do have a few good restaurants, the Starlight, the ghost town, cool cemeteries, some art shops, and a bunch of strange, interesting people. I kinda want to go live there.

(Also, I happened to have an odd photo glitch shooting in the ghost town... just a blue blank screen, but its the only time I've ever had that glitch out of a few thousand shots)
posted by Jacen at 6:47 PM on February 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you're willing to hop over the New Mexico border briefly, Carlsbad Caverns is amazing and well worth a trip. Very impressive, and you can probably watch some bats in the evening in the summer.
posted by owls at 11:40 PM on February 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oooh! Last August (yes, August), we flew into El Paso. Stayed at a boutique hotel and had a couple of good meals. Drove from there to spend a couple of days in Fort Davis and stayed at Indian Lodge, which was just delightful. The place is an absolute gem, for real. Had a nitro coffee at some weird shop in Fort Davvis. Did a star party at McDonald Observatory. Then went down to Marfa and a couple of days in trailers at El Cosmico. Stayed at the Thunderbird and did not like it much at all. Caught a minor league ballgame in El Paso. Were amazed at the Chinati Foundation. Had some decent Mexican food at various spots. Tried, but failed, to see the Marfa Lights. Even stopped at Prada Marfa, which is nowhere near Marfa. We spent a week, and didn't even get to do everything we wanted to, but did discover some things we didn't know we wanted to do and did them.

It is a fantastic idea. The quality of light is pure amazement. I absolutely fell head over heels in love with the atmosphere in West Texas. I wish we had made it to Big Bend, but that's for another time.


I think it would be so much better than you think it would be. I would go back to West Texas in a heartbeat.
posted by old_growler at 12:46 AM on February 17, 2017 [3 favorites]

Oh, I should add, restaurants around there close at what seems insanely early times, for this NYer. 7:00, some, and the latest open stay open till maybe 9:00. So you have to make sure you have night food/snacks, if you are a late eater.
posted by old_growler at 10:40 AM on February 17, 2017

Response by poster: I don't think anyone will see this so much later but the trip was an absolute dream.
posted by Smearcase at 8:51 PM on September 26, 2017 [4 favorites]

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