Going Wild in West Texas: A Private Ranch Road Trip

With unprecedented access to private ranches and encounters with biologists, archeologists, and astronomers, this West Texas road trip offers a chance to unplug and experience the solitude of this beguiling region like never before.

Marfa

Day 1 & 2

Start your road trip in El Paso, a frontier town tucked in the far western corner of Texas, between Mexico and New Mexico. It doesn’t take long after hitting the road for the rugged, soul cleansing landscapes of West Texas to unfurl, making the sudden appearance of a Prada store on a desolate stretch of road all the more incongruous. It is a fitting introduction to the town of Marfa, part dusty railroad outpost, part contemporary art mecca.  End your day shooting the breeze at the bar of the El Paisano Hotel.

Today pay a visit to the Chinati Foundation, a fascinating art museum founded by Donald Judd. You’ll be accompanied by a private curator as you walk through this former army barracks spread over 320 acres.  Later in the day, drive to the edge of town to experience the mysterious Marfa Lights, surreal and unexplained plays of light in the night sky, that have been drawing curiosity seekers for decades.

The Land of Milton Faver

Day 3 & 4

Leaving Marfa, continue to the historic and luxurious Cibolo Creek Ranch nestled in the Chinati Mountains. Legend has it that in the mid-19th century two men fought a deadly duel in the American West. The victor left town and fled to far West Texas where he settled in the majestic Big Bend region. That man, Milton Flaver, started life anew and amassed a vast ranching empire now known as Cibolo Creek Ranch. Nestled at the foot of rolling mountains, the ranch is a beautiful low adobe structure, part of which incorporates the meticulously restored original fort.

With 30,000 acres to explore, abundant wildlife and fascinating historical sites, including Native American rock art and the 19th century forts, built by Faver as defense against raiding Apaches, your day will be kept busy exploring on horseback, mountain bike or ATV.  Evening’s at Cibolo are a convivial affair as you gather for cocktails before dinner in the dining room.

On the River in Big Bend National Park

Day 4 & 5

Your West Texas road trip continues at sunrise, as you travel the River Road as it follows the Rio Grande through Big Bend Ranch State Park. As it weaves through the park like a twisted ribbon, it is one of the great drives in Texas.  In rough and tumble Terlingua you’ll meet your guide and head to the banks of the Rio Grande River to put in for two days padding through the temple like canyons that cut through the soft limestone of this wildest of national parks. The silent, meditative rhythm of a canoe only adds to the sense of solitude that this majestic landscape inspires.  As the desert sun drops, you’ll set camp on the banks of the Rio Grande and enjoy a gourmet backcountry dinner around the campfire.

Unplug and Unwind at Chalk Draw

Day 5 & 6

After a leisurely paddle this morning, leaving the river and Big Bend behind, to travel into the heart of the Santiago Mountains and the magically secluded Chalk Draw Ranch. Ten miles from the main road and sixty from the nearest town, this private property offers a special chance to soak in the scale and silence of this place. The main hacienda-style guest house, designed by a leading local architect, sits among lush lawns and pretty gardens as an oasis in the desert. End your day with a sunset cocktail on the rooftop deck while your private chef handles dinner.

The next morning you’ll venture out with an archeologist to explore the surrounding Santiago Mountains, home to a remarkable concentration of prehistoric petroglyphs and pictographs, which owing to their location, are seldom seen. You’ll be the only humans for miles around as you hike into Bee Cave Canyon, the largest rock shelter in Big Bend, and let your imagination wander to the lives of the ancient peoples that call this place home. Back at the ranch, let the pool wash off the day’s dust.

Solitude and Dark Skies in the Davis Mountains

Day 7 & 8

Saying goodbye to Chalk Draw, you’ll travel north through the Chihuahuan Desert, stopping in Alpine for sophisticated cowboy cuisine at Reata and a visit to the fascinating museum of the Big Bend at Sul Ross University. Your ultimate destination will soon become clear; the remote and wild Davis Mountains rise sharply from the desert, forming a unique sky island and incredibly diverse ecosystem. Deep in these mountains, ten miles from the main road, lies an undiscovered canyon wilderness, Withers Ranch, and your home for the next two nights. That evening, after a wholesome home-cooked dinner, you’ll be joined by an astronomer from the nearby McDonald Observatory to take advantage of some of the darkest skies in the country.

The Withers, surrounded by the wild beauty of a 100,000 acre conservation easement, is the perfect place to switch off and reconnect. Spend your time hiking, swimming or birding in the mountains of Madera canyon, guided by the family team at the ranch. This sky-island paradise supports a bewildering array of wildlife; from bear and mountain lion; to golden eagles, ten species of hummingbirds, and the rare Mexican spotted owl.

With your batteries recharged and well being restored, make your way back to El Paso for your flight home.

From The Magazine

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons

Thanks for visiting, we'd love to keep in touch

For national park profiles, insider interviews, hidden gems and more, subscribe to our monthly newsletter