West Texas Vacation Destination
The Davis Mountains in West Texas offer scenery, solitude, and a variety of outdoor activities. High elevation keeps it cooler here in summer than in much of the state.
Those with a week to spend can travel a loop formed by Fort Davis, Alpine, and Marfa, with a short detour to Balmorhea. Those with only a weekend can choose any one of these points for an excellent getaway.
San Solomon Springs – Scuba Diving in the Desert
Balmorhea State Park, just off Interstate 10, is home to the San Solomon Courts, a 1930s style motor court, as well as tent and RV campgrounds.
Balmorhea State Park is out there. I would tell you what it’s near, but I really can’t think of much besides I-10. It’s out west, past Junction, and Ozona, and Fort Stockton. The town of Balmorhea is right next-door to the park and provides visitors with essentials like food and fuel. It’s a pretty small town. The restaurant that claims to be the “cutest restaurant in Balmorhea” appeared to be the only restaurant in Balmorhea.
The park’s centerpiece is a 77,053 square foot swimming pool, fed by San Solomon Springs, which pumps more than 22 million gallons of water through the pool daily. The waters then flow into shallow canals that wind past the motel and into a restored Cienega, or wetland, which houses endangered fish as well as other creatures.
The huge spring-fed pool is a great place to visit on a weekday morning. On the Monday morning when we swam, we had the whole pool to ourselves except for one man who was snorkeling. Yes, snorkeling. Because the pool is spring-fed and goes to a depth of 25 feet in some places, it is popular with snorkelers and scuba divers. It was a chilly morning, but the water temperature remains a fairly constant 70ish degrees. Once we got in, our swim was very pleasant.
The pool, open daily, is popular with scuba divers (Funky Lil Dive Shop across the street rents gear and provides air refills), offering excellent visibility, an abundance of fish, bubbling springs, and depths up to 25 feet. Visitors can also enjoy picnic tables, barbecue grills, and bird watching.
We stayed in the park at the San Solomon Courts hotel. The accommodations were older, but clean. Our room had two beds, a kitchen, and a TV. A little patio overlooked a creek that ran through the park from the springs. While we were exploring outside we looked into the water and saw a family of snapping turtles! It was really fun watching them swim, and then one of them stuck his head out of the water and allowed my daughter and her friend to get a close look.
In my opinion, Balmorhea State Park is worth a visit if you’re driving west or if you really enjoy swimming. However, we found that one night at the park was sufficient.
Fort Davis and Parks
Hotel Limpia, a restored country inn from the early 1900s with a second-story veranda and turn of the century oak furniture, anchors the four or so square blocks that make up ‘downtown’ Fort Davis. The hotel’s Boarding House Restaurant serves a full and varied menu. Davis Mountains State Park offers hiking, mountain biking, bird watching, and camping. Indian Lodge, a CCC-built hotel modeled after southwestern pueblos, with 18-inch thick walls and exposed roof beams, sits on a hillside deep within the park. It includes a restaurant and pool.
The park’s Skyline Drive leads to a scenic overlook that takes in the domes of McDonald Observatory, one of the highest points in Texas, and Fort Davis National Historic Site, a restored 1860s cavalry outpost nestled at the base of dramatic cliffs. A hiking trail leads from the state park to the Fort, which has a museum and a self-guided tour of the restored buildings and ruins.
The nearby University of Texas McDonald Observatory has public viewing nights Wednesdays nearest the full moon; star parties every Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday; and daily tours.
Many of the area’s working ranches have become guest ranches, offering lodging, horseback riding, and other activities. One of the oldest is the Prude Ranch, which has a lodge and family bunk rooms, a pool, horseback riding, hayrides, and cowboy cookouts.
Fort Davis Scenic Loop
The 75 mile Fort Davis Scenic Loop, which starts and ends in town, reaches 6,700 feet and goes through scenic canyons, past the State Park, the Observatory, and the Davis Mountains Preserve, a Nature Conservancy property with public hiking trails. The trails, open daily, start at the Laurence E. Wood picnic area on Highway 118. The loop route is outlined in the Fort Davis Visitor’s Guide (copies available at area hotels, restaurants, and attractions).
La Trattoria in Alpine is known for home-cooked Italian food and authentic espresso, and Alicia’s is the place to go for a hearty, but leisurely, breakfast. The Maverick Inn, a renovated historic motor court hotel, offers accommodations with the atmosphere. The Museum of the Big Bend is housed on the campus of Alpine’s Sul Ross University.
Art and Mystery Lights in Marfa
The rustic yet elegant El Paisano Hotel in Marfa opened in 1930 and hosted Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean during the filming of the movie Giant in 1955. Jett’s Grill serves dinner, and hotel guests can enjoy cocktails by the courtyard fountain. Food Shark, a diner truck under an awning between the town’s renowned book store and the railroad tracks, offers a unique combination of West Texas and Mediterranean food.
Art aficionados should drop by the Chinati Foundation, a contemporary art museum on 340 acres; Ballroom Marfa; and 2d Marfa. The mysterious Marfa Lights became so famous that the town built a roadside viewing area nine miles east of town on Highway 90, where thousands have reported seeing strange lights in the distance.