El Paso-Terlingua Ghost Town-Big Bend National Park-Fredericksburg-Austin-Houston
In Norwegian there is a word, that means that something is crazy, off the hook and states that something is out of control, that word is “Texas”. You will hear Norwegians say “That was totally Texas” after having a party of epic proportions. The Lone Star State of Texas is the home of the Longhorn, Willie Nelson, Stevie Ray Vaughn, ZZ Top, Pantera, Thirteenth Floor Elevators, the Giant movie and South By Southwest festival. There is something about the fierce independence Texans have in their blood, or as they say, “Don’t mess with Texas!”. The only state that has had 6 different flags fly over it, the flags of Spain, France, Mexico, Republic of Texas, Confederate States and the United States. The King Ranch is bigger than the state of Rhode Island. Texas is a whopping 7,4% of United States total area. In short, everything is big in Texas.
Day 1: El Paso to Terlingua
This trip is a part of our El Paso Loop, and we did it in Easter, the weather was great. After doing our loop from El Paso with a Harley, we switched to a car from Avis in El Paso and headed out on the great open roads of Texas. We knew that there would be a lot of driving, and that’s what you get in such a big state as Texas. Out of El Paso we took the main road south, Interstate 10 that will take you all the way to San Antonio if you keep going straight. And straight it is, endless plains and horizons for hours on end. It’s about a 3 hours drive from El Paso to Balmorhea and our turnoff from I 10 to Hwy 17. Just outside of Balmorhea is the wonderful oasis of Balmorhea State Park.
Here lies one of the world’s biggest spring fed swimming pools. Nearby San Solomon Springs has provided water for humans and animals for thousands of years. Native Americans used the springs before the explorers and settlers came into the area. Mexican farmers dug the first canals in the area and used the water for crops. During the Great Depression president Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps, which provided jobs and job skills by hiring young men to work on conservation projects. This project was used to build the massive pool at the park, a 1,3 acre pool fed from the spring. Together with the surrounding parkland, this whole enterprise was to provide jobs for young men during the depression, and construction lasted from 1935 to 1940.
When we arrived, we were more or less alone in that massive pool. The water is crystal clear, more than 15 million gallons (almost 57 million litres) of water flow through the pool every day, and the pool itself holds 3,5 million gallons (13 million litres) of water. There are fishes and turtles swimming in the pool, and you can scuba dive if you want to. The temperature is between 72F and 76F (around 23 celcius) year-round. It was a great respite from the endless plains, a true oasis. We spent a few hours just basking in the sun and swimming around, diving from the dive boards and frolicking in one of the nicest pools we have ever been to.
40 minutes up the road on Hwy 70 is Fort Davies one of the best surviving examples of an Indian Wars frontier military outpost in the Southwest. It was a nice place, but we were more mesmerized by the gophers playing around the fields.
From Fort Davies it’s a short drive to the historic town of Marfa. The town is mainly known for being the location of the shooting of the movie Giant starring Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, Dennis Hopper and James Dean. It’s also known for hosting The Marfa lights festival, and being the gateway to Big Bends National Park. Walk by, and step into history at the Hotel Paisano, used by all the stars of Giant, the lobby and surrounding courtyards of the hotel are beautiful.
From Marfa we continued on Hwy 67 southwards towards Presidio, and then we turned east on route 170 that follows the Mexican border and the Rio Grande river towards the ghost town of Terlingua. This stretch of road was epic, winding its way along the riverbank, twists and turns and terrific landscape around every bend. Kinda wished we had a motorbike on this stretch of road, it rates high on our great driving roads list.
Terlingua was on our itinerary because Ørjan always wanted to visit a ghost town, and it was on the way to Big Bend. The term ghost town is not necessarily fitting, since this is a thriving small community with artists and galleries, coffeeshops and the famous Starlight Theatre. We booked our stay at Big Bend Holiday Hotel situated right behind the Starlight Theatre. The beer that night was extra good, and the food at the theatre was great. Local entertainment and margaritas ensued, and there was much merriment.
Day 2: Terlingua to Sonora (via Big Bend National Park)
In the morning we had great coffee and food at the local coffee shop. We wished we could have stayed longer, but we had to keep on trucking to our main destination Big Bend National Park just up the road from Terlingua.
On the border with Texas this is a huge park, the drive into and out of the park takes hours, literally. So, plan your visit well, you could easily spend a week here, or you could as we did, take a scenic drive and choose one of the canyons as a walk. We drove the Maxwell scenic drive to Santa Elena Canyon, and did the trek into the canyon. It’s a relatively easy trek, a bit of a climb up the stairs and into the canyon from Rio Grande, but well worth the effort to get into the cool shade of the steep canyon walls.
There are plenty of drives, both paved and dirt tracks, treks, rafting and guided tours in the park. Have a good read on the NPS website, and study the map, see what you would like to do. We had many “WOW” moments driving in the park, everywhere you look there are epic vistas and views. We drove to Panther Junction and the long way out of the park northwards on Hwy 385 to Marathon, continued to Fort Stockton (where we went boots and hat shopping) and then just had a transport stretch as long as we felt like on I 10 until we wanted no more, and ended up at a motel along the Interstate in a town called Sonora.
Day 3: Sonora to Fredericksburg
The next day we had done a little bit of research of nice byroads to drive to see the bluebells that should be blossoming while we were in Texas. We continued on the I 10 until we reached Kerrville, route 16 to Medina and Bandera, then route 689 back to Kerrville. It was a nice ride, but nothing to write home about, the only highlight was a very good burger in Medina, a small ramshackle shack on the side of the road, run by a sweet lady, and she had great burgers and the best Texas sweet tea we ever had. She also said there was a secret route north of Fredericksburg with lots of bluebells. And that was great news, since we were spending the night in that very town.
Fredericksburg is a very German town, named after Prince Frederick of Prussia, also referred to by old time German residents as Fritztown. It is also noted for the home of the Texas German, a dialect spoken by the first generations of German settlers who initially refused to speak English. The historic district of the town is on the national register of historic places in Texas. It is a very nice, clean and neat town. We stayed at the beautiful Hofman Haus at the end on mainstreet and this was a nice retreat for adults and newlyweds. A very cool place.
The town is dotted with restaurants and breweries serving proper German beer and sausages with sauerkraut and pretzels. For us Europeans, who live close to Germany it was more a curiosity visiting the city, but we found the mix of American, Mexican and German a cool mix. Big portions spiced up German food, and American beer with taste.
Day 4: Fredericksburg to Austin
The “secret” route recommended to us is called the Willow City Loop. Take Hwy 16 north out of Fredericksburg and there will be a sign to the right simply saying “Willow City Loop”. The loop takes you through some very nice and green Texan countryside. It can be ridden by motorbike too, and we wished we had a Harley again. We saw plenty of blossoming bluebells, longhorn cattle, a fence filled with boots and various old shacks and newer ranch houses. A very beautiful detour.
After the loop we continued towards Austin. Just outside town we had to do a shopping stop at Barton Creek Square Mall just to get some needed American shopping done. There are a few stores we don’t have in Norway, so a mall is needed from time to time. In Austin we stayed 2 nights at the Hilton Austin and the room had great views over the skyline. We looked very much forward to visiting Austin, being music fans, we have heard a lot about the city, both SXSW and Austin City Limits ring true in the ears of music fans.
We had a great walk along the river and got together with a few thousand other people to see the bats come out at night from under the bridges that cross the river. We had some great pizza the first night, together with drinks at various bars in the downtown area. Next day we headed to South Congress (SoCo) Avenue. This vibrant neighbourhood was a treat to visit on a Saturday.
The amount of cool shops and sitting in at Texas Radio Live stage to have some beers and listen to very good music was very cool. Visiting Allens Boots to see if there were some boots with our name on them, or just roam the small artists shops to browse local produce was a whole days’ worth of fun and games. Before we knew it, the bats were on their wings again, and we found a good bar we forgot the name of and had a very good time in Austin.
Day 6: Austin to Houston
This was a pure transport leg, after lunch in Austin we drove straight to Houston to catch our flight back to Europe. You deliver the car on the way to the airport, a huge building just for car rentals, and then a shuttle to the terminals, very easy.
Texas is huge, and we only scratched the surface of a great state. We want to go back, see the coast, see San Antonio, go to a rodeo, but that’s for another time. We loved the friendly and open Texans, they might seem a bit intimidating with big cowboy hats and boots, but we found them to be very courteous and nice all over. We will be back.