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2011 - Volume 2 Issue 1
Vida Buena
Weekend Getaway
Article: Joe Burgess
Photos: Joe Burgess and
courtesy of Lajitas Golf Resort

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I timed my Big Bend visit to include the Original Terlingua International Championship Chili CookOff held the first weekend in November. Hundreds of chili aficionados descend on the ghost town of Terlingua, located between the Big Bend parks, to compete for the trophies, enjoy the camaraderie and support research for the cure of Lou Gehrig Disease. Over $20,000 was raised at the 2010 cookoff. It’s an RV extravaganza, but of course, you can arrive by horseback, if you are into endurance rides, or even drive your car and stay in swank accommodations at nearby Lajitas.

    About 200 miles east of
El Paso lies a vast and
complex region referred
to as Big Bend Country.
The main attractions
are the rugged Big Bend
National Park and Big
Bend Ranch State Park,
but the fascinating
communities of Lajitas,
Fort Davis, Marfa, Alpine
and Marathon contribute
to a diverse getaway
with days of intriguing
exploration options.
  Photo Captions

1.) The Boardwalk at Lajitas Golf Resort & Spa

2.) The Rio Grande flowing through the Big Bend Ranch State Park

3.) The Big Bend National Park – Chisos Mountains

4.) Indian Lodge Hotel, Davis Mountains State Park

5.) Jeff Davis County Courthouse

6.) Fort David National Historic Site

7.) Candelilla Restaurant at Lajitas

8.) Historic Hotel Limpia restaurant

9.) Historic Hotel Limpia lobby

10.) The 2010 Terlingua Chili Champion, Christine Knight

11.) McDonald Observatory

12.) Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center & Botanical Gardens

To find out more about Big Bend Country please visit:
Named for the bend in the Rio Grande, the parks are best explored from the cabins in the National Park basin or the upscale resort at Lajitas. The river has carved out three major canyons in its 180-mile trek around the national park. Santa Elena at the western edge is the most picturesque with its narrow walls rising up to 1500 feet above the river. Boquillas Canyon, at the eastern edge of the park, offers a stunning view of the Sierra del Carmen escarpment in Mexico. The border crossing to the tiny village of Boquillas del Carmen is re-opening in April 2012, which will allow visitors to tour the Maderas del Carmen Protected Area on the Mexican side, along with hot springs and an abandoned mine.

The heart of the park is the Chisos Mountains basin, anchored by 7800-foot Emory Peak and surrounded by stately Casa Grande mountain on one side and “the window,” a definite photographic vista on the west side overlooking the surrounding desert. The visitor center and cabins are located in this cooler region of the park. Scenic drives and over 200 miles of hiking trails cover the gamut from river bottoms through desert expanses into mountain flora and fauna.

The isolated village of Lajitas overlooks the Rio Grande on private land sandwiched between the national and state parks. The 27,000-acre Lajitas Golf Resort and Spa provides unexpected upscale lodging options in the rugged desert setting and an impressive collection of outdoor activities. Rafting, horseback riding, skeet shooting, mountain biking, ATV adventures, ziplining (riding a pulley down an inclined cable – facility scheduled for April 2011 completion) and, of course, golf and swimming are all available. Executive Chef Ray Lopez welcomes culinary tours to the Candalilla Restaurant and offers instruction and the recipe for the featured entrée. By the way, there is a landing strip for your personal jet, if you want to drop in for a quick visit. Call ahead for details and reservations – (432) 424-5000.

Traveling to the north, the Davis Mountains are home to the partially restored Fort Davis National Historic Site with a visitor center and museum. The fort was built in the 1800s for protection of westward bound settlers. It is one of the forts served by the Buffalo Soldiers. Nearby McDonald Observatory is operated by the University of Texas at Austin and is complete with café, visitor center, self-guided tours and opportunities for star-gazing parties. Davis Mountain State Park includes the historic Indian Lodge, a renovated pueblo-style hotel built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. To the south is the 507-acre Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center and Botanical Gardens that includes hiking trails, a visitor center and a historic mining display. The quaint village of Fort Davis, recognized as a Dozen Distinctive Destination in 2008 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation includes a collection of historic buildings, art and antique shops and plenty of restaurants and lodging.

The town of Marfa, famous for its unexplained phenomena, the Marfa Lights, has also turned to the arts. Some of the larger works of renowned artist Donald Judd and a few of his contemporaries are preserved on his 340-acre plot of Marfa grassland that was once U.S. Army Fort D. A. Russell. Judd had also purchased several buildings in the town itself, which continue to house some of his work. Several non-profit arts-related foundations inhabit the small community as a result of Judd’s adoption of the town.

Alpine, the home of Sul Ross State University, has a long history of professional baseball starting with the Alpine Cowboys, a semi-pro team in 1946, and now continuing with a professional team in the Pecos League that includes Las Cruces, Ruidoso and White Sands teams. Alpine and Marathon to the east provide the main entrances to the Big Bend National Park and have developed a collection of unique accommodations. Alpine, Marathon, Marfa and Fort Davis each have their renovated historic hotels. Any of the communities can serve as a hub for the region, but if exploring the National Park is your primary focus, the cottages in the park or the Lajitas resort will save driving time. ///
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