You'll want two things as you drive through the stark, beautiful desert of West Texas and southern New Mexico: Cormac McCarthy's Border Trilogy and air-conditioning. After steaking it up in El Pasothe $14 filet mignon at Billy Crews (billycrews.com) is arguably the best deal in Texasmake a beeline to Big Bend National Park. July's 100-degree temperatures make a flatwater float down the Rio Grande your best option (guides available from the Far Flung Outdoor Center; farflungoutdoorcenter.com). Next stop, Marfa, the country's funkiest artists' enclave. Tour the Chinati Foundation's land-art installations, which loom surreally over vast parched fields (chinati.org). Thirty miles south of town, stay at Cibolo Creek Ranch, a group of luxurious yet rugged Civil Warera adobe forts equipped with private Jacuzzis (doubles, $475; cibolocreekranch.com). Then cruise north through the yucca-studded Chihuahuan Desert and the dusty Guadalupe MountainsU.S. 62 tops out at 5,534-foot, see-forever Guadalupe Pass. After crossing into southern New Mexico, hit Roswell's International UFO Museum, and if it happens to be July 4 weekend, sign up for the Alien Chase 10K (ufofestivalroswell.com), where chances are good you'll get passed by an alarmingly fit dude in a chartreuse unitard. Miles: 750 Days: 4 Theme Song: "Across the Borderline," Willie Nelson
Driving a sedan doesn't mean you can't navigate the occasional dirt road. Here's a thinking man's primer to light off-roading.1. Get the right tires: For all-wheel-drive wagons, like Subarus and Volvos, go with the slim, sturdy All-Terrain T/A (from $150; bfgoodrich.com). 2. Don't straddle obstacles: Place your tires on rocks, not around them. 3. On sand: Slightly deflate your tires. 4. Bring a jack: A five-foot Hi-Lift jack and tow chain can help you change a tire and can jerk most cars out of a ditch ($68; amazon.com). 5. Don't drive straight up hills: If you ascend diagonally, you won't drag your bumper. 6. Listen up: If you hear a funny sound, get out and checkor risk spooning with your travel buddy all night, the way executive editor Michael Roberts and senior editor John Bradley swear they didn't after puncturing an oil pan just outside New Mexico's Pecos Wilderness last summer.