Four More Desert Playgrounds

Texas: Big Bend National Park

Cibolo Creek Ranch    

The most popular Big Bend attraction is floating the Rio Grande through some of the country's most remote canyons, in the immense Chihuahuan Desert. Santa Elena Canyon, with its 1,500-foot limestone cliffs and Class III–IV rapids, is the most impressive and most frequently rafted, but some of the more isolated lower canyons are well worth seven- to ten-day trips.
SLEEP: Cibolo Creek Ranch began as three forts that cattleman Milton Faver built in 1857 to guard against Apache and Comanche attacks. Lodging is divided up among the forts, spread out on 32,000 acres: 22 rooms at El Cibolo, ten rooms at La Cienega, and a romantic cottage at La Morita. The guest rooms replicate 1880s style, with saltillo floors, cottonwood beams, and Mexican antiques. You'll enjoy the overwhelming fantasy—especially when guides take you on a cattle drive—that you're a very wealthy Texas rancher. (Doubles, $450, including meals; 432-229-3737, www.cibolocreekranch.com)  PLAY: Rio Grande Adventures (800-343-1640, www.riograndeadventures.com) and Big Bend River Tours (800-545-4240, www.bigbendrivertours.com) offer rafting trips in the park from about $125 per person for one day to $1,400–$1,500 for ten days.
EAT: Drive 90 minutes north from the park to Marfa, a burgeoning art community and West Texas cow town, for a margarita at Hotel Paisano's 1930s-era bar (432-729-3669, www.hotelpaisano.com).

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