West Texas Swing

   

I once redlined a rental car at 130 miles per hour on a Boy Scout–straight section of ­Texas State Highway 17 between Fort Davis and Marfa. This is not bragging. I’m simply trying to convey how empty the desert uplands can seem in the Big Bend region of West Texas—and how fun they are in a V-6. You feel like you can get away with things here. Begin and end your trip in Balmorhea, just south of I-10, where you can cool off in 74-degree spring water in the massive Balmorhea State Park swimming pool. From there it’s roughly 150 miles to the Mexi­can border at Big Bend National Park’s southern tip, and you can leave your itinerary as open as the terrain. The best ­attractions are the small towns in ­between (Marfa, Marathon, Alpine, ­Terlingua), each separated by perfect 30-to-80-mile sections of blacktop. I could list the obvious stops in each one—the Marfa Book Company (marfabookco.com), the Gage Hotel in ­Marathon (gagehotel.com), the Railroad Blues bar in Alpine (railroadblues.com)—but these towns are so small that hearing the highlights up front is like seeing a Hollywood trailer that spoils the whole plot. The only musts are as follows: keep water in the trunk, don’t miss River Road through Big Bend Ranch (FM 170), and when the rental agent asks if you want comprehensive insurance, say yes.

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