I made my way from east to west across the southern border of Texas. This is the only part of the state I hadn’t been in. I took a road trip on US 90 from Hondo to Van Horn. It’s mostly a two-lane highway that served as the southern route before I-10 came in. It was a far less stressful trip than dodging 18-wheelers on the Interstate. I stayed in some great places. I saw stars – lots of stars, in the night sky. That was one of the reasons I came this way and also to experience Marfa – an artistic outpost if there ever was one. Mostly, I enjoy the slower pace of a less-traveled road. Though there was traffic, it wasn’t obnoxious. The pace allows for some meandering and that’s what a road trip is for. The other interesting thing about this route is that it’s close to the Mexican border in some spots and there are crossings available. I didn’t cross – time was a factor and I didn’t want to research what I would need to get back into the USA, like a Covid test.
Sit back and relax. Enjoy 425 miles of pure Texas. I’ll have an article like this on TravelAwaits.com in April.
Hondo is just 40 miles west of San Antonio, but a world away in many respects. Less than 10,000 people live in this county seat and a lot of them are retirees. The city name is Spanish for “deep” and was formed in the 1880s. I don’t know how “deep” is applicable to this terrain. It’s flat. Ranching is the big deal around here. A novel by Louis L’Amour is titled Hondo and John Wayne starred in the movie. It’s nice enough, but let’s move on.
Not too far down the highway the landscape changes to more arid and canyon-y terrain where the Rio Grande comes into play. I stopped at the most beautiful camp spot of the trip at Amistad National Recreation Area near Del Rio/Ciudad Acuna. There is a dam in the river and nearby canyons are filled with water – they fan out like fingerlings to form the very large Amistad Reservoir. I’ve never seen water this color blue before.
Del Rio is one long commercial strip that starts at Laughlin Air Force Base and ends at Amistad. It has a busy border crossing into Ciudad Acuna. There’s also a prison and lots of border patrol personnel. But at Amistad it was peaceful. Though my campground was near US 90 and I could hear the occasional truck go by, the sounds mainly came from birds and boats. I impressed myself when I wedged my Airstream into the last available spot that had an asphalt pad – that means the trailer would be level, as opposed to uneven gravel in campsites that leaned. While the camping was dry (no hookups) I did have a water spigot next to my campsite which was handy for reloading my Berky to filter more drinking water. Be prepared to drink LOTS of water on this trip. I think it averaged about 5% humidity. For this FL girl, I thought it was exceedingly dry, lol. But the weather was perfect – cool but not cold. Lots of winter Texans in the area as RVs outnumbered houses.
I reluctantly left Amistad and traveled a full 30 minutes down the road to the Seminole Canyon State Park. This is a hiker’s park. There is no driving loop and the campgrounds are either at a lower level or the upper level. The landscape is scrub and the notable quality of the canyon is the pictographs. My knee is not in shape to trek down with the tour to see them, so for me, this place was not all that interesting. The best part of my visit was sunrise and sunset. Those were very nice.
The next stop took me up to about 4000 feet in elevation on the high desert of Big Bend country. This is where the Rio Grande river juts north creating a bend in the state boundary. I stopped in Marathon at the only RV park there and it was packed. Why? Stargazing. Marathon is an official dark sky place – no light pollution. That makes celestial bodies available to see that you normally don’t see if you are anywhere near a city. This park has resident astronomers with telescopes and telescopic binoculars who provide a hands-on show. It was a blast. This guy pointed out clusters and stars and constellations and planets. I saw things I never saw before including the Seven Sisters constellation. He pointed out the north star and then he pointed out the ancient north star. Apparently, due to the earth’s wobble, the ancient star is no longer at true north and a new star was selected at some point in history. It was cold that night (elevation = temperature drop) but there were 20 people peering through the devices to get a good look at stuff. I’ve wanted to do this since I took astronomy with a night lab in college. This experience was way easier and no quiz! The daytime was beautiful too. Mountains around the area. I found a brewpub and enjoyed a beer. Not bad for a stopover spot.
Have you ever heard of the Marfa Lights? Hmmm. There is a large roadside stop, complete with pavilion, viewing binoculars, and lots of parking. I sat with others in the cold to see the lights. Supposedly there are white and sometimes red lights on the horizon that appear and no one can explain what they are. Google it for all the theories. I didn’t see any, but did see plenty of known stars! I stayed the night after having spent the afternoon at a roadside picnic area. TX is very hospitable to RVs and Van Campers. You can stay free for 24 hours.
The finale of this road trip was the town of Marfa itself. Third in the line of railroad towns – Marathon, Alpine, and Marfa, it has evolved into a curious arts colony/ranch town. It’s the last stop before turning south to Big Bend National Park and State Park. Its the last stop before turning north to Van Horn and El Paso. It’s dusty, it’s small, it’s a county seat, and the movie Giant was made near here starring James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor.
The most famous artist there is Donald Judd. He has his home, studio, gallery, and foundation occupying several large structures that anchor downtown. One building is new and the others are repurposed. All over downtown are historic buildings, including The Hotel Paisano which is a National Historic Landmark. The Giant movie cast and crew headquartered here in 1955. These buildings house galleries, shops, and cafes. These venues cater to a tourist base and many are only open on weekends until summertime. The one restaurant with vegan offerings was closed with a handmade sign out front that read – “Closed until not.” Perfectly represents the Marfa culture.
Even the local public radio station is housed in a repurposed building.
The other significant arts space in town is Ballroom Marfa. An unassuming building houses artists in residence, stylized exhibits of modern and performative art, and nurtures the next generation of artists. Currently they are hosting Kite Symphony – a visual and musical arts production. The idea is to capture the sounds of this high desert/prairie (and there are many different sounds from wind, to train, to livestock) and combine them with geometric kites that mimic the sound. It’s avante garde but pretty cool. Go to the website to hear and see some excerpts of the exhibit.
I stayed in Marfa for a couple of nights at an Airstream only park – Marfa Yacht Club (Airstreams were originally known as land yachts). This place is owned by a couple who have their own Airstream and decided people may want to rent one at their place (like an AirBnB) or bring their own (like me). Its a big open piece of land surrounded by mountains and sits just outside town. There are a few communal spaces for warm weather grilling and cocktails and the property provides a fine walk around the perimeter. I know a few people who recommend the place so I made the pilgrimage.
There’s one more claim to fame for Marfa. Ballroom Marfa commissioned an art sculpture 30 miles away in the next railroad town – Valentine, TX. It is a replica building of a Prada Boutique complete with real Prada goods from the 2005 collection. I don’t understand modern interpretive art, but this is a huge tourist spot. At least a dozen people stopped there on a weekday morning at the side of the road to take pics, just like I did.
Hope you enjoyed this Border Line road trip on US 90 in Texas. I had a lot of fun and now am making my way through NM, AZ, UT, ID, and OR to get back to Seattle with my route depending on the weather. Who knew there are March snowstorms? Ugh. I’ll be off the road for 6 weeks or so as I get some interior work done on my wheeled home.