Marfa days

Visitors to the greater Marfa area will also find a wealth of daytime activities.
 
The Map of the Big Bend Region shows all the places described here. 
When you're in Marfa, don't miss the Presidio County Court House. Built in 1886, the court house was restored and rededicated in 2001. From the massive iron door of the original vault in the County Clerk's Office, to the wood paneling and carved spindles and newel posts, craftmanship is visible everywhere you look. 
 
If you want to get the "lay of the land", climb the stairs to the cupola and gaze out over the town. You'll see a panorama of the Marfa plateau bordered by the Davis Mountains to the north, Paisano Peak to the east, Cathedral Mountain to the east-southeast, Goat Mountain to the southeast, and the Chinati Mountains toward the southwest. 
 
Take state highway 17 north from Marfa to Fort Davis. There, you'll discover the frontier Army outpost that gave the town its name. Many of the buildings at the Fort Davis National Historic Site (#2) have been restored. Visitors can take a self-guided tour and walk the path of the original San AntoniotoEl Paso Road as it passed through the fort. There is hiking, horseback riding, camping, and lodging nearby at the Davis Mountains State Park (#3) on the way to the McDonald Observatory.
 
In addition to its star gazing parties, the University of Texas  McDonald Observatory (#1) also conducts tours of its telescopes. The road to the summit of Mount Locke (and the original telescope) reaches the highest point on Texas Highways (elev. 6,791 feet). In contrast, the elevation of the valley below is 5,280 feet. Scan the horizon, and you'll see Cathedral Mountain.

 

From Fort Davis, take highway 118 southeast to Alpine where you'll find Sul Ross State University. Located on its campus, the Bryan Wildenthal Memorial Library's Archives of the Big Bend (#4) and the restored building of the Museum of the Big Bend (#5) preserve the heritage of the Big Bend region and give visitors a glimpse into life on the frontier.
 
When you go to the museum, be sure to look at the replica of the Texas Pterosaur suspended from the ceiling. Fragments of this flying reptile were discovered in Big Bend National Park in 1971. The Texas Pterosaur was the largest flying creature ever found. And, this one had an estimated wing span of 51 feet!  Even as early as the Late Cretacious period  it seems like things were bigger in Texas!

 

Continue south on 118 to Study Butte and the west entrance of the Big Bend National Park to view exposed geological formations and the natural beauty of the Chihuahuan desert.
 
The Chisos Basin (#7) sits in the caldera of an extinct volcano in the Chisos Mountains. The views from there are breathtaking. The picture on the right was taken from the Chisos Basin Visitor Center looking out a cleft in the volcano's western wall in the general direction of Lajitas (30 miles away). This cleft is known as the window
 
Twice each year the sun sets right in the middle of the window, as seen from the western overlook of the Window View Trail. The trail begins at the Visitors' Center in the caldera (elev. 5,400). It is a ⅓-mile long loop on level terrain. This year the alignment of sunset and Chisos Window will occur on May 12 at about 7:36 p.m. and on July 30 at about 7:45 p.m. Did the Chisos Indians take special notice of these events?
 
Returning from the heights of the caldera, you can turn right and drive past the Park Service Headquarters (#8) to Rio Grande Village (#9). Or, turn left to the park road that heads to Castolon and the Santa Helena Canyon (#10) in the valley of the Rio Grande. There is plenty to see and do inside the park.
 
For a fuller discovery of the Big Bend region, plan your return to Marfa via the scenic drive to Presidio. Retrace your route from Big Bend National Park to Study Butte and take RM170 past the ghost town of Terlingua and on to Lajitas on the banks of the Rio Grande. Lajitas is notable in the history of the Big Bend. It was a major Rio Grande crossing used by the Comanche Indians on their annual treks into Mexico in the 1800s.
 
Westbound from Lajitas, RM170 skirts the Rio Grande and takes you across the southern end of Big Bend Ranch State Park. About 13 miles later, the road climbs steeply as you rise above the Rio Grande's banks.
 
If you look at the steep mountain inclines in this region, you just might find a local inhabitant camouflagued among the rocks. See if you can spot the goat (enlarged in the inset) among the rocks in this photo.
 
Look to your left, and you'll find the mighty Rio Grande is now a narrow ribbon running along the valley floor about 450 feet below. The angle down to the water in this photo is about 45 degrees.
 
Be sure to stop by the Fort Leaton State Historic Site (#11) outside Presidio. Unlike Fort Davis, Fort Leaton was not a United States military outpost. Built in 1848 on the ruins of a 1773 Spanish fort, Fort Leaton was the home, trading post, and private fort of pioneer Ben Leaton.  

From Presidio, it's an easy drive north on US67 past the ghost town of Shafter and into Marfa.
 
Time your return to Marfa until after sunset, and you, too, can become a mysterious light! Or, more precisely, your headlights will be among the many mysterious lights seen by viewers at the Marfa Lights Viewing Center that night.
 
Presidio County Court House
Marfa, Texas
  
 
Restored Officers' Quarters at the
Fort Davis National Historic Site
 
 
Museum of the Big Bend
Alpine, Texas
 
Replica of Texas Pterosaur
at the Museum of the Big Bend
 
 
 
View out the window from the Chisos Basin Visitor Center in Big Bend National Park
 
View of the window from the eastern rim of
the volcano  5,700 feet above Chisos Basin
 
View from park route 12 heading toward the
Rio Grande Overlook and Rio Grande Village.
Mexico's Sierra del Carmen Mountains
rise in the distance.
 
 Mountain Goat
  
View from RM170 looking at the
Rio Grande in the valley below