West Texas Travel Guide
As soon as visitors set their soles on the dry-as-the-Sahara soil of West Texas, they’ll realize they’ve entered a completely different world. Remote from urban population centers, isolated within the northern plains of the Chihuahua Desert, West Texas lives by its own rules, not unlike Australia’s Outback. It’s a land of flat and rugged beauty and twisted vegetation like the kind that might float on the bottom of the sea.
And, in fact, once upon a time it did. In its ancient past, a majority of the territory now known as West Texas lay on the bottom of the Permian Sea. Now that the seas have drained (leaving behind vast reserves of crude oil), visitors can partake of a vista so limitless it seems to be viewed from an aerial vantage point. Few trees reach farther than three feet above the surface, allowing one a limitless view. What has managed to survive in the desert, however, is as intricate as sea life. Cacti rise like coral, and ground squirrels, horned lizards, and serpents wiggle like eels among the mesquite bushes populating the landscape—the same mesquite that bequeaths its poignant, smoky taste to everything from fajitas to barbecue chips.
West Texas is a land of severe beauty, with clutches of exquisiteness and quiet civilization—a rural, traditional culture that has an equal mix of Old West and Old Mexico. Cowboy hats are worn here not for fashion, but for duty: “cowboy” and “cowhand” are occupational titles of many folk, as is “oilman.” Working cowboys roam the plains and make fires at night, and there are still cattle drives to the south.
West Texas Sights
While some consider “West Texas” to begin just outside of Fort Worth, locals say it begins a lot farther west than the outskirts of the DFW Metroplex. Some West Texans say that it begins at Abilene, while some government agencies have decided it begins at tiny Mason County, population 3,900. Most Texans, however, claim Mason for Central Texas.
For the purposes of this guide, we’ll consider West Texas as beginning 300 mi west of Fort Worth at Midland and stretching another 300 mi west to El Paso, right on the cusp of the Mexico, Texas, and New Mexico borders.
Interstates 10 and 20, along with highways 87, 277, and 90, are the main roads traversing the region. Traveling from Midland and Odessa west on I-20 takes visitors to the small town of Monahans, home to Monahans Sand Hills State Park, where pallid sands spill across thousands of acres and visitors sled down dunes as tall as 70 feet; then onto Pecos, home to what may well be the nation’s oldest rodeo. From Pecos, travelers can slip south on Highway 17 to the unique culture mix that defines Marfa, and then south on Highway 118 to Alpine in the Fort Davis mountains. In both towns, urban east coast culture blends with ingrained ranching traditions and campers often lodge in both cities on their way to Big Bend National Park and the Rio Grande, both to the south.
Meanwhile, I-10 takes visitors up to the region’s largest city, El Paso, home to the Fort Bliss Military Reservation. Other towns in the region include San Angelo and Del Rio.
West Texas Restaurant Reviews
Due to a mix of geographic isolation and Hispanic heritage, the food is a redolent, sumptuous mix of north Mexican cooking and Southern home cooking, giving area dishes a very rich, heavy and spicy character. Sometimes the menus are in Spanish.
Tex-Mex, Mexican, and Southern cooking are what this region does best. In general, steer away from East Asian; stick with items like country-fried steaks, barbecue, and Mexican dishes like burritos, asado (a tangy dish, often pork, cooked in oil and ground-up chiles), chiles rellenos (raw green chiles that are stuffed with meat, cheeses, and spices and then baked; can be hot or mild), and barbacoa (slow-cooked beef seasoned with tangy marinade). (Note that some barbacoa is actually from the head of the cow [called barbacoa de cabeza].)
West Texas Hotel Reviews
Major chains, such as Hilton, Holiday Inn, Days Inn, and Comfort Inn, are represented in the major population centers such as Odessa, Midland, and El Paso. It may be difficult to find lodging in smaller towns.