Thanksgiving weekend was the perfect occasion to cross Texas with destination Big Bend National Park. When covering 2500 km in four days, you might as well enjoy the journey. That’s why we turned our trip into a road trip, with stops in Austin, Marfa, San Antonio, and some ghost towns along the way.
Starting point of this Texan journey was Houston. We took off on Wednesday night, headed to Austin. The Texas capital is known for its laid back vibe, live music, and plenty of green spaces. This sounded like a place to be thankful for, so we decided to spend Thanksgiving day in Austin. When we arrived to the Austin Motel, our Texas road trip had really started! From the neon motel sign to the vintage radio playing country music, everything in this hotel is designed to give you that 60’s road trip feel.
For the Austin vibe and music we went to the Elephant Room. With so many recommended live music venues, I based my choice for the Elephant Room on their selection of Belgian beers. This turned out to be a great selection criterium, as the live jazz music was amazing and the vibe very laid back.
On Thursday we were planning to have a big Thanksgiving brunch and walk it off in one of Austin’s many parks. Moonshine Grill is an institution in Austin, serving Southern comfort food with a twist. We were thus expecting quite a wait for their all-you can eat Thanksgiving brunch; yet three hours wait at 11:00 far exceeded our expectations. Since the terrace was so appealing on this beautiful day, we decided to kill the wait with some mimosas in the sun. Four hours, several pomegranate mimosas, complementary popcorn and a bloody mary later, we could finally throw ourselves at the brunch buffet. Although it didn’t feel like a wait, the food was definitely worth sticking around for!
Needless to say the walk in the park was not gonna happen anymore. Instead, we hit the road to shorten tomorrow’s drive. After three hours of driving, we found a motel in Sonora. Although Sonora is not actually a ghost town, it sure felt like one when driving through on Thanksgiving night. The motel was a less shiny and more smelly version of the Austin Motel the night before. However, it did add to the Texas road trip experience.
By Friday morning, there was just a four-hour drive between us and Big Bend National Park. We left early and split up the drive with breakfast in Fort Stockton halfway. I enjoyed my first ever kolaches in the cute Clockwork Coffeehouse.
We made it to the heart of Big Bend by lunchtime and went on a hike straight away. The Lost Mine Trail is located in the Chisos Mountain region of the park. It takes about two and a half hours round trip. The views keep getting better when climbing up the trail, with a stunning 360º view of the surrounding mountains at the trail end.
With still two hours left before sunset, we packed up some beer and snacks and started hiking the Window trail. No big views on this trail, but surrounded by majestic mountains you feel pretty small. There is a junction near the end of the trail; we choose to go to the Window first. The trail abruptly stops at a window-shaped viewpoint, which reveals the desert below. Although impressive, it was not quite the scene we had in mind to watch the sunset.
We walked back to the junction and went the other way to Oak Springs. A short climb brought us to a spectacular viewpoint. With a Texan beer and snacks, we watched the sunset over the desert below.
What we didn’t think about was the way back. Within ten minutes after sunset, the sky was full of stars. We managed pretty well with our cell phones, until I shined right into the eyes of a coyote. At this point, we couldn’t get back to the car fast enough. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find it. We had parked it in plain daylight without paying much attention. In complete darkness, it took us over an hour to locate it. We got more darkness on the farm road to our rented RV, with the only light coming from illuminated crosses on the side. It was a pleasant surprise to find a cosy apartment on wheels at the end of this creepy journey.
In the morning, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre set had given way to No Country for Old Men.
Today we were exploring the west side of the park. The unpaved Old Maverick road can be tricky if you don’t have a pickup, but we made it in our sedan. Luckily we did, because Santa Elena Canyon is absolutely stunning. A short trail leads you right into the canyon.
We had walked passed mountains, coyotes and canyons by now; the only thing missing was a desert hike. The Mule Ears Trail has excellent desert vistas on offer, including more wildlife.
Today we planned to exit the park with plenty of daylight left. The way out took us along the beautiful Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, followed by more great road trip scenery.
Next destination was Marfa, about two hours north from Big Bend. This little Texan town has become pretty famous in the US in the past few years. For its mystery lights, its art, its Tex-Mex charm or that far-away-of-everything feeling. Whichever one drew in most vistors, they have clearly left their mark. We had cocktails in Capri and dinner in Stellina, both of which could easily have been Manhattan joints. For a nightcap we went to Planet Marfa, and I’m so glad we did. Golden Oldies and Mexican cumbia were smoothly blent together in this patio bar. A Mexican and half-Argentinian could not let all this cumbia pass by without some serious dancing. We happily fell asleep in the Thunderbird Hotel, another stylishly renovated motel.
On Sunday awaited a nine-hour drive back to Houston. Yet we were planning to enjoy our last road trip day. Spotify’s Southern Highway Chronicles brought us to Ozona. This little town had the most Texan place on this trip in store for us. The Cafe Next Door served us a big American breakfast, including cowboy hats and country music.
Another three hours of driving landed us in San Antonio. San Antonio is famous for its Riverwalk and the Alamo Mission. After the solitude of the Texas Wild West, touristy San Antonio couldn’t convince us. But a lunch on the Riverwalk and an American history lesson in the Alamo did come as a welcome change from the driving.
San Antonio was the final stop on this road trip adventure. The Texas roads may not be the most travelled in the US, but they sure do take you to amazing places!