Thursday, March 31, 2011

"Good for the Soul" Mini-Break: Presidio County Courthouse

Eighty-six steps take you to the top of Marfa’s beautiful Presidio County courthouse and a 360 degree view of the town and surrounding countryside.  Built in 1886 in the Second Empire Style, the courthouse was restored and rededicated in 2002.  Inside, the building is as beautiful as the outside, and if you're game to make the climb to the very top, you'll be rewarded with an incredible view of the Marfa Plain!
Today's Feature: Tacos del Norte
A delicious trio of tacos (pollo, nopales, picadillo), beans, rice, chips and salsa from Tacos del Norte on Hwy 90 in Marfa. Relaxed outdoor dining, menu in Spanish.  Delicious!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

"Good for the Soul" Mini-Break: Jeff Davis County Courthouse

We're happy to feature the Jeff Davis County Courthouse today, and invite you to spend a few minutes visiting the photographs and artifacts on display inside.  You'll see images of some of Fort Davis' most recognizable buildings being constructed in the early days of this charming small community.  Pictured here is a quilt made in 2004 of many of those buildings important to the history of Fort Davis.  Take a few minutes out of your day, to view the quilt and the many fascinating photographs of early life in the Fort Davis area.

The Courthouse was built in 1910 (replacing the original adobe courthouse), in the Classical Revival style, while the clock tower is Beaux-Arts. The alternating horizonal bands of pink are rusticaed stone from locally quarried materials.  Here's a link to the history of Jeff Davis County, courtesy of the Texas State Historical Association.

Today's Feature:  Stone Village Market
Locals and regional visitors like to pick up trail snacks at Fort Davis' Stone Village Market, as well as enjoy soups, sandwiches and delicious bakegoods.  Simple outdoor dining is possible on the front porch of the store, or at a couple of tables inside.  Coffee, cold drinks, produce and simple groceries are available at the store too!  It is located next to the cycle-friendly 1935 restored Stone Village Tourist Camp!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"Good for the Soul" Mini-Break, Brewster County Courthouse in Alpine

 If you want to take a 10 minute departure from your day in Alpine, consider popping your head into the 1887 Brewster County Courthouse in the center of town.  Built in the American Second Empire style, this beautiful structure was listed in the National Register in 1978.  Thought to have been built with local brick, it is among the oldest buildings in Alpine. Inside you'll find wonderful photographs of early life and development in the area.  Spend some time with these photographs, and you'll come away with a greater appreciation of the strength and resilience displayed by early residents.  You'll see some amazing photographs of early ranch life and buildings of the area.
The Courthouse is also on Historic Alpine's Walking and Windshield Tour of the city.  Here's a link to some historic photographs of the courthouse on Historic Alpine's website.   Read more about Brewster County history here.  Check this link for information on the building of the courthouse.
Today's Feature:  Taking Amtrak to Alpine
Many visitors enjoy getting to the Texas Mountain Trail region by train, as Amtrak stops are possible in Alpine and El Paso.  Alpine's train station is just a couple of blocks from the Brewster County Courthouse.  Alpine is on the Texas Eagle and the Sunset Limited Routes.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Flowers of the Smith Spring Trail, Guadalupe Mountains National Park

The Smith Spring trail in Guadalupe Mountains National Park is one of our favorite short trails in the region.  To learn why, visit our slideshow of images from the trail or read the park's website page on the area. 

Here's a snippet from that webpage:  "The trail is rated moderate, with a round-trip distance of 2.3 miles. Allow one to two hours.  Look for lizards, mule deer, javelinas, and elk as you walk this loop trail to the shady oasis of Smith Spring. Here, nature weaves a tapestry of life with green and silver threads. Rainfall and snowmelt from the higher elevations flows through a series of cracks in the limestone beds to emerge near the base of the eastern escarpment, forming a shallow creek lined with ferns and sedges, and watering a grove of trees including maples, choke cherry, chinkapin oaks, Texas madrones and ponderosa pines. Take a break here and look for birds such as Cooper's hawks, sapsuckers, and hummingbirds as you enjoy the water that splashes around the rocks creating this incredible desert paradise."

This area of the park is also a wildlife/birding site on the new Far West Texas Wildlife Trail map.  Read more and find a link to purchase the map, here.   The map is only $2 and provides information on 57 sites across Far West Texas!

Today's Feature:  Hotel El Capitan in Van Horn
Newly restored, this 1930s cattleman's hotel in Van Horn just off of I-10, is the closest historic hotel to Guadalupe Mountains National Park.  Cycle-friendly, the Hotel El Capitan is also the starting point for the beautiful "El Capitan to El Capitan Heritage Bike Ride," from Van Horn to the foot of Guadalupe Mountains National Park. 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Your Best Mountain Biking Resource for the Franklin Mountains

A terrific new resource for mountain bikers, is THE place to go for information on adventure in El Paso's Franklin Mountains.  They've profiled all the great trails in the area, providing terrific information and even virtual races for you!
Thanks to TPWD for the use of this photograph!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Mule Ears!

One of the most iconic views in the entire region is the one of Mule Ears in Big Bend National Park.  It can be seen for miles around, including from the porch of Terlingua Ghost Town's Starlight Theatre.The park's website says this about the Mule Ears Spring hike:

"3.8 miles roundtrip--This trail starts at the Mule Ears Overlook parking area at milepost 15 on the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. Always in sight of the prominent "mule ears" peaks, the trail crosses several arroyos before reaching the spring. A rock corral and cottonwood trees mark the end. Fantastic geology and spring wildflowers make this a delightful day hike."

For other regional hiking information, visit:

Friday, March 25, 2011

Soldiers Raising the Flag at Fort Davis National Historic Site

Fort Davis, established in 1854, is one of the best preserved frontier forts in the Southwest.  Today, the Fort Davis National Historic Site stands ready for visitors to teach about the ways of the west in the 19th century.

Self-guided tours of restored and re-furnished buildings; hiking (connecting with trails of adjacent Davis Mountain State Park); and a 15-minute video shown every half-hour. Pets on leash are permitted.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Can a crust make you happy?

We loved our visit this week to Marathon's Shirley's Burnt Biscuit Bakery on Hwy 90...the crusts of their fried pies are flaky and crispy..make us want to hop around and holler, they're so good! 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Brilliance of Mexican Redbud at Davis Mountains Lodge and Expeditions

Our spring flowers are a bit late this year, perhaps because of our hard freezes in January or our dry fall, but there are a few places ablaze with color.  Here's the Mexican Redbud tree in glorious pink, at the front door of the Davis Mountains Lodge and Expeditions in Fort Davis

The Lodge provides B&B lodging for guests, organizes custom trips for groups and individuals and conducts Road Scholar trips (formerly known as Elderhostel) across Texas and the Southwest.  Here's a link to their Road Scholar trips.  Want to learn more about these trips?  Listen in on a radio interview, On the Road with Lisa D.
They're also one of our Texas Mountain Trail cycle-friendly properties.  Here's a listing of their cycle-friendly features:  comfortable cabins and healthy meals (at a great price) for your cycling group, sag support and shuttles, pre-arranged water stops, snacks or meals delivered or served on your route, skilled bike mechanic and wilderness first aid responder, and more.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Spring is Coming to the Gage Gardens!

Beyond the railroad tracks from Marathon's Gage Hotel, is a lovely spot to rest, watch birds, and enjoy the quiet...Gage Gardens.  The public is invited to enjoy this spot on the Far West Texas Wildlife Trail.  Spring is slow to join us this year, but there are signs of it everywhere in the Gardens. 

Built in 1927, the Gage Hotel is one of the most distinguished historic hotels in the region, and it is also one of our Texas Mountain Trail cycle-friendly properties.  Cycle-friendly features include: oversized rooms for stowing bikes; pool/fitness center/spa services; daily pasta and vegetarian dishes, organic salad ingredients grown in garden onsite; snacks/packed meals and emergency bike repair at French Co. Grocer around the corner. Very safe location, gateway to Big Bend National Park.  The Hotel and the Gardens are locations on the "Ride to the Post Heritage Bike Route," an easy ride for families! 

Monday, March 21, 2011


We spotted this jackrabbit just south of Marathon on the "Ride to the Post" heritage bike route

This little guy reminded us of the children's book, How the Jackrabbit Got His Very Long Ears, by Heather Irbinskas, which is available at local bookstores, Front Street Books in Alpine and Marathon,  and Marfa Book Company in Marfa, as well as local visitors centers at museums and regional state parks! 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Hiking Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park

One of the signature short hikes in the region is Big Bend National Park's Santa Elena Canyon.  The National Park's website says this about the 1.7 mile round trip trail:  "This trail begins at the end of the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. Although a short trail, it is one of the grandest spectacles in the park. After crossing Terlingua Creek, the trail climbs several short switchbacks and then gradually descends along the banks of the Rio Grande. Hikers are surrounded by lush riparian vegetation and 1,500-foot towering vertical cliffs of solid limestone. The trail ends where canyon walls meet the river. Take a lunch and enjoy the scene. Note: Following rains, flash floods, or periods of high water, Terlingua creek can be impassable, effectively closing the trail."
For more regional hiking information, visit:

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Firing a Civil War Ordnance at Fort Davis National Historic Site

Yesterday, we were lucky enough to catch a demonstration of the firing of a Civil War era ordnance (that's a cannon to most of us!) at the Fort Davis National Historic Site.  The soldiers wore long underwear and heavy wool uniforms in the hot sun, and provided a great program for Spring Break visitors.  They first fired the gun, then they walked us through the entire process. 

Click here to watch a slideshow of photographs.

Click here to watch a video of the demonstration, followed by footage of a real firing of the gun.  Real smoke!  Real boom! 

Friday, March 18, 2011


Our thanks goes out to Larry Francell of Fort Davis, who sent this photo to us.  He spotted the elk on  Highway 118 at Musquiz Canyon roadside park, between Fort Davis and Alpine!  Thanks, Larry!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Ride to Rio Grande Village in Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park has many scenic drives for auto, motorcycle and bicycle.  Here's a shot of the road heading from Panther Junction to Rio Grande Village. 

Thanks to the Texas Historical Commission and Randy Mallory for this photo!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Eating with the Family at Papa's Pantry

Travelers heading through Van Horn may never notice the humble, mustard-colored building next to the Pilot truck stop on Hwy 90, and that’s a shame because inside Papa’s Pantry they’d find family—sometimes three and four generations of Van Horn families enjoying good home-cooked meals together.

Stop in Papa’s and chances are good you’ll be served by one of David and Adela McBirnie’s children.  Since it opened in 1995, all six of their children have worked in the restaurant.  Daughter Tina says, “I believe the reason why families have regular meals together at Papa’s is because of the relationships we have amongst coworkers.  No one employed with us is ‘just a worker,’ we are all family!”  Spend enough time in Papa’s and you’ll realize that’s not just lip-service, it rings true.  Yesterday’s waiter may be seated at the table next to you – having dinner with their children, parents and grandparents.
The food brings customers back, too.  Our standby favorites include chicken tacos, simple yet tasty assemblages with fresh lettuce and tomatoes and peppery chicken; green chicken enchiladas; and the hefty, hearty chicken fried steak. Each meal is served with homemade salsa and chips.

Adela McBirnie is responsible for the restaurant’s specialties—homemade bread and desserts.

Our favorite is Papa’s swoon-worthy coconut cream pie. If you’re lucky enough to taste this perfect balance of never-too-sweet custard and hand crushed almond crust, you’ll likely feel you’ve experienced the work of a true craftsman. Tina McBirnie explains, “The ‘oh so famous’ coconut cream pie!  It takes two days to make and much stove time. I have tried to assist my mom in making these pies, but after much failure she insists ‘I have my father’s hands and patience.’  She regrets not being able to make pies more often, because of lack of time. Plus, for each pie it takes two
Papa's chicken tacos
days of preparation, and we only make two at a time…they sell out in 10 minutes! So it is overwhelming to keep up!”

Here’s a tip:  Increase your chances of tasting Mrs. McBirnie’s legendary coconut cream pie by joining Papa’s facebook community, and check their page as you approach Van Horn.  The restaurant posts when the homemade pies, cakes, and cookies are ready for customers, along with their daily changing specials.

Papa’s Pantry is located just south of the intersection of I-10 and Hwy 90 in Van Horn.  They are open Monday through Saturday for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Most entrees cost $7-10.

Review by Beth Nobles, Executive Director of Texas Mountain Trail.  This review originally appeared in

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Another view of Wolf Den Trail, Davis Mountains Preserve

Inviting?  You bet!  This is a great hiking and birding trail in the Davis Mountains Preserve.  Plan a visit during their next Open Day or Open Weekend!  (See Sunday's entry for more information and another photo of the trail!  Here's a link to more images from this 1.9 mile (one way) trail!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Butterfly Count Day at Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center

A Juniper Hairstreak butterfly spotted during the Butterfly Count at Fort Davis' Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center, March 12

Saturday, we had the pleasure of accompanying Dr. Cathryn Hoyt, Director of the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center and volunteers on a Butterfly Count.  Dr. Hoyt explained the goals and areas to be observed, and the group worked together on the grounds of the Nature Center before splitting off and tackling other observation areas around Fort Davis.

The goal of Fort Davis' Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center's Butterfly Count is to document the number and species of butterflies within a specific circle around Fort Davis.

You can participate too!  Learn more about future count days, July 1 and September 17, here!

The Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center is a wildlife/birding site on the new Far West Texas Wildlife Trail Map.  Read more about it here!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

View from Wolf Den Trail, Davis Mountains Preserve

Yesterday, we took advantage of Open Day at The Nature Conservancy's Davis Mountains Preserve.  This beautiful area north of Fort Davis' McDonald Observatory is open to the public a few days a year.  We hiked the 1.9 mile (one way) out-and-back Wolf Den Trail.  Recently maintained, it was described as a great birding location (we agree!) and "looks the way it is supposed to look."  Pleasantly level for most of the trail, near the end it turns steep to allow this view of Wolf Den Canyon below.

The Preserve's Open Days and Open Weekends can be found on our Texas Mountain Trail Events Calendar...plan to include this special access only location on your next trip!

For regional hiking information, please visit: !

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Trailrunning on Fort Davis National Historic Site's Hospital Canyon Trail

...or rather taking a break from trailrunning to contemplate the beautiful view!

Fort Davis National Historic Site and the Davis Mountains State Park are connected by a hiking trail, that also provides the trail runner with a challenging opportunity.  We headed up the Hospital Canyon Trail on the Fort side, which connects to the state park's trail on the top of the mountain.  You can run (or hike) up rocky inclines, through swaths of grasses, by cacti, through wooded areas, and get treated to beautiful vistas of the land below.

Here's a link to trail maps for the state park.  For regional hiking information, visit:

Friday, March 11, 2011

UTEP's Centennial Museum

A hidden gem of the region is University of Texas-El Paso's Centennial Museum, with impressive changing exhibitions on history, natural history and culture of the region, as well as permanent displays.  A lovely garden on the grounds presents native species of the Chihuahuan Desert.  We encourage you to visit this great museum! 

The Museum's website says this,

"The Museum’s permanent exhibits focus on the natural and cultural history of the Chihuahuan Desert region. The extensive stored collections of the Centennial are available for scholarly research. In the temporary galleries the Museum presents a wide range of exhibits on themes related to border life and culture, the Americas, and UTEP activities. "

We send our thanks to Randy Mallory and the Texas Historical Commission for use of this photo! 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Remnants of Sam Nail Ranch in Big Bend National Park

Before it was Big Bend National Park, the area was dotted with families living and ranching on the land.  Several homesteads can be seen off scenic Ross Maxwell Drive in the western end of the park.  The park's website says this about Sam Nail Ranch:  "One of the many homesteads that once dotted the Big Bend, the Sam Nail Ranch now provides shade and water for desert wildlife. A windmill still pumps water and attracts a great variety of birdlife. Sit quietly on the benches and listen for javelina, painted buntings, and hummingbirds."

Sam Nail came to the area in 1909 and stayed until 1946, and at one point, owned 15,000 acres.  The trail is very short, but you'll want to linger and sit awhile among the pecan, walnut and willow trees; watch the birds and contemplate early life in the area.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Your Guide To Far West Texas Wildlife!

Just a reminder as you head out for Spring Break, that there's a new resource to help you get most of our trip to the Texas Mountains--the Far West Texas Wildlife Trail map!  There are 10 driving loops and 57 sites from El Paso in the west, to Midland and Iraan in the east.  This was a project of our organization--the Texas Mountain Trail--and the neighboring Texas Pecos Trail and TPWD, and the last remaining wildlife trail map to complete the state of Texas for birders and wildlife enthusiasts!

You can order your own copy of this beautiful map for $2 here!  
Or order all nine maps (together, they cover the entire state!) for $10 here.

Motorcyclists, you can enjoy these maps too!  Read Ride Texas' feature on this map here!

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Morning Light at Big Bend Ranch State Park

Taken at Big Bend Ranch State Park--a great place to get away from it ALL!

Historic Shafter Cemetery

Yesterday, we showed a brief video of Shafter's beautiful, we conclude Video Week with a short look at Shafter's historic cemetery.  It is located down an unpaved road and across a streambed from the church.  There's a small museum there, with plenty of interesting community and mining history.  Plan to visit this small, but fascinating place off Hwy 67 on your next visit to the Texas Mountain Trail region!

Friday, March 04, 2011

Video Week Continues: A brief look at Shafter's Church

Just off Hwy 67 between Marfa and Presidio, is the historic mining town of Shafter.  And here is a view of their very beautiful church, nestled in the mountains.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

El Capitan near dusk, Guadalupe Mountains National Park

One of the signature vistas of our Texas Mountain Trail region, El Capitan from the base of Guadalupe Mountains National Park!   This scene is the ending point for the heritage bike ride (which can also be driven) from Van Horn to the park, the "El Capitan to El Capitan Heritage Bike Ride!"

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Walk into Closed Canyon

We continue Video Week on the Texas Mountain Trail Daily Photo, with this brief walk into the start of Big Bend Ranch State Park's Closed Canyon trail.  This is a short, yet dramatic hike, since you travel between the tall walls of this slot canyon.  Avoid the area during rains, as the water can rise and travel quickly.  Other times, the canyon offers a brief respite from the road and a quick adventure!

For regional hiking information, visit: 

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Video Week Continues: Fort Leaton's Adobe Walls

Just east of Presidio, there's a unique and beautiful historic site, Fort Leaton.  From the TPWD website, "In 1848, Ben Leaton built a fortified adobe trading post known as Fort Leaton. He dominated border trade with the Apache and Comanche Indians before he died in 1851."

Photographers love this spot along the Rio Grande because of the way the light looks on the adobe walls, and the contrast with the deep blue skies most days.

If your travels take you to Hwy 170, the River Road, plan to include Fort Leaton on your itinerary!