I know I’ve driven through Van Horn many times. I must have at least stopped for gas at some point. But prior to this summer, it was just a forgettable blip along I-10.
I take that back… it did become a curiosity for me in January 2010 when I interviewed Greg Vanderpool of the band Monahans, which has an expansive, often instrumental sound described by some as “landscape rock.” He mentioned that he often goes to a friend’s ranch in Van Horn to write, and the band actually set up a makeshift studio in a hunting lodge there to do some recordings in 2009.
This summer, I had the opportunity to visit Van Horn for a couple days—and it became crystal clear why Vanderpool finds inspiration in the setting. The town has some hidden gems, and the surrounding mountain ranges and open spaces are sublime. I was fortunate to stay at the historic Hotel El Capitan, designed by notable southwestern architect Henry Trost in 1930.
One evening, I had the pleasure of touring the Red Rock Ranch, which has scenery on par with the great state and national parks of Far West Texas. The private ranch is comprised of more than 17,000 acres of its namesake rocks, which have provided a dramatic backdrop for television and movie sets. During the tour, I saw something from a distance that I had never seen in Texas before—three desert bighorn sheep! It’s a shame more people will not experience this truly special place. Camping, overnight stays, and unguided hikes are not allowed. On the other hand, that keeps the crowds away, keeps the land pristine, and makes it well worth the effort to visit this unforgettable, off-the-beaten-path ranch.
One morning, I woke early and rode part of the “El Capitan to El Capitan” bike ride with Texas Mountain Trail Region executive director, Beth Nobles. Beth was gracious enough to put me in touch with the local RV park that rents cruiser bikes. Although we didn’t have a lot of time and I was limited by the single-speed machine, we did manage to log about 12 miles along the scenic SH 54 that heads north toward the Guadalupe Mountains. We followed the Beach Mountains, saw Red Rock Ranch from a distance, and caught a quintessential West Texas sunrise. I can’t wait for the day I return with my road bike to discover what else the 55-mile ride has in store.
Rob Hodges is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in such diverse publications as the Houston Chronicle, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Austin Monthly, Edible Austin, South American Explorer, national meetings magazines, and Texas Historical Commission travel guides. Having traveled through about 30 countries on five continents, and about 40 states in the U.S., he can say with authority that Texas is a great place to live. His home is about a mile from the Capitol in Austin, where he lives with wife, Kate, and daughter, Zadie. His work can be seen at robhodges.com