2021 WEST TEXAS / BIG BEND

Road Scholar 1948


The Davis Mountains are known as the Alps of Texas. Find out why as you discover “Sky Island” forests, complex geology, Big Bend National Park and the human history of Fort Davis. Explore the mountains of Far West Texas! Begin in the Davis Mountains, cool and forested, then travel to Big Bend National Park with its massive canyons, vast desert and the Chisos Mountain range. Visit the eclectic art oasis of Marfa and relive Texas history at wonderfully restored Fort Davis.

Activity Level: Walking on varied terrain. Optional hiking. No porterage. Elevations up to 7,000 feet.

Best of all, you'll ...
* Learn how the 8,300-foot Davis Mountains form a “sky island” of temperate, forested environments amid the arid Chihuahuan Desert.
* Study its complex geology and unique ecosystems of Big Bend National Park.
* Visit the world-renowned McDonald Observatory and learn to identify celestial objects in the night sky at a Star Party.


For planning, 2018 dates: Oct 26 - Nov 2.

Day 1 – Welcome & Orientation (El Paso)
Have a dinner buffet featuring traditional Mexican food this city is known for. After dinner, meet the program leaders, review the week's schedule and get to know one another. Hotel: Hyatt Place El Paso Airport

Day 2 – El Paso Mission Trail, Star Party at McDonald Observatory
Activity note: Bus ride from El Paso to Fort Davis is approximately 3-1/2 hours, with a pit stop along the way.

(BLD) Enjoy the Hyatt Place’s hearty breakfast buffet. After breakfast, travel to Tigua Indian Cultural Center. Along the way, visit one of the oldest Spanish missions in Texas along the El Paso Mission Trail. Learn about early settlers to the bountiful river corridor, Spanish settlement, clashes between cultures, and the famous El Paso Salt Wars along this fascinating trail.

Lunch in El Paso. Travel to Fort Davis; check in to Mountain Trails Lodge. Dinner is Authentic Tex-Mex cuisine at Cueva de Leon. This evening, learn to identify constellations and observe celestial objects in the night sky during a Star Party at McDonald Observatory. Hotel: Mountain Trails Lodge & Outdoor Learning Center (2 nights)

Day 3 – Fort Davis National Historic Site, McDonald Observatory
Activity note: Climb to elevations over 7,000 feet during tours of research telescopes.

(BLD) Breakfast in the Lodge dining room. After breakfast, discover the natural world of the Chihuahuan Desert and Big Bend region. Our presenter will explain the different landscapes and ecosystems, and discuss the unique flora of the area. Travel to Fort Davis National Historic Site, where a volunteer will guide you through this well-restored, civil-war-era fort, which depicts the history of buffalo soldiers, Native American inhabitants and skirmishes, and life at the fort for the families of the guardians of the Butterfield Overland Mail route and San Antonio-El Paso Road.

Lunch at the Lodge, provided by Stone Village Market. Then join staff at world-renowned University of Texas McDonald Observatory for a solar viewing program. Tour large research telescopes, including the world's third largest single structure optical telescope: the Hobby Eberly Telescope (HET).

Dinner is a Come & Take It BBQ in the Lodge dining room. After dinner, Western stories and music by Glenn Moreland, western musician and championship chuckwagon cook, and Washtub Jerry, recognized authority for building and playing the washtub bass.

Day 4 – River Road, Big Bend Ranch State Park, Terlingua Ghost Town
Activity note: Bus ride from Fort Davis to Lajitas takes about three hours, with a pit stop and short exploration of Fort Leaton along the way.

(BLD) Breakfast in the Lodge dining room. Depart for Lajitas. Travel through Marfa and Presidio, passing the historic mining town of Shafter and stopping at Historic Fort Leaton along the way. Meander the scenic river road that hugs the Rio Grande.

Picnic lunch in the field. Learn about geology, botany and wildlife of the Big Bend region at the Barton-Warnock Environmental Education Center and Big Bend Ranch State Park visitor's center. Check into the Lajitas Resort & Spa. Travel to Terlingua Ghost Town; Indulge in the unique culture that emerged in this community during its unusual rebirth over the past decades.

Dinner at the famous Starlight Theater, so named because for years it stood roofless while it entertained dancers and revelers. Hotel: Lajitas Golf Resort, Big Bend National Park (2 nights)

Day 5 – Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, Santa Elena Canyon & Chisos Basin
Activity note: The desert is dry and temperatures can be high along the Rio Grande. Pack your refillable water bottle!

(BLD) Breakfast in Candelilla Café at Lajitas Resort. Discover Big Bend National Park. Your program leader will set the pace depending on the interests and abilities of the group. You will visit the highlights, including the Chisos Basin, Castolon, Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, Santa Elena Canyon overlook, and Panther Junction visitor's center.

Picnic lunch in the field. Continue to explore the vast expanses of this 800,000-acre national park. Participate in an optional hike to a scenic overlook. Enjoy a traditional Mexican dinner at Chili Pepper Café.

Day 6 – Museum of the Big Bend, Marfa Mystery Lights
(BL) Breakfast in Candelilla Café at at Lajitas Resort. Check out of the hotel and return to Big Bend National Park to explore its eastern edge and riparian ecosystem at Rio Grande Village. Leave the national park by way of Marathon.

Lunch in Marathon. Travel to Marfa by way of Alpine, stopping to learn about the history and cultures of the region at the Museum of the Big Bend on the campus of Sul Ross State University. On arrival in Marfa, check into the Hotel Paisano, where stars in the movie “Giant” stayed during filming.

Experience the eclectic cuisine of Marfa on your own. Note: Reservations are recommended at Jett's Grill in the Hotel Paisano. Evening: Meet in the courtyard of the Hotel Paisano and travel to Marfa Lights viewing area to look for the elusive mysterious lights and discuss varying theories and explanations. Hotel: Hotel Paisano, Marfa.

Day 7 – Chinati Foundation, Historic L&J Café in El Paso
Activity note: Bus ride from Marfa to El Paso is approximately 3-1/2 hours, with a pit stop along the way.

(BLD) Breakfast is at a popular local restaurant. Docent-led tours of The Chinati Foundation. View permanent installations of Donald Judd, Dan Flavin and John Chamberlain in the historic buildings of Fort D.A. Russell.

We have a Picnic lunch, followed by free time to explore downtown Marfa. Mid-afternoon, meet at the bus to depart for El Paso; check in to Hyatt Place El Paso Airport.

Dinner is at the L&J Café, a locals’ favorite Mexican food restaurant in El Paso, across the street from historic Concordia Cemetery. Hotel: Hyatt Place El Paso Airport.

Day 8 – Program Concludes
Activity note: Participants departing from the El Paso airport should arrange individual shuttles through the hotel front desk.

Breakfast starts at 6:00 a.m. in the hotel lobby. Program ends after breakfast.