Spanning nearly 800 miles across and 800 miles north to south, Texas gives the adventurous driver a lot of ground to cover. A road trip through the state can take you between cities and through rolling pastures, and it gives you the option of sticking to the highways or exploring backroads. One well-traveled route is the open road between Austin and Marfa. Once your car’s fueled up and your snacks are situated, you can barrel through the whole seven hours in one go. But if you’re up for a few stops, there’s a lot to see along the way. Here’s how to break up the drive with German food, spelunking and a legendary West Texas hotel.
The first stop’s an easy sell. Fredericksburg is the epicenter of the Texas Hill Country wine region, which counts more than 100 wineries and vineyards within its boundaries. Main Street is stocked with a variety of shops, galleries and restaurants, including several German options — the city was founded by German settlers in the mid-1800s. Try Altdorf Restaurant & Biergarten, Otto’s Bistro or Der Lindenbaum. If you’re lucky enough to be the passenger, sample the local beers at Fredericksburg Brewing Company before heading next door to one of Main Street’s many wine tasting rooms.
Stay on I-10, and you’ll hit Sonora in about two hours. The small town has fewer than 3,000 residents, but it draws visitors each day to its famous Caverns of Sonora, a National Natural Landmark made up of still-growing formations. Take a guided tour to stroll through two miles of the cave system, with lots of good-looking visuals. Or sign up for the Discovery Challenge, which takes you through a maze of off-trail passageways and ends with you rappelling 50 feet into the charmingly named Devil’s Pit.
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Your next stop is all about the historic Gage Hotel. It was built in 1927 and is the nicest hotel in the area, just in case you’d like to settle in with a couple cold Ranch Waters and take a dip in the heated salt water pool. Otherwise, stretch your legs across 27 acres of lush property to hit the gardens and the nine-hole putting green, or play a game of bocce ball. When you’re hungry, the 12 Gage Restaurant is a handsome spot for steak, and the White Buffalo Bar is a cozy watering hole with all the rough brick, polished wood and rich leather befitting such a place. It’s easy to lose track of time here, so try to remember you’re supposed to be going to Marfa. Or keep your itinerary loose, have a drink and bunk down for the night.
Keep on driving, and you’ll soon be in Alpine, a small town with a historic center, lots of murals and even a college: Sul Ross State University. If you want some fresh air, take the short hike up Hancock Hill for 360-degree views of the town, mountains and valleys. Note the desk sitting on top. It’s tradition to scrawl a message before you go, so leave a note for whomever comes next. If you’ve got time to kill and the timing’s right, check out an Alpine Cowboys baseball game. They’re part of the 16-team Pecos League, and the stadium, built in 1947, is an extra-Texas spot to sit with a hot dog, watch some baseball and catch the sunset.
First thing to note: Terlingua is not on the way to Marfa. Once you’re in Alpine, you’re just a quick 30 minutes to Marfa, whereas heading south to Terlingua takes an extra hour and 20 minutes each way. So, if you’re going to stop here, you might consider staying the night and getting a fresh start in the morning. But that’s very easy to do, because the tiny town known for its annual chili cook off (it’s the first week of November, FYI) has some of the area’s most interesting lodging. Book a room at Willow House, a 12-room desert retreat with unobstructed views of the Chisos Mountains, plus fire pits and a communal gourmet kitchen. Or try Basecamp, a unique complex with casitas, tents and bubbles — the latter are spherical pods with see-through roofs, so you can gaze at the stars.
Of course, if you’re staying in Terlingua then you’re next door to Big Bend, so you could always tack on a couple extra days to explore the park. Marfa will still be there when you’re done.
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