This ten-day, van-supported trip explores the wild and picturesque terrain of the West Texas Big Bend region. A road rider’s dream come true, this tour offers low-traffic byways, an abundance of stunning scenery, and ample opportunities to discover the secrets of Big Bend National Park, the Chihuahuan Desert, the Davis and Chisos mountain ranges, and the Rio Grande Wild & Scenic River.
Our journey through this hidden gem of the Lone Star State will not be without its challenges — the landscapes are vast, quiet, and empty, with long stretches devoid of services. But we’ll make the most of the towns we do visit, taking time to explore Fort Davis, Alpine, Marathon, Terlingua Ghost Town, Presidio, and Marfa. You’re sure to return home with a bonanza of stories from your cycling adventure in Big Bend.
"I registered with the expectation that the distance from daily work, and the physical challenge would be the highlights, but in fact the camaraderie was the most enjoyable aspect of the tour."
Day 1. Shuttle from El Paso to Fort Davis, Texas
We'll meet in late morning near the El Paso airport for the three-hour van shuttle to our starting point in Fort Davis. Once there we'll ready our gear and explore attractions such as the Overland Trail Museum, the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center & Botanical Gardens, the Rattlers & Reptiles Museum, and Fort Davis National Historic Site -- a National Park Service unit highlighting one of the best examples of a frontier military post from the Indian Wars. In late afternoon, we'll share our first group meal and discuss the details of our upcoming adventure. If time and weather permit, we'll cap the evening with a star party at the nearby McDonald Observatory, home to one of the world's largest reflector telescopes and a perfect vantage point for viewing the Texas-sized night sky.
Day 2. Fort Davis to Marathon, 54 miles
Our first cycling day will be spent on a slice of the Southern Tier Bicycle Route as we make our way southeast to Marathon. Once we leave Fort Davis for the route to Alpine, we'll ride through an area that pioneer ranchers, cowboys, Buffalo Soldiers, Mescalero Apache, and Comanche have all called home. Midway through the day, we'll roll into Alpine, a great place to fuel up at one of the small cafés and diners lining the main drag. We can also stroll its historic streets brimming with art galleries and antique shops. With the wide-open country's ever-present winds, we'll surely see headwinds and tailwinds at some point today, especially since the route zigzags in all four directions during the ride to Marathon. But the traffic count is low, and although we're heading mostly downhill, we'll have a good dose of rolling hills throughout the day. Once in Marathon, we can enjoy a slice of fried pie at the local café, a must for replenishing those spent calories.
Day 3. Marathon to Stillwell RV Park, 46 miles
Our gentle downhill continues today as we lose 1,800 feet of elevation on our approach to the north entrance of Big Bend National Park. The rolling hills, dissected by countless dry arroyos, will mark our official arrival in Big Bend country. We'll take a short detour and make camp just a few miles shy of the park's entrance. After pitching our tents at our oasis for the night, we may want to check out the Hallie Stillwell Hall of Fame Museum honoring the early 20th-century female settler whose tenacious character exemplifies the pioneer spirit of west Texas.
Day 4. Stillwell RV Park to Rio Grande Village, 56 miles
Today offers an unforgettable spin through the northern and central parts of Big Bend National Park. Expansive views and some climbing will lead us to the remote park headquarters at Panther Junction, among the least-visited units of the National Park Service. Leaving Panther Junction, we'll lose 1,900 feet of elevation over the next 12 miles while taking in breathtaking views of Mexico's distant Sierra del Carmen. Our home for the evening is the Rio Grande Village campground located along the Rio Grande River.
Day 5. Rio Grande Village to Chisos Basin, 31 miles
Ah, a short riding day! We'll remain in the park all day as we head back up the previous day's downhill and make our way to Chisos Basin. We'll have "déjà vu all over again" as all but nine miles of our journey are spent backtracking. Once we regain Panther Junction, we'll blaze a new trail toward Chisos Basin with a significant climb nearly three miles long and grades as steep as 15 percent. The rewards will be worth the effort spent as we descend into cliff-surrounded Chisos Basin in the center of Big Bend National Park.
Day 6. Layover Day in Chisos Basin, 0 miles
What better place to take a layover day than in Chisos Basin. Surrounded by tall, rocky cliffs, our layover day here will give us the chance to spend some time off the bike walking some of Big Bend National Park's most spectacular and popular trails.
Day 7. Chisos Basin to Terlingua, 38 miles
It's back up and out of Chisos Basin today as we backtrack to Basin Junction before turning west toward Lajitas. We'll be reminded that this part of Texas is anything but flat as we drop 3,100 feet, leaving Big Bend National Park toward the Rio Grande. Soon after riding through the village of Study Butte, we'll encounter a special treat: the almost-ghost-town of Terlingua. The discovery of cinnabar, a source of mercury, was the spark that fired up the town, where today all that remains are remnants from the mining days: several capped, abandoned mines, including the California Hill, the Rainbow, the 248, and the Study Butte. Terlingua's current residents are artists and an assortment of eccentric characters.
Day 8. Terlingua to Presidio, 58 miles
We'll drop down to the Rio Grande, then be sure to keep it on your left today and you're sure to remain in the United States as our ride is entirely along the fairly quiet River Road paralleling the river. The physical toll of climbing is eased a bit by the spectacular views along the route through Big Bend Ranch State Park. A few miles west of Lajitas, we'll pass an apparent ghost town that was once used as a set for several TV westerns. Soft beds and a roof over our heads reward us for a tough day of cycling and prepare us for a tougher ride tomorrow.
Day 9. Presidio to Marfa, 60 miles
Today's ride from Presidio to Marfa is one of the most challenging of our entire tour as we gain nearly 4,000 feet of elevation over 60 miles, with no support services in sight except the Adventure Cycling van. At our highest, we will be roughly 5,400 feet above sea level. The weather is sure to be hot and dry, so adequate hydration will be key to a good day in the saddle. Later on, we will drop some 900 feet before climbing again into the unique town of Marfa, made famous on the silver screen in the James Dean classic Giant and, more recently, No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood. It's also home to a legendary unsolved mystery: Marfa's "mystery ghost lights." We'll end the day with a celebratory dinner.
Day 10. Marfa to Fort Davis, 22 miles
You'll have a little time before your ride to explore Marfa, home to quirky architecture, a large artist population, and an array of shops and restaurants before we cycle back to Fort Davis. Notable highlights include the late artist Donald Judd's home and studio and the expansive Chinati Foundation, founded by Judd, which houses large-scale sculptures and art installations by a number of renowned contemporary artists. Back in Fort Davis, we'll say our goodbyes to those leaving us here. For those going on to El Paso, we'll begin the three-hour van shuttle, remembering our new friends and the past several days spent cycling what musical legends Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys call, "miles and miles of Texas."