Cowboys round up semi-wild horses on a Texas ranch. Texas is bigger than 190 of the world's countries but more than 80 per cent of the state's total area is made up of privately owned ranches.
Texas – Been There

This Texas national park is the wildest of the West

Photo by Gary Alvis

Texas – Been There This Texas national park is the wildest of the West

I jump in a car to head to Big Bend National Park. Named after, well, a big bend in the Rio Grande, this is a land of cowboys, native Americans, and huge ranches, thought to be the original home of Texas’s state sport, Rodeo.

James Ellis
James Ellis Travel Writer

As the tires chew away at the asphalt, there is a Yellow Brick Road feel to the drive – everything is the same but different. Short, shrubby grass and cacti are either side of the road, while every so often, a set of dusty hills break up the monotony. Somehow, it manages to feel dreadfully boring and eerily enthralling at the same time and I am reminded of a scene from George Steven’s masterful movie Giant. Elizabeth Taylor asks Rock Hudson “Are we in Texas yet?” when she wakes on a train after travelling through the night. “Honey,” replies Hudson, “We’ve been in Texas for the last eight hours.”

Hudson, Taylor and their co-star James Dean stayed in the town of Marfa when filming here and, aside from the tiny town of Valentine, where Postmaster Maria Carrasco forwards 20,000 cards a year every February with the town’s unique postmark, it’s one of the few places worthy of a stop.

A quirky town of just 2,000 people, its streets feel wider than they need to and many of the low-rise historic buildings in the center have been taken over by art galleries, pioneered by famous New York minimalist Donald Judd who moved here in the early 1970s. It is the kind of place where fact and fiction are never too far removed, as seen in Prada Marfa – a full-sized sculpture of a never-to-open Prada store in the middle of the desert. It is all a stark contrast to hard-bitten borderlands I’ve been driving through.

The town’s other claim to fame are the mysterious Marfa Lights, a curious natural phenomenon that can be viewed from Mitchell Flat just off US Route 67 and, as dusk falls, I head to the viewing platform to see if I can spot the ghost lights for myself.

Sure enough, as night falls, the lights start to bob up and down on the horizon – a little like the bouncing ball that follows song lyrics on a movie screen to help viewers sing along. It’s a fascinating sight that some put down to pockets of luminous gas that have been trapped underground escaping and lighting the night sky.

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