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BALMORHEAUnder the big sky of West TexasThe Lone Star State doesn't need a stage to show off its Western treasures - cowboy culture, a rich arts and film scene, and, of course, breathtaking natureBy TRACY BARNETTSan Antonio Express-News TOOLSEmail Get section feed Print Subscribe NOW RESOURCESWEST TEXASMap Go diving in the desert — Bring your scuba gear when you visit Balmorhea State Park's spring-fed pool. Find the wild west in the Davis Mountains — Take in a view of rolling hills, night skies and some unhappy Texas history. Part ranch, part resort, world class — Cibolo Creek Ranch is a getaway for the rich, the famous and the unpretentious, too. Lights, cameras, art — There are many reasons to visit the speck on the map that's Marfa. IF YOU GO• Getting there: Balmorhea is about 560 miles from Houston, but the entire drive is on Interstate 10 and takes only about 8 hours under normal conditions. Marfa is about 600 miles from Houston. Midland is the nearest air gateway, but it's 160 miles from Balmorhea and farther from other sites profiled in this section. • Getting around: Once in the area, most destinations are within easy driving distance of each other. Marfa is about 25 miles from Davis Mountains State Park, 22 miles from Fort Davis National Historic Site, 37 miles from the McDonald Observatory and 55 miles from Balmorhea State Park. If you want to extend your trip, Marfa is 65 miles from Big Bend Ranch State Park and 105 miles from Big Bend National Park. • When to go: Summer days can be hot, but nights are typically cool and crisp in higher elevations. Spring and fall are ideal. Temperatures occasionally get below freezing in Davis Mountains State Park during winter, with a chance of snow in higher elevations. But the park is open year-round. McDonald Observatory also has programs through the winter.BALMORHEA - Nothing moves quickly in Balmorhea except for the cold, clear spring that flows under the cobblestone bridges and over the wooden waterwheel in the tiny plaza. The waitress at the Balmorhea Bar and Grill serves fajitas and a rib-eye with a smile and an easy twist from Spanish to English, depending on the preference of her clients.The sunset alone is worth the eight-hour drive from Houston to this tiny town in the foothills of the Davis Mountains. Rolling through Wild Rose Pass at dusk, shades of magenta and gold descend over the purple-blue peaks and a sense of peace over the weary traveler, and the freshness of the breeze revives the spirits.West Texas natives have tried to keep their corner of the state - with its quaint mountain towns, breathtaking scenery and cool breezes - a well-kept secret. Word is getting out, however, as rising land values will attest, and it's no wonder.The Davis Mountains are the most extensive range in Texas, and their volcanic origins are readily evident in the stark, dramatic rock formations that tower over the winding highway, then fall away to reveal green valleys.Known around the world as the gateway to Big Bend National Park, the region is a worthy destination in itself.There's the cowboy culture of Fort Davis and the surrounding ranches, where the cattlemen still spend weeks on the range and nights around the campfire; there's the arts and movie scene in Marfa, where you might run into Tommy Lee Jones or Javier Bardem in the local bookstore or at the corner bar; there's the astronomical center of McDonald Observatory; and the Old West military history of Fort Davis National Historic Site.If you're on a shoestring and willing to rough it, there's abundant camping at Davis Mountains State Park and at Balmorhea.Or travelers with a little money to spend may prefer the classic pueblo-style Indian Lodge, with all the comforts of home tucked away in a picturesque mountain setting, and the similar adobe inn at Balmorhea State Park.For those looking for a high-class resort with a setting out of a Western movie, a mouthwatering lineup of meals, a luxurious spa, a historical fort and a warm and friendly staff, there's the much-honored Cibolo Creek Ranch resort and spa.In this section, we profile some of West Texas' most alluring enticements.
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