We’re going to big bend but we don’t want to stay in the usual places.
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If you want something really different, I’d suggest that you stay in one of the inns just across the border in Mexico. Let’s start with a place that could generously be described as, well, primitive. Across the river from Rio Grande Village, at the southeast edge of the park, is the tiny Mexican village of Boquillas, a cluster of adobe buildings that is home to no more than three hundred people. After parking your car on the American side (a solicitous Mexican attendant will watch your car for a tip), and after taking a two-minute rowboat ride across the river ($2, $3 if the river’s up), you then either ride a donkey ($3 a person) or catch a five-minute ride in a pickup truck ($5 a person) to the Buzzard’s Roost, a ramshackle little one-story building with a sagging porch that looks like something in a Mad Max movie. There is no electricity, phone service, or running water; a couple of portable toilets are fifty yards away, and if you want to bathe, you have to walk down a hill to some hot springs. The three rooms are relatively bare. (Two of them are filled with cots and go for $15 to $20 per person per night; the private room is $25 per person. You can make reservations by writing, otherwise it’s first come, first served.) In town, there is almost nothing to do except have some tacos and beers at Don José Falcon’s cafe, have some more beers and play a game of pool at a cantina, then return to the Buzzard’s Roost, where the owners, American-born Joe Sanchez and his wife, Doris, two crusty desert people who cannot imagine ever leaving this place, serve you enchiladas and more beers, then pull out their guitars and sing country and western and rock and roll. It’s like an old hippie enclave—everyone ends up great friends by the end of the night—and it does have a lasting effect on those who visit. After Texas songwriter Robert Earl Keen, Jr., stayed at the Buzzard’s Roost, he wrote a song in its honor called “Gringo Honeymoon”—one of the best songs he’s ever written.
So maybe that kind of roughing it doesn’t work for you. Then you need a hacienda. Head to the town of Lajitas, west of the national park, where you can hook up with Gloria Rodriguez, the owner of La Gloria Bed and Breakfast, twenty miles away in the quaint, peaceful, utterly non-tourist town of San Carlos, with its picture-postcard square. In her pickup Gloria herself will drive you up the dirt road to San Carlos—a beautiful hour-long journey in which every new rise in the road brings a breathtaking sight, from canyons to tiny hilltop Catholic shrines. The four-year-old La Gloria, with its three large bedrooms, is full of modern amenities that you don’t expect in an old Mexican town: There are new bathrooms and the kind of kitchen you normally see in American suburban homes. Rock-terraced gardens fan out below the inn, and you are served traditional Mexican breakfasts and dinners on a large colonnaded porch that overlooks a rugged line of mountains. In the mornings Gloria, wearing her trademark straw hat, will lead you on a hike from the inn along the gurgling, spring-fed San Carlos Creek to the majestic San Carlos Canyon, whose walls rise hundreds of feet above you. S.H.
Once upon a time, resorts in texas were places that developed around hot mineral springs, once-magnificent spas like the Hot Wells Hotel in San Antonio and the Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells that are mostly memories today. But if you're willing to drive beyond the pavement to the extreme southwest corner of the state and put up with desert dust and only the most basic amenities, you can take the waters again at the Chinati Hot Springs resort. A small cluster of adobe cabins set in the foothills of the Chinati and Cuesta del Burro mountains seven miles from the Rio Grande, the resort was reopened to the public in 1998, two years after the death of sculptor Donald Judd, who had bought the funky Kingston Hot Springs in 1990 and closed them off to everyone but his friends.
The new version of this historic site has some New Age touches. Dr. Bronner's peppermint soap is provided in the baths, votive candles are everywhere, tai chi classes are conducted by Hot Springs Creek from time to time, and a clothing-optional policy explains the bearded man who was splayed out buck-naked on a picnic table by his cabin one recent morning. You can choose among three snug little cabins, only one of which, the "honeymoon suite," has a private bathtub. The other two share bathing facilities (the two tubs bear a striking resemblance to tiled horse troughs), and everyone shares toilet facilities and the cookhouse, in keeping with the laid-back vibe of the place. There's not a whole lot to do, other than hike, laze in a hammock, sit around the campfire at night looking at the stars, and take the waters in one of the indoor tubs or the giant, communal galvanized-steel tub outdoors. If the 108-degree waters don't cure what ails you, they will definitely relax you (could it be the lithium?). There's a small camping area by the creek too, but no hookups for RVs. Take your own groceries and drinks—it's eight miles to the nearest bar and another forty miles to a convenience store or cafe. J.N.P.
I freely admit that, before I arrived in Del Rio, I harbored little hope that it would offer much more than a decent motel room for the Big Bend-bound. Wrong again! The border town of 34,000 is surprisingly lush and green, with palm, pecan, and magnolia trees towering over curbless streets that meander this way and that. And, though Del Rio has its share of pretty haciendas, as befits a settlement on the Rio Grande, my specific destination was the handsome Villa del Rio, a Mediterranean-style manor adjacent to the vineyards of the Val Verde Winery, the state's oldest. The house has some wonderful touches, such as beautiful antique tiles, both Italian and Mexican, and hand-painted mini-murals of the region's history in the recessed arches over windows and bookshelves. I stayed upstairs in the Peacock Suite, which included a small screen porch and a tiny balcony overlooking the courtyard and its tiered fountain cascading into a goldfish pool. That night, I left the screen door open and puzzled over a muffled noise reminiscent of a wrong-answer game-show buzzer; the next morning I discovered, while exploring the two-acre grounds, that the source was a baby kid at the goat farm next door. The same blend of elegance and rusticity applied to breakfast too. A plate of fresh fruit included mango sprinkled with chile powder and lime, Mexico-style; next came jalapeño-cream cheese crêpes and a farmhand-size slab of fried ham.
Before you drive on to Big Bend, check out the charmingly tatty Whitehead Memorial Museum, a pioneery compound with a refreshing lack of lawsuit-phobia: One sign warned, "Draw Well Water at Your Own Risk." And a fun detour is Alamo Village, the movie set outside nearby Brackettville; besides the saloon and other faux-Western buildings, there's the Alamo replica built by John Wayne for his 1960 epic. ANNE DINGUS