THE LINE ON THE MAP BEGINS AT BOCA CHICA on the Gulf of Mexico and hugs the Rio Grande from its mouth to the Pecos River. Ten times the riverside route changes highway numbers as it passes through Brownsville, Laredo, Eagle Pass, Del Rio, and points west, but only once does it stray far inland from the international boundary—between Langtry and Lajitas, where the Rio Grande is entombed in canyon lands so steep and rugged that not a single settlement occupies Texas soil along this section of river. Beyond Lajitas lie Redford, Presidio, Ruidosa, Candelaria, and … nothing. Just empty space on the map.
Approximately 750 driving miles from salt water, Candelaria is in the middle of nowhere, the town at the end of the road. The few visitors who make it up this far usually follow FM 170 up the Rio Grande from Big Bend National Park, but I prefer to go cross-country from Marfa through Pinto Canyon. Most maps show the Pinto Canyon road ( FM 2810) as petering out in the desert, but trust me, it goes through to Ruidosa, where you join FM 170 for the drive upriver to Candelaria. For those adventurous enough to take it, the rewards are scenic vistas and a sense of isolation that are remarkable, even by West Texas standards.
My favorite drive in Texas begins west of downtown Marfa, by the Texaco station. In less than a minute civilization is a memory as the road is swallowed by the waist-high grasses of the Marfa Highlands. The 7,730-foot Chinati Peak rises from the horizon under a perfect