Where it is: 20 miles north of Presidio
What you’ll do: Explore remote West Texas by Jeep and on foot
Where you’ll sleep: In one of five cabins built by the former owners
What you’ll learn: Legend has it that the name is Apache for “pass,” but no one knows for sure
Nothing compares to standing on top of a mountain in West Texas and taking in a view that stretches from Marfa to Mexico. And although Sierra Parda, at 7,185 feet, is only the second-highest peak in the Chinatis, reaching this summit comes with a certain cachet, given that the Chinati Mountains State Natural Area is not even officially open yet. So how do you visit this hidden paradise? Well, the cash-strapped TPWD trades access for volunteer work, and Charlie Angell, of Angell Expeditions (angellexpeditions.com), will take you on a tour and save you a bunk in one of the cabins if you lend a hand. The land, donated to the state fifteen years ago by the Richard King Mellon Foundation, remains as the previous occupants left it, which means that the route to the park’s highest point is a tough slog up trailless rocky slopes covered with tall grasses and cacti. But you’ll have the privilege of being one of the rare witnesses to the abiding grandeur of a place that was once known only to silver miners, outlaws, and Apache bands. Donald Judd, who is buried on the south side of the range, must have understood that these mountains perfectly fulfilled his artistic impulse to, as Jim Lewis once put it in this magazine, “make space manifest.”
Angell and his Jeeps can also help you explore parts of nearby Big Bend Ranch State Park that require four-wheel drive and backcountry experience. In 2008 the biggest state park in Texas underwent a major overhaul, which included opening up seventy miles of unmaintained ranching and mining roads to 4×4 vehicles. Roam the Cienega Creek loop in the remote northwest and find rare fish in a desert oasis, or disappear down the Road to Nowhere, which takes you deep into the vast wilderness known as the Solitario. Mule deer and javelinas are common out here, but there’s also the chance of spotting a bear or even a mountain lion.
TRIP TO TOWN: After a few nights in a tent, my guess is that you’ll be looking for some R&R and a hot shower. The two best choices could not be more different. Pick from the $325-a-night Cibolo Creek Ranch (cibolocreekranch.com), near Shafter, or soak in a hot mineral bath for a fraction of that price at the funky Chinati Hot Springs (chinatihotsprings.com). Either way you’ll be joining a new kind of elite—those of us who have experienced some of the last secrets of West Texas.