Where it is: In Toyahvale, 192 miles east of El Paso
What you’ll do: Bask in the splendor of West Texas
Where you’ll sleep: In a comfy bed in a historic lodge or inn
What you’ll learn: How about scuba diving? The pool at Balmorhea is the best freshwater diving in Texas. Contact Tom’s Dive and Swim, in Austin (tomsscuba.com), for lessons and details about its next trip


Thankfully, as of press time, the recent wildfires that have ravaged parts of West Texas appeared to be mostly contained, and Balmorhea State Park, despite an evacuation, has escaped damage. Only 35 miles away, some six hundred acres and one small building burned at Davis Mountains State Park, which planned to reopen in mid-May. Either park makes a great base from which to explore the mountains that separate them.

Texas Highway 17 from Toyahvale to Fort Davis is one of the most striking drives in the state, climbing over the 4,500-foot-high Wild Rose Pass and then running along Limpia Creek for the last ten miles into town. The mountain slopes on either side can be as dry as the Sahara or as wet as Ireland, but the creek keeps the valley floor tinged with green for much of the year and of a shade that perfectly matches the formations of pink rhyolite granite that jut out of the hillsides like the jawbones of buried whales. I see nothing wrong with staying a week in the Davis Mountains and driving to Balmorhea every day to rest by the pool, detouring only to pick up a burrito from Balmorhea Groceries.

The park at Balmorhea has been looking a little bit run-down, though the water is still clear and clean and the catfish, tetras, and red-eared slider turtles don’t seem to mind that the grass has worn thin in patches and that the trash cans are occasionally overflowing. The spring-fed pool is still a local hot spot and an essential stop for every trip out to these parts, and to the south the mountains still smudge the bottom of the endless sky as it rushes in to fill the Madera Valley and pin you to your towel.

Trip to Town: At Balmorhea, forgo the bleak campsites and stay in town at the Eleven Inn (504 S. Main, theeleveninn.com). FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps built the gleaming white adobe Indian Lodge at Davis Mountains (512-389-8982); camping here under the Emory oak trees is wonderful, but for at least one night, sleep beneath restored ceilings of pine logs and cane lattice at the Lodge, then drive into Fort Davis and order the number five plate at Cueva de Leon (700 N. State).

Read more about our ten favorite state parks vacations.