The Detours series celebrates lesser-known locales worth visiting across the state.

If you think deserts are barren, beige, and bland, then you haven’t walked the vibrant trails at the best botanical garden in West Texas (and arguably one of the best in the state). The 507-acre Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute, four miles southeast of Fort Davis, teems with life. Red flowers wave in the breeze atop spindly ocotillo branches, and in the evenings javelinas trot through the tall grass, munching on hot pink prickly pear fruit. If you sit in one of the rocking chairs on the visitors center’s front porch after your hike, there’s a decent chance a black-chinned hummingbird will zip by directly in front of your face. Founded fifty years ago, the nonprofit nature center is open daily and features gardens, five miles of trails (including the vibrant Outside Loop), a birdwatching blind, and one of the world’s largest Chihuahuan Desert cactus and succulent collections, with more than two hundred prickly kinds.

An abbreviated version of this article originally appeared in the October 2023 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “The Impossible Garden.” Subscribe today.