Pinto Canyon—Rugged and Beautiful Texas—But First, Food!

While visiting the towns of Marathon and Alpine we met several people that recommended we eat at Bordo if we were going to be in the vicinity of Marfa. We were fortunate that the eatery was open on Sunday from 11:00AM to 3:00PM as were going to be passing through Marfa that day on our way to drive the Pinto Canyon.

Bordo opened in March. It is an Italian market and retaurant serving house made pasta and sandwiches. They bake all of their bread in a brick oven which sits outside on the patio. We had a delicious meal which prepared us well for the adventure ahead. If you plan on visiting Marfa we highly recommend Bordo be on your food itinerary!

Pinto Canyon

We drove south from Marfa for about thirty miles on a ranch road where the pavement ended. We found ourselves sitting at the top of the spectacular Pinto Canyon.

Pinto Canyon

We have wanted to drive the Pinto Canyon since we read an article entitled The Road to Nowhere which chronicles the experience of the author tackling the canyon road. Finding this article was quite fortuitous — otherwise we would never known about the canyon.

The canyon has an interesting history. The first people arrived here around 13,000 years ago. These hunter-gathers were eventually displaced by the Apache that were dominant in the Big Bend.

Pinto Canyon Road

Texas authorized settlers to buy as much as 5000 acres of land in the ealy 1900s which brought a number of families into the canyon. The combination of drought, the Spanish Influenza (1918), the Mexican American War, the 1929 market crash and the ensuing depression sealed the fate of the settlers and the canyon. A handful of the settlers persevered but the canyon was all but abandoned.

Impressive Longhorn at Pinto Canyon Ranch

Today the vast majority of the the 15 square mile canyon is owned by one person — a retired CEO — and the canyon is a working cattle ranch (see photo above). We find the fact that one person can own all of this beauty in the middle of the Chinatti Mountains hard to fathom, but we are glad that you can at least traverse the canyon on the road (which is owned by the county).

The Un-cooperative Horse

After making our way down through the canyon we turned west and followed FM 170 to the end of the pavement in Candelaria. The FM winds through the Chihuahuan Desert along the U.S. side of the Rio Grande. The 50 mile road from Presidio to Candelaria was not paved until 1985.

At one point Candelaria was an agricultural town — growing crops in the wet areas along the Rio Grande. However, after the Mexican American War the army abandoned their encampment in Candelaria and the farmers had no buyers for their crops and no way to get their product to Presidio 50 miles east on a rough dirt road that often flooded.

Saint Theresa Church, Candelaria

Subsequently, the population declined from a high of about 300 to the current population estimated at 75 people. The only non-residential structure that we could see in Candelaria is the Catholic church pictured above. This small settlement is literally at the end of the road and looks and feels very much an off the grid enclave.

At Candelaria we had a decision to make — attempt to cross 40 miles of desert to connect with Route 90 or circle back around on the pavement. Based on the time of the day and the amount of rough road we had already covered we opted for the longer mileage but comfort of the pavement.

Border Patrol

As we turned north to head for our hotel we unsurprisingly encountered a Border Patrol checkpoint. We have been through dozens of checkpoints in our travels in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.

Some of the checkpoints are permanent while others are mobile. The Border Patrol only stops and inspects vehicles heading north as their only purpose is to stop illegal imigrants entering from Mexico.

We think the checkpoints are a bad use of taxpayer money—regardless of your view on immigration—the investment in technology and people to staff these checkpoints is significant. The payback is small as the vast majority of people attempting to enter the country illegally are not hitching rides in the automobiles of U.S. citizens.


Our journey north took us through the town of Valentine. The town’s origins, like may others in this part of Texas, rests with the railroad. Crews from the Southern Pacific Railroad laying track from the West stopped here on 14 Feb 1882 to rest. Subsequently, the town became a layover point for train crews and a cattle shipping point.

With the building of Ranch-to-Market roads livestock began to be shipped by truck and the town’s fortunes along with the population declined. Many abandoned buildings still stand in testament to the past. As you can see the church (below) has been well maintained despite the hard times. The current population is estimated at 134. Why people stay is a mystery but we were not disposed to ask any of the remaining residents.

Valentine Community Church

Valentine does have one big event that draws folks from many points on the compass. Every year on Valentine’s Day there is a festival in town to celebrate the town’s namesake holiday. And, of course, the Post Office does a booming business postmarking Valentine’s Day cards!

Prada “Installation”

By pure chance we happened on the Prada “Installation” which sits on the side of US Route 90 about 1.4 miles north of Valentine. As you may know, Marfa has become an unlikely art hub in the far west reaches of Texas. We have visited Marfa and it is a fun town to visit. There are a number of excellent restaurants and the Paisano is a great hotel. However, the minimalist art of Donald Judd and others does not resonate with us, although it clearly does with others far more knowledgable than us.

The Prada installation pictured above was placed on the side of Route 90 in 2005. On the first night after completion the installation was vandalized. The shoes and purses were stolen and the building was spray painted with the word “Dumb”. Apparently, not everyone agreed with the artists’ description of the work as “pop architectural land art”. While we do not support the vandalism we do not see any meaningful conceptual or artistic value to building a replica of a Prada store on the side of a rural highway.

After our brief contemplation of the merits of the Prada installation, we completed our day’s journey in Van Horn with a stay at the El Capitain. The hotel is a classic Spanish style western hotel. We really enjoy the feel and look of this style hotel (a future post will showcase several of our hotel stays in Texas).

Our next destination is Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Pictured below is El Capitain—the first mountain you see in the range as you drive to the park from the south.

Be seeing you!

Three Nights in the Backcountry: Big Bend National Park(BBNP)

In March of 2020 OTR made our first visit to BBNP. Unfortunately, our timing was bad — the Covid Pandemic had finally made its way to Texas and the park closed the gates. We needed to leave the park after just two days.

BBNP was created in 1944 by Congressional Act and signed by then President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The deed for the park covered 700,000 acres of Chihuahuan Desert along the Rio Grande. Today, the park encompasses a little over 800,000 acres.

The park is one of the least visited National Parks, although it had its highest visitation in 2021. We can only surmise why this would be when this park offers so much stunning beauty – the Chiso Massive, desert, canyons and dark sky. There are probably several reasons – its remote location in Far West Texas abutting the Mexican border, the heat for much of the year and a lot of terrain accessible only by very rough roads.

Dagger Flats, BBNP

Day one

Because we were entering the park from the north we decided to immediately drive the backcountry loop out to see the Dagger Yuca Forest. Fortunately, our timing was perfect— the Yucca were blooming.

From Dagger Flats we needed to secure our permits for camping in the backcountry. Backcountry camping in BBNP requires traversing rough 4WD drive roads and means that you will be on your own and in some cases in a very remote area of the park.

For our first night of camping we selected an area deep in the southeastern area of the park which is the desert floor (1700 feet above sea level). We followed the River Road East to its terminus a few miles north of the Rio Grande; the 25 mile journey took about 2.5 hours (slow going but exciting).

Our journey took us past an abandoned (but still toxic) mercury mine and provided phenomenal views of the Chisos Mouontains. Additionally, we encountered a herd of horses that we thought were feral but later learned are horses from Mexico that wandered across the border.

Day two

Our camping perch was a short distance from the Mariscal Mountains so we were able to get an early start hiking in the Mariscal Canyon and avoid the afternoon heat where the temperatures reach 95F this time of year.

We also learned that in addition to horses plenty of cattle from Mexico have found there way across the Rio Grande. When we later asked a ranger about the cattle he indicated that there are over 1000 head of cattle from Mexico in the park.

After our hike we retraced our route back east on the River Road until were back on asphalt and then motored north to drive up through the Chisos and into the Chisos Basin.

Casa Grande, BBNP

After taking in the views of the Chisos from the basin we headed back south to our camping spot for night two. We had another great camping spot in the shadow of the Chillicotal Mountain. From our camping area we had a 360 degree view – the views to the south were of mountains across the Rio Grande in Mexico.

Chilicotal Mountain, BBNP

Day three

Our campsite at Chilicotal was only about four miles from the Pine Canyon trailhead so we again got an early start to be off the trail before the worst of the heat.

Pine Canyon Road, BBNP

After finishing our hike up into the spectacular Spring Canyon we circled up across the northern section of the park to connect with the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. The scenic drive connected us to southwestern area of the park along the Rio Grande.

The four photos directly above are the of the Rio Grande. The far shore is Mexico. The canyon in the final photo bottom right is Saint Elena. The left canyon wall is Mexico while the right canyon wall is the United States.

After cooling off in the Rio Grande we connected with the Maverick Road to head north for our final night of camping at a site nearTerlingua Abaya. Terlingua Abayo is an abandoned town on the banks of Terlingua Creek. The town was at one time a thriving agricultural community supplying produce for local ranchers and miners employed by the Quicksilver mines in the area. The town existed from 1900 until around 1930 when the mines ceased operations.

Terlingua Abaya Road, BBNP

day four

On day four we traveled north on the Maverick Road to exit the park and make our way north for a two day stay in Alpine. Before heading to Alpine we spent part of the day in Terlingua Ghost Town — home to Espresso Y Poco Mas — our coffee hangout from our previous visit to BBNP.

We hope y’all enjoyed this post. Be seeing you!

BBNP: 26–29 April 2023