Every year, I plan a family trip right as school ends. Last year, I traveled to West Texas and Big Bend National Park with a friend who frequents the area and I fell in love. I also purchased a new car last year (for the first time in 15 years!) and figured if I was going to plan a trip with the girls, it’d be our first major road trip and would have to include West Texas.
We had an absolute BLAST. We split the time between staying in hotels and other funky accommodations, including camping. Since our return, I’ve had many people ask about our itinerary. Put on your adventure hats, my friends, and enjoy our West Texas Gypsy Road Trip!
Before I get too far into the trip, I must include planning and packing information. I wanted to make this trip as fun and affordable as possible so I did a TON of research and packed for all sorts of occasions. Here are some quick tips:
- Check Booking.com for cheap rates at motels/hotels or use AirBnB for more interesting places to stay.
- Check and prepare for weather. Because I knew we may encounter storms or rain, I packed our large umbrella and ponchos so we could still be outside.
- Look on Yelp or TripAdvisor for things to do and restaurants. You can read reviews and get an idea of costs for eating out.
- If you really want to make the drive fun, check out Roadside America for quirky things to see.
- Plan and pack food. We brought lunch supplies for eating on the go, quick breakfast options, loads of snacks, and water. LOTS of water. West Texas is desert and you definitely need to stay hydrated.
- Be prepared for long stretches with no gas stations or food options. If you’re down around Big Bend, Terlingua or that area, get gas when you see it.
- Pack hiking shoes and swimsuits. You never know when there’s a good place to hike or take a dip!
- Park passes are a great option! There are lots of state and national parks along our route so we used a National Parks Pass (that was purchased last year before Big Bend and Glacier National Parks) and bought a new Texas State Parks Pass.
- Map the trip on Google Maps so you’ll know how far you’ll be driving.
- WiFi and cell service is extremely spotty in these areas so print out your maps!
- If you’re interested in good music, get you some Sirius XM radio. We listened to the new Beatles station nearly every time we were in the car. Even though we didn’t have cell service, Sirius worked everywhere we went.
- Because we’re all social media people, the kids and I came up with our own hashtag #westtexasgypsyroadtrip. If you’re interested in seeing more photos than the ones in this post, check the hashtag on Instagram or see our photos on Facebook if you’re a friend.
- Important note! Big Bend and this area of West Texas are designated as Dark Sky communities and parks. Please learn more about dark skies and, if you’re a wannabe astronomer, plan accordingly!
First stop: Odessa
We left our home in Dallas early on Friday, June 2nd and headed west to Odessa, TX. I’ll admit there’s not a whole lot to see in Odessa but I vowed not to drive more than 5 1/2 hours in one day on this road trip. I do not like driving so I wanted to make this trip as manageable as possible.
Although there isn’t much to see, we found a few “roadside attractions” to visit including University of Texas Permian Basin’s Stonehenge and the World’s Largest Jackrabbit Statue. Because why not? We love to explore and always have a great time.
We stayed in the Villa West Inn that night. The kids referred to it as “sketchy” but it wasn’t bad for a roadside motel. I booked it through Booking.com and paid $75 for one night.
About 30 minutes west of Odessa, along I-20, is Monahans Sandhills State Park. I think this is when the kids realized just how much of an adventure we would be having. While the entrance to the state park doesn’t look like much, once we took in the full expanse of the sand dunes, we were hooked!
It had rained in the area the day and night before so the weather was perfect the next day. We visited Monahans about mid-morning when the temps were still in the high 70’s/low 80’s F and the sand was cool to our feet. The park office has plastic sleds for rent (about $3) and the entrance fee was $8 per person with kids 12 and under for free. At this point, because I knew we’d use it, I bought a year long Texas State Park Pass for $70. We played in the sand for a few hours, enjoyed lunch at a picnic table and then we left for our next stop.
Note: If we do this trip again, we may just camp at Monahans. It would save on costs and definitely be fun.
Second Stop: Terlingua/Big Bend
Stopping at Monahans broke up the 3 1/2 hour drive to our next destination but we decided to stop again to pay a visit to Alpine, TX. Y’all, we loved this little town. They refer to themselves as a “living, breathing oasis in the desert” and it’s true. Every person we encountered was kind, welcoming and definitely our people.
We stopped at a small grocery store to pick up a few more things and, just as another small cell of storms came over, we found ourselves at an adorable shop called The Cheshire Cat. After enjoying the wares, we were told to walk over to Front Street Books, the coffee shop/laundromat Tumbleweed/Plaine, and other great shopping along Holland Avenue. It was still sprinkling and actually a little bit chilly so we stopped to enjoy some chai lattes at Plaine and just breathed in the fresh air. Then we were on our way to Terlingua.
Our accommodations for the evening were something that both girls had been looking forward to since I booked it on AirBnB. We were going to spend the next two nights in a renovated 1972 Vintage School Bus named Franny. (Cost: $124 for two nights.)
We had to bring our own water, coals, food, firewood, towels, sheets, and blankets so this was close to camping without being too exposed to the elements. The girls LOVED it!
Terlingua is known for its Ghost Town but, since it was about 45 minutes further, we did not take the time to explore it. Next time for sure! Franny is located at Tin Valley Retro Rentals, about 15 miles off the main highway 118, and we were very happy that we were warned about the drive. You do start to wonder if you’re entering a scene from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly on your way there.
Once you’re there though…. wow. The sunsets and sunrises speak for themselves.
Tin Valley has other awesome accommodations for rent as well including teepees, RV’s and… a yacht. For real. The girls enjoyed the fact that Ronda, the owner, has loads of cats, a few dogs and a burro named Samson. We grilled out at our school bus and were thankful to be shielded from more rain that evening.
The next day, Sunday, June 4th (have you realized we’re only 2 days in?!), our plan was to visit the jewel of the area, Big Bend National Park. I’d always wanted to visit this park and last year, she stole my heart! We camped in Big Bend last year in the Chisos Basin so my goal this year was to see the natural hot springs and do some hiking.
Because of the recent rains, we knew the hot springs would be hit or miss. The Langford Hot Springs sits right at the Rio Grande and at this point, the river was raging and possibly over the natural hot tub. After talking to the park ranger at the park entrance, we decided to check it out anyway. Other than one other person, a nice guy on his way back home to Arizona, we had the whole place to ourselves. Although it wasn’t pretty because it was stirred up with mud, it felt gooood. The hot springs were hot and the Rio Grande was cold so we hopped over the wall back and forth for a while.
As the weather warmed up and mid-afternoon approached, we thought we’d try a hike. We drove into the Chisos Basin, where we’d camped last year, and I told the girls about a hike I wanted to try called, “The Window”. The sign said it was 3.6 miles round trip so we ventured out.
We hiked. And hiked. And hiked some more. When I realized that the end of the trail was nowhere near the 2 mile point, I began asking the kids if they wanted to head back. I know how they get when they’re not hydrated or fed enough and we didn’t bring enough snacks. We’d just eaten a few sandwiches after the hot springs but soon our water and snacks would be gone. They wanted to keep going and… boy, this view was worth it.
I didn’t realize the Window was actually the top of a cliff so we didn’t get any closer than this photo. There were, however, two people sitting at the edge laughing about how far down it was and how they’d surely die if they fell. Um… no thanks. When they left, we sat and rested for a bit, eating the rest of our snacks before heading back.
Then we hiked until we could no longer hike anymore. And we still had to find some energy to get to the end. So… that trail isn’t 3.6 miles round trip. The sign LIES. It’s closer to 6 miles round trip so be prepared!
We drove back to Franny and grilled burgers for the night. We were dead tired so we showered at the bathhouse, hung out with the kitties for a little while and then hit the sack.