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Presidio to Lajitas: One of the Most Scenic Drives in America

Last week’s trip to west Texas took us off the beaten path. We had an itinerary but it was loose enough that we could change plans and that’s exactly what we did when we had a closer look at the map on the first morning. Instead of rushing to Terlingua, a ghost mining town made famous by discoveries of quick silver (mercury), we meandered down Route 67 to Presidio, a much larger town than the map would suggest, on the US-Mexico border. Presidio itself is exactly how I imagined a US-Mexico border town to be – hot, dry, dusty and lacking in civic pride.

"An inauspicious start in Presidio"

An inauspicious start in Presidio

But it quickly gets better once you leave Presidio. The 50 mile scenic stretch of road has been cited by National Geographic as one of the most scenic routes in North America. I think that might be pushing it, though it really is a lovely drive. The road itself is Highway 170, or the River Road. It follows the international border, squeezed between the Rio Grande and the hills and mountains of Big Bend Ranch State Park. It’s winding with plenty of those drops that leave your stomach behind – if you’re going fast enough. Lots of motorcyclists and Porsches were seen, probably because it’s such a fun road to drive.

There are no services between Presidio and Lajitas.

"A view of the Rio Grande"

A view of the Rio Grande at the start of the drive

"You could catch air speeding along these roads"

You can catch air speeding along these roads

"A surprising amount of green alongside the Rio Grande"

A surprising amount of green alongside the Rio Grande

"Ocotillo blooming in April"

Ocotillo blooming in April

"Lots of interesting rock formations to admire"

Lots of interesting rock formations to admire

"Hoodoos along the river"

Hoodoos along the river

Much of the drive is through Big Bend Ranch State Park. If the weather is cool then there are a few big hikes to do including the very strenuous 19 mile Rancher ­as Loop that takes you through the heart of the park. It was very hot when we were there (~100°F) so we opted for the short hike up and back in Closed Canyon. The hike takes you down a narrow canyon which in places is no wider than your arms when outstretched. Even in the heat of the day there is some shade so don’t let a hot day keep you from doing this. We stopped when there were big, slippery boulders to climb.

"Closed Canyon - Big Bend Ranch State Park"

Closed Canyon – Big Bend Ranch State Park

"More Rio Grande views"

More Rio Grande views

The photo below is of a western style movie set. It was constructed in 1985 for the filming of the movie Uphill All the Way, starring Roy Clark, Mel Tillis and Burl Ives. Since then nine more movies have been filmed here including Rio Diablo, Dead Man’s Walk and Streets of Laredo.

"Western style movie set"

Western style movie set

"A scenic section of Highway 170"

A scenic section of Highway 170

"The scenic section ends in Lajitas - but ice , cold drinks & beer await"

The scenic section ends in Lajitas – but ice, cold drinks & beer await

Enjoy this drive. There is haze – a combination of heat, dust and pollution from power plants in Mexico, but it’s still an interesting and very lovely drive. People who love the desert will love this drive.

What’s your favourite scenic drive in Texas?

Other blogs related to this Texas trip:

Leigh McAdam

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
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Author Leigh

Avid world traveler. Craves adventure - & the odd wildly epic day. Gardener. Reader. Wine lover. Next big project - a book on 100 Canadian outdoor adventures.

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Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Jeremy B says:

    I’ve seen the Rio Grande from El Paso. It was a fascinating experience to see what a huge contrast from the US to Mexico separated by the river.

    As for my favorite drive, one of the most beautiful has to be anywhere along the central coast of California on Highway 1 near Carmel and Monterey.

    • I’m with you on the California Coast drive. I think that has to rank in the top 10 in the US. I was disappointed that the Rio Grande wasn’t as grande as I imagined it to be. With 95% of the water now removed, one can only imagine how impressive a river it used to be. You’re right about the contrast along the border. We drove at night towards Marfa and while there was nothing to see on the US side for about an hour, we could see lights twinkling on the Mexico side during that time frame.

  • bill holston says:

    If you continue driving past Presidio, the drive is really cool. It goes past an old mission in Riudosa and eventually to Candelaria, once visited by supreme court justice/naturalist William Douglas. On a private ranch there’s a 90 foot waterfall called Capote Falls, primitive beautiful austere

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