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The Best Treks of West Texas: The Davis Mountains and Big Bend National Park

Program Number: 21363RJ
Start and End Dates:
1/26/2014 - 2/2/2014; 10/1/2015 - 10/8/2015; 11/9/2015 - 11/16/2015;
Duration: 7 nights
Location: El Paso, Texas
Price starting at: $1,699.00 - Price may vary based on date, departure city
Program Type: Walking/Hiking; National Parks; On the Road Activity Level: t (see description)
Meals: 20; 7 Breakfasts, 6 Lunches, 7 Dinners    
Meal Options: Vegetarian    

The arid and semi-arid expanses of West Texas are home to some of the most striking and fascinating natural areas in the state, places that reward curious adventurers who hike their trails with gifts of learning and beauty. See for yourself as you hike the wilds of West Texas, from the cool and forested Davis Mountains, where you discover the unique flora and fauna of its “sky island” above the Chihuahuan Desert, to Big Bend National Park, where you experience three ecosystems along the Rio Grande, on the desert floor and in the Chisos Mountains.


• Ferry across the Rio Grande to the remote village of Boquillas, Mexico, and enjoy homemade Mexican food and south-of-the-border hospitality.
• Experience the skeletons of abandoned buildings in Terlingua Ghostown and dine at the Starlight Theater.
• Attend a “star party” at world renowned University of Texas McDonald Observatory and marvel at the dark night sky.

Activity Particulars

Hiking up to six miles over uneven, steep, rocky terrain in extreme variations in weather; elevations up to 7,000 feet.

Date Specific Information


Late summer and fall are the monsoon season in the desert. If the monsoons are good, the desert greens up and fall wildflowers bloom into early October. Fall temperatures make this an ideal time to hike the Chihuahuan Desert mountains!

Itinerary Summary

Arrival El Paso, 1 night; coach to Fort Davis, 2 nights; coach to Big Bend National Park, 3 nights; coach to El Paso, 1 night; departure.

El Paso

El Paso’s European settlement dates back more than 400 years, though archaeological remains suggest millennia of indigenous habitation in the region. The nearby National Parks of Big Bend, Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountains provide fantastic resources for outdoor enthusiasts, while El Paso itself sports a thriving arts and cultural scene.

El Paso: Full-service hotel. Fort Davis: Lodge with scenic views. Big Bend National Park: Historic lodge - only accommodations inside the park.

Road Scholar Instructors
These instructors are participating on at least one date of this program. Please note that changes may occur.
Cynta Denarvaez

Cynta DeNarvaez has a master's degree in quaternary studies from Northern Arizona University and a liberal arts degree from St. John's College. Cynta is a docent with Terlingua Historical Society, and is a fascinating storyteller who is well versed in the history of the settlement of the Big Bend. She regularly leads history tours around the Terlingua Ghostown, a former mercury mining community, and is instrumental in efforts to restore the historic church there.
Meals and Lodgings
   Hyatt Place El Paso Airport
  El Paso, TX 1 night
   Mountain Trails Lodge & Outdoor Learning Center
  Fort Davis, TX 2 nights
   Chisos Lodge
  Big Bend National Park 3 nights
   Hyatt Place El Paso Airport
  El Paso, TX 1 night
 Hyatt Place El Paso Airport
Type: Full Service Hotel
  Description: 42" flat-panel HDTV; 24/7 guest kitchen; bakery and cafe featuring Starbucks Coffee
  Contact info: 6030 Gateway Boulevard E
El Paso, TX 79905 USA
phone: 915-771-0022 xor8884928847
  Room amenities: Divided living and sleeping areas, media and work center with a 42" flat-panel high-definition television that integrates with laptops and other electronic devices, wet/dry bar and bathroom vanity with granite countertops.
  Facility amenities: Outdoor pool; complimentary wi-fi and business center
  Smoking allowed: No
  Elevators available: Yes
  Additional nights prior: Call for current rates Call hotel directly to reserve extra nights. Toll-free reservations: 888 HYATT HP (1-888-492-8847); Hyatt Place El Paso Airport direct line: 915.771.0022.
  Check in time: 3:00 PM
  Additional nights after: Call for current rates Call hotel directly to reserve extra nights. Toll-free reservations: 888 HYATT HP (1-888-492-8847); Hyatt Place El Paso Airport direct line: 915.771.0022.
  Check out time: 11:00 AM

 Mountain Trails Lodge & Outdoor Learning Center
Type: Lodge
  Description: The lodge is located on 10 acres less than a mile south of historic Fort Davis, Texas. The relaxing, inviting atmosphere features lectures, entertainment, meals, and lodging all on site within easy walking distance. Mountain Trails Lodge & Outdoor Learning Center, formerly Davis Mountains Education Center, in association with Elderhostel and Road Scholar, has provided educational adventures to adults and youth since 1989.
  Contact info: 501 E Musquiz Dr
PO Box 1138
Fort Davis, TX 79734 USA
phone: 432-426-3481
  Room amenities: Duplex cabins feature wireless Internet access, heating and air conditioning, and private porches. Each cabin has a coffee maker, microwave, small refrigerator, private bath with shower, reading lights above the beds, and sitting area.
  Facility amenities: From your front porch, enjoy wide vistas of the Chihuahuan Desert and foothills of the Davis Mountains. Star pad and telescopes are located on premises for star gazing with our staff astronomer. Classroom and dining areas are within easy walking distance. Parking is available at each room with secure parking on site during your program travels. Satellite television and telephone for local calls are available in common areas.
  Smoking allowed: No

 Chisos Lodge
Type: Lodge
  Description: The only lodging in the national park, Chisos Mountains Lodge is located high in the scenic Chisos Mountains and offers comfortable overnight lodging all year long. The laid back atmosphere allows guests to enjoy life at a slower pace, yet abound in outdoor fun.
  Contact info: Big Bend National Park
Big Bend Natl Park, TX 79734 USA
phone: 432-477-2291
  Room amenities: Coffee maker, telephone, television, private baths, climate control.
  Facility amenities: Convenience store, gift shop, coffee maker, natural park setting.
  Smoking allowed: Yes

Travel Details
  Start of Program:
3:00 p.m. check in at Hyatt Place El Paso Airport Hotel You will be staying at Hyatt Place El Paso Airport that night.
  End of Program:
8:00 a.m. after breakfast at Hyatt Place El Paso Airport Hotel You will be staying at Hyatt Place El Paso Airport the night before.
  Required documents:
The Participant Information Form is required. Mountain Trails Lodge Personal Information and Liability Release Forms MUST be returned before program starts.
  Parking availability:
Parking available at the hotel while you travel to Fort Davis and Big Bend National Park.
To Start of Program
  Location:  El Paso, TX
  Nearest highway: US Interstate Highway 10
  Nearest airport:  El Paso International Airport
  From End of Program
  Location: El Paso, TX
    (Additional transportation information same as above)
Travel Details

El Paso Local


From Airport




Hotel Shuttle
Hyatt Place El Paso Airport
phone: 915-771-0022


Per Person/One Way:


Prices are subject to change.


Travel Time:


10 minutes 




3 miles


Use phones in baggage area of El Paso airport to call Hyatt Place for complimentary shuttle.

Driving Directions
  From Eastern US: Dallas to El Paso I-30 West become I-20, and I-20 becomes I-10. Take I-10 West to Exit 24 (Geronimo/Trowbridge). At the second traffic light (Trowbridge), make a left U-turn under the Interstate. The hotel is on the right at Surety Drive.
  From Northern US: Albuquerque to El Paso Take I-25 South. Merge onto I-10 E. Take I-10 East to Exit 24A (Trowbridge). Go through the traffic light at Trowbridge. The hotel is on the right at Surety Drive.
  From Western US: Tucson to El Paso Take I-10 E to Exit 24A (Trowbridge). Go through the traffic light at Trowbridge. The hotel is on the right at Surety Drive.
Elevation Note: Program travels to elevations over 7,000 feet.

The prices listed for commercial services and facilities that are not included in the program cost, such as airport shuttles or extra nights lodging, are subject to change without notice. Since Road Scholar cannot guarantee the accuracy of these prices, we strongly suggest contacting the companies directly for the most up-to-date information.

Daily Schedule

Day 1: Arrive El Paso / Orientation
(Sunday, January 26)
 Arrive To: Check in to Hyatt Place El Paso Airport Hotel.
 Dinner: El Paso is famous for its Mexican food: Group will eat at a local restaurant or catered at the Hyatt Place Hotel, with mariachi music (when available).
 Evening: Orientation and get acquainted reception with fellow participants at the hotel.
Accommodations: Hyatt Place El Paso Airport
Meals Included: Dinner

Day 2: Texas Nature Conservancy / Davis Mountains Preserve / Madera Canyon / Mount Livermore
(Monday, January 27)
 Breakfast: At the hotel.
 Morning: Travel to Fort Davis through Van Horn and Kent. Hike Madera Canyon, a trail open to the public on Davis Mountains Preserve. Immerse yourself in one of the most diverse pockets of the state - a “sky island” rising from the expansive Chihuahuan Desert that harbors rare and endangered flora and fauna. Difficulty: Easy; 3-5 miles round trip.
 Lunch: Picnic lunch at the trail head under native oaks
 Afternoon: Through special permission, continue to explore the Davis Mountains Preserve, private property of Texas Nature Conservancy. Hike in the shadow of Mt. Livermore, third tallest peak in Texas and site of the discovery of a cache of arrowheads. Hike among ponderosa pine, aspen and native oaks as you learn about this unique ecosystem and take in some of the most awe-inspiring views in the state. Difficulty: Moderate; Approximately 3 miles round trip.
 Dinner: At the Lodge.
 Evening: Overview of the Chihuahuan Desert, botany, wildlife, birds, astronomy and geology, presented by your guide in the Gathering Place at the Lodge.
Accommodations: Mountain Trails Lodge & Outdoor Learning Center
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 3: Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center / Davis Mountains State Park / Fort Davis National Historic Site / Star Party at McDonald Observatory
(Tuesday, January 28)
 Breakfast: At the Lodge.
 Morning: Learn about botany and geology of the Chihuahuan Desert on interpretive trails at Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center. The hike into Modesta Canyon features permanent springs and pools, fascinating geology, and a rich display of flora and fauna. Hike to Clayton’s Overlook, the highest point on the property, where you can see miles of breathtaking scenery. An exhibit will tell you about the geology, geography, and history of the area you see before you. Difficulty: Moderate; 4-6 miles
 Lunch: At the Lodge.
 Afternoon: Hike scenic trail that hugs and crosses Skyline Drive, built by CCC workers who built the infrastructure of Davis Mountains State Park and Indian Lodge. Hiking trail continues into Fort Davis National Historic Site. Difficulty: Moderate; about 4.5 miles of rugged terrain with views of Fort Davis far below. Briefly explore this well preserved Indian Wars frontier military post with a park service ranger or uniformed volunteer
 Dinner: At Mountain Trails Lodge.
 Evening: Star Party at world-renowned University of Texas McDonald Observatory.
Accommodations: Mountain Trails Lodge & Outdoor Learning Center
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 4: Santa Elena Canyon / Castolon / Mule Ears Springs / Chisos Basin
(Wednesday, January 29)
 Breakfast: Mountain Trails Lodge.
 Morning: Check out of Mountain Trails Lodge and travel to Big Bend National Park. Follow Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive and hike Santa Elena Canyon trail. After crossing Terlingua Creek, the trail ascends on paved steps to a vista, then descends back to the water’s edge, continuing into the canyon until the canyon walls, rising 1,800 feet, meet the water. Difficulty: Moderate; 1.7 miles round trip.
 Lunch: Picnic at Castolon. Explore museum and frontier trading post at this border crossroads.
 Afternoon: Continue along Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, stopping to hike Mule Ears Spring Trail. This hike leads through the foothills of the Chisos Mountains, skirts Trap Mountain, and crosses several arroyos. Near the spring is an old rock corral. The spring itself is overgrown with shrubs, but ferns and cattails also grow there. Difficulty: Moderate; 3.8 miles round trip. Travel to Chisos Basin to check in to rooms at Chisos Lodge.
 Dinner: At Chisos Lodge.
 Evening: Interpretive program in the Chisos Basin, presented by a park service ranger or your guide. Topics vary and could include the history of Big Bend National Park, dinosaurs, birding, geology or the night sky.
Accommodations: Chisos Lodge
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 5: Window Trail / Lost Mine Trail
(Thursday, January 30)
 Breakfast: At Chisos Lodge.
 Morning: Hike the Window Trail. The trail descends through Oak Creek Canyon to the Window pour-off, which frames panoramic desert vistas. During wetter periods Oak Creek may be flowing and must be crossed several times. Use caution on this trail; the top of the Window pour-off is slick rock with no railings, and the return hike is uphill. Difficulty: Moderate; 5.6 miles round trip.
 Lunch: In Chisos Basin.
 Afternoon: Hike Lost Mine Trail. About one mile in, a saddle offers stunning views of Casa Grande and Juniper Canyon. The trail then climbs steeply in and out of juniper, oak, and pine forest. The trail abruptly levels out at the ridge with superb views of Pine Canyon and the Sierra del Carmen in Mexico. Difficulty: Moderate; 4.8 miles round trip.
 Dinner: Travel to historic Terlingua Ghostown. Sip a refreshing drink and people watch on the infamous porch. Eat dinner at Starlight Theater, originally built in 1931 as the movie theater for the mining community, and later becoming a site for gatherings under the stars as it remained roofless until the mid-80s. After dinner, stay to enjoy live music, featuring local or visiting artists.
Accommodations: Chisos Lodge
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 6: Rio Grande Village / Boquillas, Mexico / Hot Springs
(Friday, January 31)

Note: IMPORTANT: Participants MUST have a current passport to be able to cross into Mexico and return to the U.S. at this newly reopened border crossing.

 Breakfast: At Chisos Lodge.
 Morning: Drive to Rio Grande Village. Explore restored wetlands along the Rio Grande Village Nature Trail, keeping an eye out for wintering birds and endangered fish. Difficulty: Easy; 0.75 mile loop. Hike a portion of Hot Springs Trail. Difficulty: Moderate; Approximately 3 miles round trip from the trailhead near Rio Grande Village to a scenic overlook for with beautiful views of the Rio Grande, Chisos Mountains and Sierra del Carmen. A fabulous photographic opportunity!
 Lunch: At recently re-opened Boquillas Crossing, ferry over to Boquillas, Mexico. Hike, ride horseback or ride in a truck a short distance into the village of Boquillas, where locals will warmly welcome you with homemade authentic Mexican food and enthusiastic hospitality. Obtain Visa from Mexican officials and be entertained with a bit of history about this storied border town.
 Afternoon: Return to U.S. soil - Return Visa to Mexican officials and present passport to U.S. officials at border crossing into Big Bend National Park. Road conditions permitting, drive to Hot Springs Historic Trail, and hike a short distance among river cane to the 105°F hot springs, where tourists came to soak in the healing waters in the early 1900s. The trail passes remains of the resort, pictographs, and homestead. Bring swimwear if you’d like to soak in the hot springs!
 Dinner: At Chisos Lodge.
 Evening: Free time to watch the sunset and explore the Chisos Basin, gift shops or visitor's center on your own.
Accommodations: Chisos Lodge
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 7: Grapevine Hills / Indian Head Trail / Prada Marfa
(Saturday, February 1)
 Breakfast: At Chisos Lodge.
 Morning: Check out of Chisos Lodge, and drive to Grapevine Hills Trailhead. This trail leads to a group of balanced rocks in the heart of the Grapevine Hills. Initially, the trail follows a gravel wash, then climbs steeply for the last quarter mile into the boulders. Grapevine Hills is an exposed laccolith, with many giant, rounded boulders. Difficulty: Easy; 2.2 miles round trip.
 Lunch: At Chile Pepper Cafe in Terlingua.
 Afternoon: Hike Indian Head Trail near Study Butte. Investigate native American camping sites, pictographs and petroglyphs. Trail passes near Rough Run, a dry arroyo that floods during heavy rains, with spectacular views of the Chisos Mountains, volcanic rock and petrified ash. Return to El Paso by way of Alpine, Marfa, and Van Horn. Briefly stop at Prada Marfa, an art installation west of Valentine, TX.
 Dinner: At El Capitan Hotel dining room in Van Horn.
Accommodations: Hyatt Place El Paso Airport
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 8: Departures
(Sunday, February 2)
 Breakfast: At the hotel.
 Morning: Independent check out and departures after breakfast. Hotel shuttles will return you to the airport.
Meals Included: Breakfast

Free Time Opportunities
  Fort Davis, TX Fort Davis Historic Walking Tour
Participants can follow the historic walking tour to visit historic buildings, an 1800s broom shop, Davis Mountains Nut Company, and a few gift shops. Also within walking distance are two historic cemeteries.
Important information about your itinerary: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the information featured on this website. Itineraries are based on our best information at this time. Circumstances beyond our control may require us to adjust itineraries or other details. We regret any inconvenience this may cause and appreciate your understanding. Information will be sent to you from your Program Provider approximately three weeks prior to the program start date. The prices listed for commercial services and facilities that are not included in the program cost, such as airport shuttles or extra nights lodging, are subject to change without notice. Since Road Scholar cannot guarantee the accuracy of these prices, we strongly suggest contacting the companies directly for the most up-to-date information.

Suggested Reading List

A Most Singular Country: A History of Occupation in the Big Bend

Author: Arthur R. Gomez

Description: A Most Singular Country describes the unique geological compositions, seemingly endless desert, intermittent free-flowing springs, and surrounding flora and fauna found in Big Bend National Park. Also relevant is the story of the human inhabitants, beginning with aboriginal tribes wandering through the area and eventually Indians, Spaniards, Mexicans, and later Americans. Arthur R. Gomez is a National Park Service historian. He is also the author of Documentary Evidence for the Spanish Missions of Texas. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Big Bend Country: Land of the Unexpected

Author: Kenneth Baxter Ragsdale

Description: Having first visited the Big Bend in 1928, Kenneth B. Ragsdale has been digging around in and writing about the region for the last forty years. In Big Bend Country: Land of the Unexpected, he takes a nostalgic retrospective journey through the times and places of this increasingly popular corner of West Texas to say goodbye to those who made the history, created the myths, and lived the legends. Building his stories around themes of compassion, conflict, and compromise, he profiles both famous and relatively unknown figures. He tells stories of curanderas (healers), charity workers, a woman who practiced medicine without a license, and another who started a private lending library in her store to encourage rural, poor children to read. In contrast to these stories, he chronicles blood feuds, shootouts, and the violence bred in wild, relatively lawless spaces. In a fascinating play on levels of meaning, Ragsdale traces the legacy of J. Frank Dobie and his stories of buried treasure—treasure that turned out to be that of the imagination if not of gold. Finally, he turns his attention to the cinematic portrayal of life in the Big Bend. He looks at the filming of Giant both as a subtext of its own--how the coming of celebrity and celebrities affected local lifestyles and self-perceptions--and as a cultural commentary on the popular perception of the West. Ragsdale's stories cover a half-century, roughly 1900 to 1955, from wagon trains to the filming of an epic movie, a time in which the face of the Big Bend changed: the quicksilver mines closed, a national park was established, isolation and cattle gave way to vacation ranchettes and tourists. Big Bend enthusiasts will want to join the author in his farewell tribute as he recaptures the spirit of the times through the eyes and words of the people who made the region the folklore attraction it is.

The Big Bend Of The Rio Grande: A Guide to the Rocks, Landscape, Geologic History and Settlers of the Area of the Big Bend National Park

Author: Ross A. Maxwell

Description: For years, the definitive guide to the Big Bend, by Ross A. Maxwell, geologist and first superintendent of Big Bend National Park. Geology, history, a guide to rocks, landscape, and settlers of the area of Big Bend National Park. Extremely useful for the scope of its coverage, and the magnificent fold-out geologic map of the area in the back sleeve is worth the price of the book by itself. A classic of the Big Bend.

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