The foothills of the Chinati Mountains reach almost to the Rio Grande River in a rugged and remote area of West Texas. Across this dusty landscape, dotted with creosote bushes and ocotillo, the jagged outline of the mountains stretches 14 miles across the horizon under a wide, blue expanse of sky.
Deep in these foothills — specifically 60 miles south of Marfa, another 37 west from Presidio to Ruidosa, and seven more down unpaved Hot Springs Road — lies a literal oasis in the Chihuahuan desert: Chinati Hot Springs Resort.
The manager had assured me I didn’t need high clearance or four-wheel drive to get there, but we borrowed a Chevy Tahoe with both just in case. It provided peace of mind; the springs practically define “off the beaten path” even in an area known for its remoteness.
But for those who need a getaway, this spot fits the bill.
The hot springs, cooled slightly from 109 to 104 degrees, fill a large outdoor tub overlooking a creek shaded by towering cottonwoods and a sculpted canyon wall. After a long soak, soothed by the sound of trickling water and the wind through the trees (and nothing more), I felt more relaxed than I had in ages.
The resort has seven rustic but comfortable cabins, some with private tubs or showers. All have a restroom with toilet and sink, a mini-fridge and coffee maker, air conditioning, and an outdoor seating area. There are additional restrooms, an outdoor shower, and a bathhouse in the cabin area.
Other common areas include indoor and outdoor dining areas, a half-dozen grills, and a spacious kitchen complete with two ranges, two refrigerators, two coffee makers and all the cooking and dining supplies you could possibly need. Bring plenty of groceries, as the closest place to buy more is the tiny Hot Springs Airport Store back in Ruidosa (another reason for a roomy SUV).
Up the hill overlooking it all, a cool pool has a shaded seating area and a fantastic view.
Those who want to do more than soak can hike the sandy wash next to the springs. Ranch Road 170 along the Rio Grande from Hot Springs Road west to Candelaria is great for biking, with little traffic and hills that turn the ride into a roller coaster. After dark, we found a comfortable spot to appreciate the sight of the Milky Way and thousands of stars in the incredibly dark skies, an increasingly rare treasure in this urban world.
Local weather remains relatively mild year-round, with cool nights even during the hot summer, and the late June to early September monsoons compensate for the drenching with spectacular lightning shows.
The Airport Store also stocks an excellent selection of wines and bills itself as the most remote bar in Texas. Owner Jennifer Weaver also sells her wide selection of handmade leather goods, which make a good souvenir of the trip. If you struggle with the concept of getting away from it all, this is the closest Wi-Fi service. (And if you happen to have your own plane, there actually is a runway.)
While in the area, take in all you can of what it has to offer. Highlights include:
- Big Bend National Park’s 800,000 acres of desert and mountains.
- Big Bend Ranch State Park (where four-wheel drive and high clearance definitely come in handy).
- Famous Starlight Theatre Restaurant’s porch in Terlingua.
- Marfa's art scene.
- Star parties at McDonald Observatory.
- The classic West Texas atmosphere in Alpine.
- Luxury digs and fine dining at the Gage Hotel in tiny Marathon.
With so many destinations around the Chinati Hot Springs Resort, this hot spot is the perfect respite for Austinites looking for a dreamy West Texas escape.