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Day 4 Big Bend and Carlsbad Caverns National Parks Motorcycle Ride

Sunday Sept. 20 Chisos Basin Lodge to Van Horn (234 miles)

motorcycle touring, motorcycle travel, motorcycle ride, motorcycle trip, motorcycle riding, motorcycle road trips

Map Day 4 Chisos Basin Lodge to Van Horn

Today is day 4 of our Big Bend and Carlsbad Caverns National Parks motorcycle ride. Come follow along and enjoy the scenery and ride.

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cabin we stayed at in Chisos Basin Lodge in Big Bend National Park

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The window at Chisos Basin

We had breakfast, before heading out back down the mountain, at the Lodge Restaurant. Breakfast was good as was all the food we have eaten at the Lodge over the years. Then it was on to Van Horn via Study Butte, Terlingua, Lajitas, Presidio and Marfa. Highway 170 from Study Butte to Presidio has always been regarded as one of the top ten best roads to ride in Texas, and today we were not disappointed. Though we have ridden this road before I still anticipated riding it again. It is a nice motorcycle road because of the scenery and all the ups and downs and curves.

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Leaving Chisos Basin early morning

Highway 170,  River road, motorcycle touring, motorcycle travel, motorcycle ride Big Bend area

Old movies set on Rio Grande

Along the way we stopped to see the Contrabando movie set where several western movies were filmed. Last year in September the Rio Grande flooded and the flood had ruined a lot of the set but it was still a nice stop.

Contrabando movie set, Highway 170, River road, Big Bend area, motorcycle touring, motorcycle travel, motorcycle ride

The Wild Hogs

Highway 170, River road, Big Bend area, Presidio Texas, motorcycle touring, motorcycle travel, motorcycle ride

Ft. Leaton

Next stop was Ft. Leaton, which was actually a trading post. There wasn’t much as far as exhibits so we did a lot of guessing about what parts of the fort were. It was still interesting though.

motorcycle touring, motorcycle travel, motorcycle ride

El Patio Restaurant in Presidio

We ate lunch at the El Patio Mexican Restaurant in Presidio. We ate there 2 years ago and the food was great but of course you would expect it to be great being a border town. We were not disappointed this time either.

From Presidio it was on to Marfa up Hwy.67. We gassed up in Marfa and took Hwy 90 to Van Horn. We have never traveled that hwy to Van Horn before. It was basically flat and for the most part straight. You could see hills and mountains in the distance but it was just good ranch land as far as you could see.

Van Horn today is mostly, from what we have seen of it, a good stopping point along I-10. It has about 15 motels and several gas stations. There we several things to see in Van Horn but we didn’t get there early enough to do any of those things.

Van Horn’s motto is “Van Horn is so healthy they had to shoot someone to start a cemetery.” The man who said that was shot and killed not long afterward. True


Tomorrow we head to Lamesa, Texas via Carlsbad National Park. Come ride along and share the fun with us.

Below are links to the other days of this ride.

If you are thinking about riding to the Big Bend area, checkout the links below. The links have valuable information on the Big Bend Area of Texas and tips we have learned about long motorcycle rides over the years.

  1. Motorcycle Travel Information For The Big Bend Area ofTexas
  2. Long Distance Motorcycle Touring Tips

If you enjoyed reading about this motorcycle ride to Big Bend National Park you may like our other motorcycle rides there too.

  1. Our first motorcycle ride to Big Bend National Park
  2. Spring motorcycle ride to Big Bend National Park April 2007

For even more content please checkout and LIKE our Facebook page.

Have Goldwing Will Travel…  I hope we see you down the road somewhere. Ride safe…

Our First Big Bend Motorcycle Ride – Day 3

Big Bend National Park Motorcycle Ride Map Day 3

Big Bend National Park Motorcycle Ride Map Day 3

Below is my navigation system before GPS. I kept it on the gas tank for quick reference.

Day 3 Alpine , Ft Davis to Sanderson    Hwy       Miles
Alpine to Ft. Davis                                                       (118)           24 (Really nice ride)
Ft. Davis to McDonald Observ.                              (118)          ~12 (~ are approximate)
McDonald Observ. To 166 loop                             (118)          ~12
166 loop to 117 S. of Ft. Davis                                 (166)          ~51
Note: If we are low on gas, we can back track, a couple of miles, to
               Ft. Davis for gas.
Ft. Davis to Marfa                                                        (117)             21 GAS (~109 miles)
Marfa to Alpine                                                             (90)              26
Alpine to Marathon                                                     (90)              38
Marathon to Sanderson                                             (90)             54 GAS (118 miles)
Total                                                                           ~238

Fort Davis National Historic Site

Fort Davis National Historic Site

Officer Quarters at Fort Davis

Officer Quarters at Fort Davis

We checked out of the hotel and rode up to Fort Davis, the highest town in Texas. What a beautiful ride it was up highway 118. We spent a couple of hours touring the fort. (This is Janet’s and my favorite fort to visit) If you haven’t ever been there you need to go. After that we rode up to McDonald Observatory. The road to the observatory is the highest paved road in Texas and another  ride in the Davis Mountains. After stopping for a short tour we took the beautiful scenic loop 166 back to Marfa. Loop 166 was pretty, but we ran into some construction and had to ride several miles on deep gravelled road. That was not fun! It made for some intense riding. The scenery along 166 is beautiful but I didn’t see much of it… I was too busy keeping the bike on the straight and narrow. 😉 We managed to made it through without any mishaps.

Ivan Janet Ginny Gary McDonald Observatory

Ivan Janet Ginny Gary McDonald Observatory

Our next stop was the Apache Trading Post west of Alpine. When Janet and I were here last September we stopped here and met a woman named Shirley. She and I got to talking about motorcycles. Turns out she used to ride and she told me I should ride out there sometime with Janet. So, of course, we had to stop by and tell her we had ridden out on the motorcycle. She thought it was great! We had a good time visiting with her. Shirley can also give you lots of information about the area and, of course, the Marfa Lights. We stopped at Jackassic Park (at the trading post) to visit old Pete. He’s the donkey that starred in the movie THE MEXICAN with Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts. He sang for us. Then we headed out to Sanderson where we spent the night.

There is not much in Sanderson except the Budget Inn, a convenience store and the Red Dog Saloon. By then we were only looking for food and a place to sleep. The only food we found was at the convenience store. Slim pickin’s here.

Tomorrow we ride home via Langtry home to the infamous Judge Roy Bean…

Here are the links to the other days of this ride.

Our First Big Bend Motorcycle Ride – Day 1
Our First Big Bend Motorcycle Ride – Day 2
Our First Big Bend Motorcycle Ride – Day 4

If you enjoyed this post you may like these too…

  1. Big Bend Ride 2007
  2. Big Bend/Carlsbad Cavern Ride 2009
  3. Riding Information on Big Bend Area of Texas
  4. Tips on Long Distance Touring
  5. Riding Fit… Riding Smart
  6. Getting the Wife to Ride

Motorcycle Travel Information For The Big Bend Area of Texas

Big Bend, motorcycle, ride

Yucca at Chisos Basin with Mt. Casa Grande in background

This information about the Big Bend area of Texas was put together for motorcycle riders but much of it is applicable for people driving. I have collected lots of information on the Big Bend area for our travels. This is my attempt to organize it for others who are traveling there. I haven’t commented on everything but have included links to give you more information. So look for the links.

When you mention Big Bend people naturally think of Big Bend National Park but the Big Bend area is much more than just the park.

The Big Bend area is a geographic region in the western part of the state of Texas in the United States bordering Mexico. It is sometimes loosely defined as the part of Texas south of U.S. Highway 90 and west of the Pecos River. The area is arid, rugged, sparsely populated and has the Chisos and the Davis Mountain ranges. The area has more than one million acres of public lands which include Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park. The towns in the area are Alpine, Presidio, Marfa, Sanderson, Fort Davis, Presidio, Study Butte, Lajitas, Van Horn, Kent and Marathon.

For those of you who are not familiar with the Big Bend area of Texas… everything is “few and far between”. You need to know where lodging, food and gas are  found well in advance of your trip. Weather can also be a big issue depending on what time of the year you plan to visit.

Big Bend National Park

What I like about Big Bend National Park is its vast size that covers more than 800,000 acres. Much of the park is accessed by paved roads so it lends itself to us road bikers. For adventure off-road riders or 4×4 there are many roads for you. There are many trails for hiking. The temperatures can vary by as much as 30 degrees due to the elevation differences. The best time to visit is in the spring when the wildflowers are blooming. There is so much more to Big Bend that I could never do justice describing for you. So you may want to check out some of the links below.




Boquillas Canyon Big Bend National Park

Big Bend Ranch State Park

Because Big Bend Ranch State Park is only accessible by high clearance 4 wheeled vehicles or off-road bikes we haven’t had the chance to explore the park… yet… So you can check out what the park has to offer with the link below.



Because of the elevation differences in the area there are temperature differences of 30 degrees or more. In Big Bend National Park it may be 98 degrees at Santa Elena Canyon and in Chisos Basin some 20 miles by road the temperature can be 68 degrees. The reason is… 5665 feet difference in elevation.

Below are the averages for Alpine. These can vary from place to place in the area due to elevations. This table is provided only to give you an idea what the averages are. I would recommend you to check the particular town and areas you plan on visiting to get an accurate number. You can check with www.weather.com or any of the other websites.

Month Average High Average Low Record High Record Low Average Precip.









































































Cabin we stayed at in Chisos Basin Lodge in Big Bend National Park

During the spring when the wildflowers are in bloom lodging can be hard to come by and reservations are STRONGLY suggested. If you want to stay in Big Bend National Park during that time you should make reservations a year in advance! If you don’t you most likely won’t get a reservation. “A word to the wise is sufficient.” Even for towns (Alpine, Marfa, Marathon etc.) outside the park it would be a good idea to make reservations well in advance of your trip.

Big Bend, motorcycle, ride, April

Mission Lodge in Terlingua where we stayed…

Big Bend Area of Texas

Carriage House in Marathon where we stayed

Gas stations

Gas stations are a big issue when traveling by bike in the Big Bend area. It is a long way between gas stations so keep your tank topped off. In places like Marathon they roll up the sidewalks at 5:00 so most businesses are closed. There was only one gas station in Marathon and it closed early! So don’t get there late and expect to get gas.

Big Bend National Park has over 100 miles of paved roads so bikes with limited range need to keep their tanks topped off at one of the two gas stations in the park. The gas station at Panther Junction is the most centrally located gas station and is the only station in the park that has premium gas. The second gas station is at Rio Grande Village and it only has regular gas.

Outside the park, gas can be found at the junction of hwy 118 and 170 in Study Butte. Top off your tank. It is 80 miles to Alpine and 68 miles to Presidio to the next gas station.

When leaving the park via Hwy 385 top off your tank at Panther Junction in the park. It is 68 miles to Marathon from Panther Junction.

Distances Between Points

Alpine – Study Butte: 80 miles

Study Butte – Panther Junction: 24 miles

Panther Junction – Marathon: 68 miles

Marathon – Alpine: 31 miles

Alpine – Marfa: 27 miles

Marfa – Ft. Davis:  21 miles

Ft. Davis – Alpine: 24 miles

Ft. Davis – Balmorhea: 37 miles

Marfa – Van Horn: 74 miles

Ft. Davis – Kent: 53 miles


Places to eat can also be an issue for the same reasons as gas stations.

Big Bend National Park:

Chisos Basin Lodge Restaurant  – Good food at a reasonable price.

Big Bend National Park Texas. Nice view

Restaurant at Chisos Basin Lodge


Places to eat in Marathon are very limited and only a couple of places are open after 5:00 PM. Some of the eating places have come and gone. One of our favorite places is “Shirley’s Burnt Biscuit” but it is not always open. You can get great fried pies and coffee at Shirley’s.

For other options check this link: http://www.urbanspoon.com/n/301/45467/Texas/Marathon-TX-restaurants

Big Bend area of Texas

Shirley’s Burnt Biscuit in Marathon


Alpine is a small college town and has many places to eat from fast food to fine dining. Our favorite fine dining restaurant is Reata Restaurant . It is a bit pricey but the food is great.

For other dining options can be found here. http://www.urbanspoon.com/n/301/45342/Texas/Alpine-TX-restaurants


The only place we have eaten is the Dairy Queen but there are several good restaurants there. For a list check this link. http://www.urbanspoon.com/n/301/45468/Texas/Marfa-TX-restaurants

Fort Davis:

There aren’t a lot of places to eat in Fort Davis. The one place that is always open and a place we like to eat is the Fort Davis Drugstore. Good food at reasonable prices. For other places check this link: http://www.fortdavis.com/restaurants.html

McDonald Observatory:

The Star Date Café at the Observatory is open for lunch on some but not all days. Check this link for hours and dates.  http://mcdonaldobservatory.org/visitors/StarDate_cafe.html

Study Butte:

We have eaten at the Big Bend Resort and Adventure Restaurant because it was close to the hotel. The food was good and reasonable. For other dining options check here. http://www.visitbigbend.com/en/plan-your-trip/wheretoeat/269-wheretoeatstudy.html


Every time we visit Presidio we always eat at El Patio Restaurant. Eat there and you will know why. For other options check here. http://www.urbanspoon.com/n/301/45497/Texas/Presidio-TX-restaurants

Van Horn :

Van Horn is an interesting little town, with many motels, gas stations, restaurants and history. When in the area you should plan stopping here. One of our favorite restaurants in Van Horn is Chuy’s 1959. Chuy’s has great Mexican food and reasonable prices. John Madden makes a point to stop here whenever he is passing through. For more place to eat check here. http://www.urbanspoon.com/n/301/45547/Texas/Van-Horn-TX-restaurants

Towns in Big Bend Area

Alpine  – Alpine is a small college town, with motels, shopping, gas,  and good restaurants. Sul Ross University has a Museum about the Big Bend Area that is a must see. We have stayed in Alpine several times and enjoyed our stay and would recommend it a central place to stay to visit the surrounding areas. One of the more fun places to stay is the Old Holland Hotel. It’s probably not for everyone but is worth looking into.

Fort Davis  – Fort Davis is a small West Texas town with a lot to offer. There is a walking tour that takes in much of the town. It is rich in history and friendly town folks. Just outside the town is Fort Davis National Historic Site. Of all the forts we have seen, and we have seen a lot, Ft. Davis is our favorite. It’s like stepping back in time.. because. We haven’t stayed in Fort Davis but plan to someday. It does have several places to stay in town and has a great place to camp at near by Davis Mountain State Park.

Lajitas Resort – The resort is always a fun place to stop and take a break. We haven’t stayed here but it would be a nice place to stay if you want some pampering. Check out the link for more information.

Big Bend area of Texas

Lajitas Resort

Marfa   – Is an artsy town… Yes, you read that correctly. If you are into art this is the place to be in West Texas. There are lots of things to see here and it offers some neat places to stay such as the El Cosmico.

Marfa Texas in Big Bend area

The Hotel Paisano in Marfa

Marathon – Home to the famous Gage Hotel. The Gage is a must see, stay or eat. Besides the Gage there are several other places to stay in Marathon. Reservation are recommended because of its proximity to Big Bend National Park. You don’t want to get here and not have place to stay. Restaurants seem to come and go but the restaurant in the Gage is always there for your fine dining pleasure. Shirley’s Burnt Biscuit is a place to get good pastries and coffee… if it is open. Gas is limited and not always open after 5 or 6 in the evening.

Big Bend area of Texas

Gage Hotel in Marathon

Presidio  – Presidio is as close as you can get to Mexico without being in Mexico. We always enjoy stopping here and we always eat at El Patio for some good authentic Mexican food. Don’t forget to stop at Fort Leaton just outside of town on Highway 170.

Presidio Texas

El Patio Restaurant in Presidio

Presidio Texas

Ft. Leaton outside Presidio

Study Butte / Terlingua  There are several good places to stay here with several places to eat and get gas. Again it is recommended to make reservations if you are planning to stay. It is easy access to Big Bend National Park.

Van Horn


Hwy 118 –


Map of Highway 118

From Kent to Study Butte, Hwy 118 has it all. There are over 150 miles of riding fun with great motorcycle curves and amazing desert scenery. To the north Hwy 118 runs through scenic, alpine of the Davis Mountains with tight twisting and smooth curves. The McDonald Observatory, sits at 6800 ft and is a must see in the area. Ft. Davis was originally a military outpost to protect settlers from area Indians. The fort is being restored and is a state historic site. Of all the forts we have visited in Texas and elsewhere it is hands down our favorite and another must see. Just outside Alpine are the semi-desert Del Norte Mountains. Further south you drop into the desert plains of the Chihuahua Desert, where you can see the distant mountain scenery of the Christmas and Chisos Mountains. Chisos mountains are much more rustic and colorful as you approach Study Butte and Big Bend National Park. The desert mountain area is filled with unusual lava landscapes, rustic mountain scenery, smooth, fast sweeping curves. There are many wonderful vistas and spectacular panorama views around each curve.

Big Bend area of Texas

Hwy 118 with Alpine in background.

Hwy 170 –

Map Highway 170 Texas

Highway 170 is known to bikers as the “River Road.” Highway 170 extends from Study Butte to Presidio. From Study Butte heading west you will travel through the mining town of Terlingua, now a ghost town with a population 25. Terlingua is the home of the “International Championship Chili Cook-off”.

Big Bend area of Texas

Rest stop on River Road Hwy 170

From Lajitas is your ride down “one of the prettiest roads in America.” About 9.5 miles from Lajitas, on your left, is the old movie set Contrabando. Several movies were made there and is worth a look.

Big Bend area of Texas

Contrabando movie set on Hwy 170

The River Road is a spectacular ride through lush, twisting river valleys through red and purple rock rising to 1000 feet above the Rio Grande River. The road is an excellent motorcycle road; twisting and dropping to the canyon floors along the Rio Grande river. You ride through the Bofecillos Mountains formed by two ancient lava flows to the “Big Hill.” At a 15% grade it is the steepest of any regularly traveled Texas highway. Just outside Presidio, take time to visit Fort Leaton State Historic Site. It is one of Texas’ most unusual historic sites. Fort Leaton is a massive adobe fortress built-in 1848 immediately after the Mexican War.

Hwy 385 –

map highway 358 Texas

Highway 385 is the gateway of Big Bend National Park. For the most part Hwy 385 is a typical West Texas highway with scenic views of the mountains in the distance. Once in the park it becomes more scenic and ends at the park welcome center at Panther Junction.

Big bend area of Texas

Hwy 385 looking north to Marathon.

Hwy 166 Loop –

map highway 166 Big Bend area of Texas

The mountains and plains around Fort Davis are a rider’s paradise. . The Scenic Loop mileage is about 75 miles. The elevation changes from about 5,000 feet in town to a maximum of 6,270 feet with lots of ups and downs of several hundred feet in-between.

Hwy 17 –


Motorcycle Touring Logs, long distance motorcycle touring, long distance motorcycle travel, motorcycle ride, motorcycle riding, motorcycle road trips, Motorcycle Touring, motorcycle travel, motorcycle trip, travel

Hwy 17 Ft Davis to Balmorhea

Highway 17 from Fort Davis to Balmorhea is one of my personal favorite roads in the area. The scenery is a must see if you are in the area. At times you think you are not in West Texas.

Leaving Fort Davis you travel through scenic Limpia Canyon in the Davis Mountains. There is a maximum speed limit of 55 mph. In Limpia Canyon, the road is narrow and has many nice motorcycle curves, with speeds as low as 40 mph. There are also several picnic tables in the canyon where you can stop and take in the wonderful scenery. There is one large picnic area just before reaching Wild Rose Pass. About 1.8 miles past the pass, the road widens and the speed limit increases to 70 mph from there into Balmorhea.

 Our Motorcycle Rides to Big Bend

If Big Bend looks like something you would like to do, you might like reading about some of our rides there. The above information was invaluable when planning these trips. These can also be good road trips if you are driving.

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Day 4 Big Bend National Park Motorcycle Ride April 2007

182 miles – Terlingua, Presidio, Marfa, Alpine

Big Bend, motorcycle, ride

Lajitas Resort

Big Bend, motorcycle, ride

Day 4 Route

Big Bend National Park Motorcycle Ride

We woke up to a beautiful day. Got off to a good early start and saw a lot of beautiful scenery between Terlingua and Presidio following Hwy. 170 (the river road). Hwy 170 meanders along near the Rio Grande most of the time. Larry Talley liked this part more than Big Bend. Along the way we stopped at Lajitas Resort. The resort was really nice but a bit expensive. From there we rode on and stopped at a picnic area to take pictures and stretch our legs. From there it was on to Presidio to eat lunch at El Patio Restaurant. We read about El Patio in Ride Texas magazine. It said it was perhaps some of the best Mexican food in West Texas. I must say it was the best food of the trip for me. I look forward to eating there again! We gassed up and header north to Marfa. Unfortunately the winds had picked up which made it a bit rough riding. It had got quite warm by the time we got to Presidio but as we climbed in elevation, as we got closer to Marfa it cooled off a lot. We stopped in Marfa and toured the Paisano Hotel and the courthouse. The courthouse had been redone a few years ago. From there it was on to Alpine to spend the night. That night we ate at the Raita restaurantt. The restaurant  is owned by Grady Spears the cowboy chef.


Big Bend, motorcycle, ride

Rio Grande along Hwy 170 going to Presidio

Big Bend, motorcycle, ride

Larry & Shirley at the Hotel Paisano


Links to the other days of our ride…

Day 1 – 259 miles – Georgetown, Fredericksburg, Ozona

Day 2 – 257 miles – Ozona, Ft. Stockton, Alpine, Terlingua

Day 3 – 187 Miles – Terlingua, Santa Elena Canyon, Chisos Basin, Boquillas Canyon, Terlingua (all in Big Bend)

Day 5 – 188 miles – Alpine, Ft Davis, loop 166, Ft Stockton

Day 6 – 165 miles – Ft Stockton, Big Lake, San Angelo

Day 7 – 195 Miles – San Angelo, Llano, Georgetown

If you liked this post you may also like “Big Bend/Carlsbad Motorcycle Trip September ’09”  or “Our First Big Bend Motorcycle Ride“.

Big Bend & Carlsbad Caverns National Parks Motorcycle Trip September 09

travel, motorcycle touring, motorcycle travel, motorcycle ride, motorcycle trip, motorcycle riding, motorcycle road trips

Big Bend & Carlsbad National Parks Ride Route Map

Originally we had planned to go on a motorcycle trip in August to Colorado, but since we could not get everyone’s schedules worked out until September we changed the designation to Big Bend & Carlsbad Caverns National Parks due to the possibility the weather in Colorado would be much colder and there is always a possibility of encountering snow that time of the year in the mountains. Larry Cooper suggested we go back to Big Bend so that’s where we went. I tried to plan this trip to be different from the 2 previous trips so we could see different country. I wasn’t sure what the weather would be because we have had so much hot weather here. I was also afraid that our lawn would not survive us being gone for a whole week without watering. But as it turned out we got over 6 inches of rain the week before the trip and the weather cooled significantly. The trip consisted of three couples, Larry & Jo Cooper (from Bryant Alabama), Larry & Shirley Talley (from Tunnel Hill, Georgia) and Janet and myself on three bikes. Larry Talley was pulling his trailer so we had lots of room to carry things like a cooler. The cooler was very handy because we carried picnic food and drinks and stopped many times at picnic areas for lunch and when the temperature climbed we had plenty of drinks to stay hydrated.

Below are links to post of each day’s trip and what we saw. Come follow along and enjoy the ride, scenery and fun for riding with good friends.