“You can literally see 100 miles in every direction,” says our driver, ranch manager Scott McGehee, pointing south to Mexico and north to Presidio County.
Looking at the deserted landscape, it’s no surprise to hear the local population averages two people for every square kilometre.
That night a party of hunters are also staying at Cibolo Creek Ranch, and the communal dinner table conversation turns to their hunting exploits on a trip to Africa.
“I’ve never felt so alive,” says one Texan, drawing on a thick cigar as he tells the tale of shooting a lion. “It was magic.”
“Welcome to Texas,” says our guide Mike Davidson in response to some of the shocked faces round the table. “We’re a little different down here.”
Rafting on the Rio Grande
Funky painted trailers and tin-shed bars greet us in sweltering, bohemian Terlingua, three hours south of Marfa. Luckily, we’re heading for a cool-off in the Rio Grande.
Despite its grand name the river, which separates the USA and Mexico over hundreds of kilometres, is only a dozen metres wide in places. But the section through the dramatic cliffs of Santa Elena Canyon is spectacular.
“I’m on this river almost every day of my life and I never get sick of it,” says our rafting guide, Todd Russel, proudly.
“You’ve got to love nature and wild spaces, otherwise you’d have to be an alcoholic to stay sane out here in the middle of nowhere.”
On the drive back to town, we pass a house shaped like a giant submarine in which “an eccentric old navy captain lives,” according to Russel. I wonder if not even the drink can keep you sane in the desert of south-west Texas.
Hiking in Big Bend
Ranch Road 170 takes us into the Big Bend National Park and the Chisos Mountains, home to mountain lions, black bears and white-tailed deer. It’s a landscape of soaring red peaks, deep canyons and haphazard geological formations, which look as though they were formed by volcanic eruptions that could have happened just days earlier.
The ‘lost mine peak trail’ is an uphill haul with a rewarding view across a spectacular valley. We don’t see any mountain lions, though the ranger tells us a mother and her cubs were sighted here two days ago.
Behind the bar
The great outdoors is the ideal way to see Texas, but the best way to meet its locals is over a drink in the bar, where the drink of choice is tequila, made from the agave cactus.
On our last night we hit the Rail Road Blues Bar, where they let you bring your own tequila. As local band The Doodlin’ Hogwallops play a rollicking live set and my bottle gets emptier, I find myself dancing a jig with a cowgirl. Then I’m embroiled in a drinking game with three US marines fresh from Iraq, shouted a drink by the local priest and dragged to an artist’s house for a nightcap and a private gallery viewing.
As I down my final shot I can’t help but think of rodeo champion Taylor’s parting words on my first day in the state. “Hope y’all like Texas as much as we do.” Tomorrow morning might be a different matter, but tonight I definitely do.
Movies filmed in Texas
Check out these movies filmed in Texas for a look at lonely desert landscapes and cowboy characters.
No Country For Old Men: This Coen brothers flick was shot near Marfa. You can buy a bottle at the El Cheapo Liquor Store where Javier Bardem’s character flips a coin to decide whether to kill the attendant.
There Will Be Blood: This powerful film starring Daniel Day-Lewis was shot on a ranch south of Marfa. The area is so untouched it’s one of the few places that could be used to recreate California in the 19th-century oil boom.
Courage Under Fire: You can see the set, including the army chopper, used in this 1996 flick starring Meg Ryan and Denzel Washington, which was filmed at Indian Cliffs Ranch in El Paso.
Fandango: A scene in this road movie, directed by and starring Kevin Costner, is shot at Big Hill in Big Bend Ranch State Park, with views of the Rio Grande.
Giant: A 1956 James Dean Texan blockbuster filmed in Marfa. The town’s El Paisano Hotel has become a Dean shrine.
When in Texas be sure to get yourself invited to a star party.
What is it?
Officially it’s a star-gazing class, but in practice it’s constellation spotting mixed with plenty of drinks and dancing.
Why is Texas famous for them?
The atmosphere in Texas is profoundly clear, with almost no light pollution. Shooting stars and meteor showers are often visible.
What if I’m a serious stargazer?
The McDonald Observatory near Fort Davis is one of the world’s leading observatories. Visitors can check it out and also use some of the high-powered equipment to look at the skies above.