Favorite Ride: West Texas Roundup

West Texas motorcycle ride
Farm-to-Market (FM) Road 170, on the way to Lajitas. There wasn’t a better road on the entire 10-day trip. (Photos by the author)

After one too-brief night in Alpine, Texas, at the amazing Holland Hotel, I hit the road on the way to Terlingua. My tour of west Texas is starting its fourth day and I’m anxious to explore what I’ve heard is the best part—Big Bend National Park. A short ride on U.S. Route 90 takes me to Marfa, home of the “mysterious” Marfa Lights, but since it’s early in the morning the lights are tucked away into wherever it is they hide during the day and I don’t stop. A left turn on U.S. Route 67 starts the most beautiful day on a motorcycle I’ve spent in my short career as a rider.

West Texas motorcycle ride
The author channeling his inner biker on his 2017 Triumph Street Twin.

The highway is a joy to ride and the scenery is spectacular. Since it’s the middle of the week there isn’t much traffic and I feel like I have the entire world to myself. It’s both calming and exhilarating. This is what riding is supposed to be. Out in the open, no cars, no buildings, no people. Just gorgeous countryside as far as the eye can see. And mountains…in Texas! I’ve lived here most of my life and I had no idea a landscape like this existed in my home state. I stop every few miles to take pictures, making the 120 or so miles to Terlingua take forever, but eventually I come to my first rest break: Shafter.

West Texas motorcycle ride
U.S. Route 67, halfway between Marfa and Shafter. A perfect road with gorgeous views as far as the eye can see.

Shafter is a ghost town, population somewhere between 11 and 30, well known for being a location in the 1971 movie, “The Andromeda Strain.” The church is probably the most familiar building to fans of the film and it looks pretty much exactly as it did all those years ago. There are a few other buildings across the highway from the church, as well as some honest-to-goodness ruins protected by a fence with a “No Trespassing” sign. I don’t wander past the sign, but a pickup truck with two gentlemen inside pulls out from behind the fence and comes to a stop about 100 feet from me, just to make sure. After a few pictures I decide it’s time to go.

West Texas motorcycle ride
Preparing to leave the amazing Holland Hotel.

A little while later I stop for lunch in Presidio, a low, dusty town with a slightly yellowish hue that reminds me of Cozumel, which is fitting since it’s right on the border with Ojinaga, Mexico. Eager to be back on the bike, I wolf down a surprisingly good Mexican plate lunch at El Patio Restaurant and head east out of town on Farm-to-Market Road (FM) 170 on what would prove to be the most amazing 60 or so miles of my 2,500-mile trip.

West Texas motorcycle ride
The famous church in Shafter, Texas, looking exactly the same as when it starred in “The Andromeda Strain” in 1971.

Mexico and the Rio Grande river are on my right, Texas and its huge ranches on my left. Mountains and a massive blue sky surround me. The temperature is perfect and I think to myself that all I want in life is to be right here, right now, on this motorcycle, on this road. FM 170 is narrow in spots with little to no shoulder so it takes all of my attention, but there is almost no traffic so I’m able to enjoy it without being nervous. Where it does open up there are plenty of pullouts with historical markers or a spot to take in the view. I’m pretty sure I stop at all of them. It’s just too pretty not to stare.

West Texas motorcycle ride
A welcome rest stop just past Redford, Texas, on FM 170.

The day is starting to warm up as I see a “rest stop” just past Redford. An enterprising family has built a small store called La Sierra, stocked with snacks, drinks and sundries. I have an orange soda, my secret vice, and take a rest. The view, again, is staggering. I know I sound like a broken record, but this really is the ride to do in Texas.

West Texas motorcycle ride
A church in the “ghost town” of Terlingua, Texas.

Lajitas is the next stop about an hour down the road, best known for being home to a luxurious golf resort, Black Jack’s Crossing, as well as for having a goat for a mayor. That is not a typo. Apparently, a goat named Clay Henry was the mayor for several years. In honor of Clay Henry, I stop at the Thirsty Goat Saloon in the Lajitas Golf Resort for refreshment. I take some time to stretch my legs and soak in the beauty of the resort and its surroundings, as well as talk to some Harley trike riders I’ve seen off and on all day. They call me “the Triumph guy” and promise to buy me a beer in Terlingua, where all of us are staying for the night. I tell them I’ll see them at the bar and head out again.

West Texas motorcycle ride
A small canyon behind the Terlingua Cemetery.

A cyclist I meet on my way back to my motorcycle tells me I’d be foolish to miss the chance to ride to Chisos Basin Visitor Center inside Big Bend National Park, and he’s right. The park is expensive, $20 for a motorcycle, but it’s just as magnificent, if not more so, as the previous 100 miles. Roadrunners dart in front of me constantly and the “Bear Crossing” signs make me wonder how fast I can accelerate. The surrounding mountains bring up memories of the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” I spend a little time at the Visitor Center, my backside reminding me of how long I’ve been in the saddle today, and then head into Terlingua.

West Texas motorcycle ride
Ruins in the Terlingua ghost town. It was tricky riding the gravel trail to reach them on street tires, but worth it.

Famous for its annual chili cook-off and its ghost town, Terlingua is a funky little artist community with tons of character. The El Dorado Hotel is my home for the night, and while it’s far from a luxury resort, it’s comfortable and the attached restaurant is full of good food and good people. I meet up with my Harley friends who buy me the promised beer. After an hour or so of good conversation about motorcycle travel I head to bed thinking back on an extraordinary day, resting up for the long ride to El Paso in the morning. My only regret is not staying longer.

Keep scrolling for more a map and more photos.

West Texas motorcycle ride
A map of the route taken, by Bill Tipton/compartmaps.com.
West Texas motorcycle ride
The front of the iconic church in Shafter, Texas.
West Texas motorcycle ride
Terlingua has the feel of an artist community and you’ll find art everywhere you turn.
West Texas motorcycle ride
The High Sierra Bar & Grill is attached to the El Dorado Hotel and has terrific Mexican food. And cold beer.

12 COMMENTS

  1. Great description. Makes me want to take my future Triumph Bonneville on the same trip. However Robinette needs to write how to get there from my house in Florida first 😉

  2. Good article, although he missed a great ride; the Hwy 118 to 166 loop around the Jeff Davis mountains beginning and ending in Fort Davis, Texas. Stunning scenery!!

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