“Regularly voted the most scenic drive in Texas….” As soon as I read this in the BIG BEND AND TEXAS MOUNTAINS TRAVEL GUIDE, I had to see River Road, also called Farm to Market 170, 49.8 miles of an 184-mile-long Texas highway that’s close to traveling ecstasy.
For Ruth & me, 170 began at Study Butte a few miles east of the fairly typical Terlingua ghost town and ended at Presidio. We didn’t venture further because Rand McNally calls its continuation an “Other road, conditions vary” all the way to Candelaria.
The Barton Warnock Environmental Center is a worthwhile 3 Compass stop in Lajitas offering an extensive Chihuahuan Desert interpretive center and a rather neglected garden with some interesting flora like the Rainbow cactus above.
The entire Lajitas to Presidio stretch of 170 passes through Big Bend Ranch State Park, the largest in the Texas Parks system. The Nature Conservancy of Texas bought the Fresno Ranch in 2008 where in the 1930s Winnie Smith, thanks to a spring, cultivated a notable rose garden and a legendary orange tree.
Along 5 Compass 170 are healthy stands of prickly pear and frequent Rio Grande views. It rises dramatically to thrilling vistas showing double curves ahead and then descends to dry wash valleys often with river access. It’s so constantly panoramic that it took us, the only travelers on the road, two hours to drive the first 10 miles.
The most interesting stop was an actual movie set called Rancheria, a cluster of deteriorating buildings adjacent to the Rio Grande that were constructed in 1985 for a western comedy and were later used in successful movies like 1995’s Streets of Laredo. So far, 9 films have been made here. There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men are 2 other films recently made in the area.
The entire designated-scenic stretch of 170 passes through only one town, Redford, 16 miles from Presidio. Home to a Franciscan mission in the 17th century, Redford is now surrounded by cultivated fields. According to Jenny Odintz of The Handbook of Texas Online, Redford, when new, was appropriately known as El Polvo, Spanish for “the dust”.
We passed the Fort Leaton State Historic Site, an adobe 19th century trading post and Texas State Historic Site close to Presidio. It appeared to be closed for the holidays, but we didn’t have time to stop anyway since we had dawdled so long on 170.