Two weekends ago Zach and I ventured down near the border to Chinati Hot Springs. The springs are a legendary destination around here, and a must-do on everyone’s list of Big Bend activities. While day-use of the springs used to be allowed, due to their popularity, reservations are required for any type of visit now. We reserved a room in their most affordable (read: cheapest) cabin and took off on Saturday afternoon for some R&R.
There are two ways to reach the hot springs: US 67 to Presidio and FM 170 to Ruidosa OR Pinto Canyon Road. We chose Pinto Canyon Road. Technically the first part of the road is RR 2810 but when the pavement runs out after roughly 32 miles, it becomes Pinto Canyon Road. We had already driven part of RR 2810 before. It’s a stunning drive with vistas of the Davis Mountains to the north and the Chinati Mountains to the south. This time we were excited to finally see what happened when we left the asphalt.
At first, Pinto Canyon Road is rather tame. The road is wide and the dirt well-packed, but once the road crosses into Pinto Canyon Ranch, the road becomes a narrow, rocky roller coaster. We stopped to admire the beauty just before crossing onto the ranch property and there’s no way I could have anticipated the road ahead. We had to drop down into the canyon and we did so by steep decline alongside the cliff’s edge. It was a terrifyingly breathtaking descent on cactus-lined switchbacks brimming with rocks.
After the initial descent into the canyon, the road flattened out and rolled along at a much more pleasant pace. There were several arroyo (wash) crossings which would have been iffy had there been any water, and at a few places we encountered some steep climbs. Overall, Pinto Canyon Road was a stunning drive and one of the best ways to truly experience the Chinati Mountains. It’s rugged and isolated; it’s an experience that cannot be replicated. I would classify it as the most unique driving tour we’ve ever done and a well kept secret of the Big Bend region.
Although it’s only 52 miles from Marfa, it took us right around two hours to reach Chinati Hot Springs. Luckily, we arrived in the afternoon with plenty of daylight left to explore and enjoy the grounds. It’s not a large resort by any means. Tucked into a canyon next to an arroyo, it’s hardly visible from the road above. There are seven cabins of varying sizes available for rent along with camping spots. Our cabin was spacious enough for the two of us and Truman to lounge around and be comfortable.
Shaded by cottonwood trees, the main attraction is a large hot tub filled with water only slightly hotter than a warm bath. It was delightful even in the full heat of the afternoon (85°) but was exquisite the next morning with a cool breeze blowing. There is a cold pool at the top of a small hill which is full in warmer months and guests can alternate between hot and cold waters. Other than bathing, guests can hike out into the canyon or down the arroyo, but we didn’t take advantage of that. Our goal for the weekend was simple: do nothing. We read, we lounged, we drank Tecate, we snacked, we napped, we soaked, and we did nothing. It was wonderful.
On Sunday we pushed our departure back as long as possible and then left the tranquility of the canyon for a slightly faster pace in Marfa – though not by much! Maybe someday, down the road, we’ll be back in the region and we can return, if only for a night.