Ever fed a beer to the mayor and watched him try to eat the can afterward? It’s a popular activity in Lajitas (population 150), where the esteemed mayor is a goat known as the Honorable Clay Henry III who holds court at the Lajitas Trading Post.
Located at the far southwestern edge of Big Bend National Park, the tiny village (pronounced La-HEE-tas) draws visitors for its rugged natural beauty and fancy resort complex. Lajitas, Spanish for “little flat rocks,” was inhabited by Native Americans for centuries before Anglo settlers arrived. Its namesake smooth-rock river bottom was considered one of the best crossings on the Rio Grande between Del Rio and El Paso.
In 1916, Lajitas became a center of intense military activity when Gen. John J. Pershing’s troops established a major cavalry post to protect the U.S. border against Pancho Villa and his bandits. By the late 1970s, the town was virtually abandoned until entrepreneurs arrived to construct a luxury resort complex, drawing travelers from across the world who enjoy a little pampering with their hiking and rafting. The area has also become popular with movie producers, who savor the incredibly untouched 360-degree vantage points.
Aside from chugging beers with the mayor, one of the few activities available in Lajitas is the Barton Warnock Environmental Education Center (one mile east of town on FM 170, 432/424-3327, www.tpwd.state.tx.us, 8 a.m. –5 p.m. daily, $3), showcasing the archeology, history, and natural wonders of the Big Bend region. The center serves as the eastern gateway to Big Bend Ranch State Park and features exhibits and displays dedicated to 570 million years of geological history and the biological landscapes of the Chihuahuan Desert. A self-guided botanical garden highlights the desert’s characteristic flora.
Those looking for a bite to eat in town are in luck, since the two restaurants located in the Lajitas Resort and Spa feature high-quality regional fare. On the upscale side is Ocotillo, with a surprisingly extensive wine list and a menu offering exquisite West Texas wild game dishes, including the requisite rattlesnake cakes. The Candelilla Café features contemporary Southwestern cuisine enhanced with local ingredients like prickly pear cactus, indigenous peppers, and homegrown herbs.
For lodging, there’s nothing else like the remarkable Lajitas Resort and Spa (FM 170, 877/525-4827, www.lajitas.com, rooms range $150–370). This 25,000-acre private estate boasts more than 100 rooms, ranging from modest hotel-sized quarters with cowboy chic décor to spacious and elegant hacienda cottages, all with coffee makers, satellite television (a rare luxury out here), refrigerators, and luxurious amenities. The resort offers myriad packages to choose from, combining lodging options with meals, activities, spa treatments, and day trips. Check the website for available options.
© Andy Rhodes from Moon Texas, 6th Edition