Located approximately 60 miles west of Big Bend, Presidio (population 4,167) is known for its stunning scenery and its status as the only legal border crossing between El Paso and Del Rio.
Evidence of Native-American tribes farming the fertile floodplains in the area dates to the 1200s, and the Spanish had a presence here beginning in the 1500s. As was the case in other areas of Texas, the Spaniards felt it was their mission to “civilize” the native groups, despite their proven ability to successfully cultivate crops, construct sturdy adobe homes, and practice their own religions.
The 1800s saw the arrival of Anglo settlers, including the controversial frontiersman Ben Leaton, who constructed a large fortress and ostracized locals. In recent decades, Presidio has gained a reputation as the end-point of perhaps Texas’s most scenic drive, the breathtaking River Road (FM 170) featuring dramatic canyon views and stunning topographic changes along the Rio Grande coming from Lajitas.
Presidio’s other claim to fame is not quite as enjoyable—its distinction as the hottest town in Texas. In June, temperature gauge capacities are put to the test with astronomical highs averaging 103 degrees.
Presidio’s only real tourist attraction is Fort Leaton State Historic Site (FM 170 at Loma Palona Road, 915/229-3613, www.tpwd.state.tx.us, 8 a.m.–4:30 p.m. daily), an enormous adobe home built by Leaton in 1848 on the site of former Spanish settlement known as El Fortin de San Jose. Leaton is still considered a controversial figure by Mexican Americans. Originally employed by the Mexican government as a Native-American scalp hunter, Leaton reportedly later encouraged Native-American raids on Mexican villages by trading weapons and ammunition for stolen livestock. To this day, locals of Mexican descent refuse to call the site Fort Leaton, opting instead to use its original name “el Fortin.”
Regardless, the impressive structure is still worth visiting, with more than half of its 40-plus original rooms featuring fully restored adobe walls and roofs with cottonwood beams and rails. Experience West Texas history through the informative exhibits and the region’s vernacular architecture in the home’s charming living and guest quarters, kitchen, dining room, and outbuildings.
© Andy Rhodes from Moon Texas, 6th Edition