National Parks

Destination West Texas: Fort Lancaster and the Marfa Lights

There's a lot of work in the back of the SUV. West Texas, Road trip,
A lot of work to load up the SUV. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

West Texas Road trips are great IF you plan ahead. This is especially true if you want to get away over a school break. With my three kids it takes everything I got to get them to turn in their homework, let alone pack up the SUV for a road trip. Yet here I am packing up at the last minute for a West Texas road trip.

The carful of kids want to explore West Texas and Big Bend for the first time. After a little research and some reservations, I have the itinerary done. Once we leave Interstate 10 in West Texas, the conveniences get a little sparse; I’m packing lots of food and extra water.

All loaded in the back of the SUV? Now, that’s the hard part.

Ready to go and on the road at 8 a.m. as the carful of kids aim the SUV west, rolling across the Texas Hill Country towards Junction, Texas, on State Highway 29. Our final destination for the day, Alpine, deep in the heart of far West Texas, is just beyond the horizon.

Road Trip Eats

A couple of hours into the drive we’re ready for some pancakes so our first stop is Storm’s Drive-In in Burnet. A local breakfast and burger joint in operation since 1950. According the locals, they also serve up a juicy cheeseburger if you’re driving through after breakfast.

 

 A late breakfast stop at Storm's in Burnet, is great when you leave EARLY. Storm's in Burnet, West Texas Road Trip with kids
I have to stop at local places along the way. A late breakfast stop at Storm’s in Burnet, is great when you leave EARLY. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

 

Outside of Junction, Texas, we merge onto Interstate 10 and thanks to the 80 mph speed limit, the miles start to rip by. Our next stop, Fort Lancaster State Historic Site, is between Ozona and Sheffield, off State Highway 290 West which loops back to I-10.

Fort Lancaster State Historic Site

Fort Lancaster State Historic Site, located at 629 Fort Lancaster Road, Sheffield, Texas, is open every day except major holidays (9 a.m to 5 p.m.). Admission is $4 for adults, $3 for kids 6 to 18 and free for kids under 5.

Fort Lancaster loaned us a golf cart to ride to the remnants of the old fort. West Texas Road Trip with kids. Sheffield, Texas, Lancaster State Historical Park
Fort Lancaster loaned us a golf cart to ride to the remnants of the old fort. Kids love history when they don’t have to walk. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Fort Lancasteris one the forts erected along the San Antonio-El Paso Road toprotect pioneersen route to California. All that remains today are the foundations of the old buildings yet this site has lots to offer.

Did I tell you they have a golf cart you can borrow to check out the fort?Suddenly the carful of kids HAVE to see every last building foundation.

Looking for an educational stop along Interstate 10 to stretch the legs. Fort Lancaster State Historical Park,
Looking for an educational stop along Interstate 10 to stretch the legs. This is it. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Since kids love a picnic use the covered picnic area. The restaurant choices are slim in West Texas.

Next time, add historical sites to your itinerary. Boys especially love the adventure that old forts conjure up.

Old Forts excite boys more than I knew. Really, it's like they are walking through a Western. West Texas Road Trip, Fort Lancaster,
Old Forts excite boys more than I knew. Really, it’s like they are walking through a Western.

Fort Stockton, Texas

The carful of kids are back on the road and headed west. Next up, we stop in Fort Stockton, the largest town in-between San Antonio and El Paso, for last-minute gas and groceries.

There’s a rule when driving in West Texas, if you see gas–buy gas, you just never know when you will see it again. They have a Wal-mart which will be the last one for days so if you forgot it and need it–get it in Fort Stockton or go without.

Alpine, Texas

Alpineis the county seat for Brewster county and home to Sul Ross State University. It’s the largest town in Far West Texas. I reserved a room here with points at the Best Western Alpine Inn–gotta love a free room with breakfast. After getting into town, we stopped by a diner for a quick bite.

Marfa Lights, a West Texas Legend

Next stop is the Marfa Lightsviewing station, a West Texas legend, 18 miles west of Alpine on US Highway 67. There’s parking off the highway with a nice viewing area complete with telescopes and bathrooms.

The Marfa Lights are a West Texas legend ripe for teens.
The Marfa Lights are a West Texas legend ripe for teens.

A trip out to West Texas isn’t complete without staring into the dark for the mysterious lights on the horizon where there are no roads or houses. It’s really dark and in the winter, it’s really COLD.

If you really want to have a chance to see the Marfa Lights, the best chance to catch them is in the wee hours of the morning. Skip this if you have little kids. If you have teens, bring a book, you might be here for a while.

The Marfa Lights Viewing Area has telescopes and bathrooms, great if you are staying for a while. West Texas Road Trip,
The Marfa Lights Viewing Area has telescopes and bathrooms, great if you are staying for a while.

Know before you go:

  • If forts don’t excite your kids check out the Caverns of Sonora, conveniently located along I-10 in Sonora, Texas, 186 miles northwest from San Antonio.
  • Marfa Lights Viewing Station features restrooms.

Catherine Parker has a passion for travel and seen all 50 U.S. States. As a former flight attendant with one of the largest airlines, there isn't a North American airport that she hasn't landed in at least once. Since clipping her professional wings after 9/11, she combines her love of the open road with visiting architectural and cultural icons. She is based out of Central Texas dividing her time between writing and restoring a 95-year-old house. She shares her life with her three kids and her husband.

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