Tonight is my final night at the lavish Cibolo Creek Ranch in the Chinati Mountain Range that runs through Big Bend National Park. Somehow I am the only guest staying at this remote mountain hideaway surrounded by lush spring-fed orchards and thriving wildlife. “Looks like you have the whole place to yourself,” General Manager Patrick Gleason says to me. Gleason lives in an apartment on the property, so when the chef leaves, Gleason and I are the only ones left. He and I sit together and watch a thunderstorm rage across the desert in the distance as we dine on pan-seared red snapper.
My departure from the ranch is only eight or 10 hours away, but I’m not ready to leave. I’ve grown accustomed to my life at Cibolo Creek Ranch. It’s the ideal place for taking peaceful naps in a hammock, spotting native wildlife, or participating in the quintessential Texas experience: a real cattle drive. (Cibolo doesn’t claim to be a dude ranch, but cattle drives can be arranged by special request.)
The El Fortin del Cibolo (“the fort of the buffalo”) was founded in 1857 by Milton Faver, who built Cibolo, the first of three forts, to protect his ranching empire from the Comanches and Apaches. Faver died in 1889 and currently rests in a tomb on top of a hill overlooking Cibolo. After the death of his wife and only child in 1913, the ranch passed through several owners, and the three forts fell into disrepair. In 1990, John Poindexter purchased the ranch and began a four-year restoration that currently provides guest accommodations at three historic fort sites—El Cibolo, La Cienega, and La Morita—that meticulously follow the architectural style of the late 1800s, complete with adobe walls and cottonwood beams. The end result is a world-class resort tucked into one of the most pristine wilderness areas in the world, the Chihuahuan Desert.
Chisos Mountain Lodge
Big Bend National Park
Located several miles from main fort El Cibolo—which has 18 guest rooms, a large dining area, swimming pool, whirlpool, and the added luxuries of a game and media room—are La Cienega and La Morita. Though they are more rustic and remote, the rooms are filled with pampering amenities, antiques, and hand-stitched quilts.
The four bedrooms at La Cienega are built within the original walls of the old fort. Each room remains true to its frontier heritage with a faux armoire door hiding the bathrooms in each bedroom. The fort has a private kitchen, dining area, and swimming pool that provide the perfect place for a family to stay.
If you’ve ever dreamed of owning a small cabin in the woods, or you seek an intimate and remote romantic hideaway, then La Morita is for you. Located four miles from La Cienega at the opening of a crimson-colored canyon, La Morita is a comfortable, one-bedroom cottage with an adjoining living area. There’s no kitchen, so meals are either taken at El Cibolo or delivered by the staff.
My first full day at the ranch, I was eager to get out and explore the back roads that navigate the 30,000-acre spread. The rough and rocky roads in the Chinati Mountains were my first destination. I spent the next 20 minutes bouncing around the inside of my Suburban like popcorn in a Jiffy Pop pan. I ascended over 1,000 feet in elevation to a plateau in the mountains that afforded me a panoramic view of the desert below. I was high enough that I should have been able to see El Cibolo from where I stood, but the quadrangle fort had vanished into the tucks and folds of the foothills below. When I looked to the south, I could see the Rio Grande River as it cut a green path through the earth-toned desert. The distant border towns of Presidio and Ojinaga, Mexico, were the only signs of civilization. My view to the north was an endless sea of rocky, brush-covered desert with waves of mountains and mesas.
Because I had spent the whole day driving around the massive ranch, I had missed lunch, and I was hungrily anticipating dinner. I walked up to the veranda that overlooks El Cibolo’s large spring-fed reservoir and sat down with a bird-watching group that was staying at the ranch en route to Big Bend National Park. The group quickly took me under their wing, and I felt like I was dining with close friends. Our salad was a mix of organic greens topped with warm goat cheese and a port vinaigrette dressing. But as the evening’s entrée was served, I feared the spirit of the evening would take a turn for the worse.
There in front of me was a plate of wild rice pilaf and broccoli with a whole, grilled, honey-glazed quail perched on top. Slowly my eyes circled the table of birders looking for signs of a mutiny. Without hesitation, they started cutting, slicing, and chewing. I finally spoke up. “Do any of you guys find it ironic that you’re a bird-watching group and they served you quail?” A roar of laughter rolled through the group and someone exclaimed, “Some birds are better to eat than watch!”
After dinner and dessert of jalapeño carrot cake with tequila-lime frosting, I strolled back to my room, with its 21st-century amenities disguised behind 19th-century antiques, and climbed the step stool to a tall bed covered with a plush comforter and down pillows. With the small adobe fireplace burning in the corner (and thankfully no TV), I fell asleep listening to the sound of water flowing through the courtyard in acequias (small channels that direct water from nearby springs).
As the rainstorm moves out of sight, Gleason and I finish dinner and say our goodbyes. Not quite ready to retire, I set out for an evening stroll to take in one last moment of serenity before I head back to city life.
I leave the adobe walls of the fort and walk north along a gravel path that parallels one of the narrow little streams. The evening air is cool, crisp, and fresh from the thunderstorm. As I walk along the path, the sun over my left shoulder drops into oblivion behind the mountains, illuminating the valley with a golden hue of filtered sunlight. The further I walk down the path, the taller and greener the trees become. I round a bend in the trail, hike up a small incline, and enter one of the most fantastic settings I’ve ever seen.
I am standing in a rolling green meadow with a small pond and a strategically placed hammock. Several flowing springs sprout from the carpet of grass and feed a tiny forest. I can’t shake off the strange sensation that I’m not in Texas. I feel like I’m in a high alpine meadow deep in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. It’s a sensation I’ve grown accustomed to during my stay at Cibolo Creek Ranch. Traveling around the ranch is like transcending time and space. Drive into the mountains and you feel like you’re on another continent. Walk into La Cienega or La Morita and you expect to find Faver himself waiting for you. Or spend the evening dining on an elegant meal of pan-seared red snapper with mushrooms in demi-glace and you might think you were in Manhattan.
Brandon Weaver is a freelance writer who often writes about endurance sports.
Just the Facts
What you need to know before you go.
Where to Stay
Prices range from $275 to $600 and include three gourmet meals a day. Guest accommodations are provided in three separate sites. El Cibolo is the largest, with 18 guest rooms, a heated pool, Jacuzzi, game and media room, stocked reservoir, and an area for shooting sporting clays. La Cienega has four guest rooms, its own kitchen and dining area, and a heated pool. La Morita is a small cottage with one bedroom adjoined by a living area.
How to Get There
Fly: From Midland or El Paso, it’s a scenic three-hour drive.
What to Do