Big Bend, in remote West Texas, is phenomenal, rugged, high, and dry: a vast expanse of Chihuahuan desert that's renowned for wide-open spaces, historic oil booms, and folk-country legends. It's where cowboy culture meets the avant-garde in arts oases like Marfa, Marathon, and Terlingua. In summer, Big Bend is also hot enough to peel your paint – temperatures regularly soar to around 100 degrees, and the spidery shadows of knee-high cactus don't offer much in the way of shade. But if you know your way to an ice-cold Tecate and a crystal-clear swimming hole ringed by shade trees, you're good – and you'll have most of this wild, friendly, gorgeous country to yourself.
In you have a hankering to make one big, lazy loop from the Davis Mountains down to the Mexican border and through Terlingua, here's your road map:
1. Balmorhea State Park Springs: In Toyahvale, dive into one of the world's largest spring-fed swimming pools: 1.75 acres of sparkling water resupplied daily with up to 28 million gallons from San Solomon Springs.
2. Paisano pool: Swim in the wake of James Dean at the Hotel Paisano pool, where the 'Giant' cast stayed in 1955.
3. The Post swimming hole: Just outside Marathon, cool off in the old Post pond, before drinks at the Gage Hotel.
4. Rio Grande: Kayak through the deep, cool granite canyon at Santa Elena in Big Bend National Park.
5. Chinati Hot Springs: Near Presidio, spend a night in your own adobe cottage; watch the sunset from your outdoor tub.
6. La Kiva Bar: In Terlingua, grab a beer at the subterranean watering hole, La Kiva Bar.
Getting there: From the airport in Midland, drive south to Balmorhea State Park Springs. Continue south to Hotel Paisano, then drive an hour east to the Gage Hotel. After the Rio Grande, visit La Kiva Bar and the Chinati Hot Springs.