LeBlanc soaks in the outdoor hot tub at Chinati Hot
Springs in Jan. 2015 in West Texas.
at Chinati Hot Springs, with my toes splayed out at the
end of the longest, deepest private bathtub Iíve ever
eased into, the buzz of the city feels a million miles
warm water filling the homemade, cement-walled basin makes
me feel so mellow, in fact, that even the mustard-colored
walls of the El Presidente suite where Iím soaking donít
bother me. Itís bliss.
fair warning: Donít make the trek to West Texas
expecting to find the Four Seasons. The 640-acre
"resort" is situated along a twisty creek in the
bottom of a rocky canyon. Big cottonwood trees along the
banks shade a little oasis held hostage by the prickly,
lizard- and tarantula-populated Chihuahuan desert.
beautiful, though, and these soothing waters lured humans
to this hard-to-get-to corner of Big Bend National Park
for thousands of years before it opened as a resort. Itís
easy to see why. Itís quiet in the desert, and no one
just happens upon this place. You have to be purposely
that takes some effort. By car, you have two choices ó
the gorgeous but mostly unpaved and rugged Pinto Canyon
Road from Marfa, or the mostly paved road from Presidio.
(We chose the rugged, two-hour route from Marfa and loved
every moment. Just be sure you have a high-clearance
vehicle and take your time.)
into the gravel parking lot is like discovering a cool
glass of iced tea waiting for you after youíve hiked 20
miles in the heat. A few big trees spread a leafy umbrella
over the grounds and the rugged Chinati Mountains set a
Burbach, who manages the property, showed us to our cabin
and gave us the nickel tour. She moved here in 2000 from
Fort Worth. "Now thereís no way I could ever go
back," she said. "Itís just the quiet
atmosphere ó no airplanes, no trains, no cars honking.
Itís the total peace and quiet."
of the cabins have private baths, others share a
bathhouse, and thereís a round outdoor tub that holds
five or six folks at once. A cool-water swimming pool is
open only during the summer. The cabins all come with
heating and AC, plus running water and flushing toilets.
Camping is permitted, too.
Kingston family, which owned the property starting in the
1890s, was the first to rent out rooms here in the 1930s.
Then it went through a series of owners, including the
famous Marfa artist and art collector Donald Judd.
Jeff Fort III, the 73-year-old retired CEO of Tyco
International, bought the place from Richard Fenker in
2005, only three of the guest rooms were usable. He
installed a spacious new community kitchen and spruced
things up considerably. For the first time since he bought
Chinati Hot Springs, it turned a profit in 2014, he said.
always liked the place but thought it was really run
down," Fort said by phone after our visit. "The
beautiful waters are the main lure ó crystal clear and
completely drinkable by Texas state standards. Itís
water in the desert, and whenever that happens and itís
managed properly, you get an oasis. Thatís what this
also owns the adjacent Pinto Canyon Ranch, a 62,000-acre
spread that encompasses some of the wildest and wooliest
(and also some of the most gorgeous) terrain in Texas. If
you take Pinto Canyon Road in, youíll drive right
also met Rook, the resident cat, a rescue from a shelter
in Fort Davis. The stocky but sure-footed gray tabby
serves as de facto ambassador of Chinati Hot Springs and,
believe it or not, loves to hike. He led us on two
excursions during our stay ó one up the ridge across the
creek, the other about half a mile down a trickling stream
bed full of tumbled rocks. He raises his hackles to warn
guests if a mountain lion has been nearby, Burbach told
far enough down the creek and youíll find an "art
gallery" of painted rocks wedged into the canyon
walls by local rock and tile artist Kathleen Griffith.
your own groceries. The nearest resupply is 40 miles away
in Presidio. We stocked up in Marfa. Thereís no cell
service or televisions, of course. The springs are open
year-round, but now and then (like the week before we
visited in mid-January), a storm knocks out the power and
everything grinds to a halt. Even the toilets cease to
that seclusion attracts people who like a little solitude.
Actor Daniel Day-Lewis and his wife visited while he was
in West Texas filming "There Will Be Blood,"
according to Fort, the owner.
we cooked our steaks in the community kitchen, we chatted
with Kate Johnson, a 43-year-old teacher at Borough of
Manhattan Community College in New York City. She was
midway through a West Texas road trip, drawn here by
scenes of Big Bend sheíd seen in the recent movie
love hot springs, and this place came up and looked really
cute, really unique," she said.
only disappointment? The water, especially the water in
the big outdoor tub, wasnít hot enough. Still, she liked
the contrast with home.
from New York, you love and appreciate places like this,
where everything slows down, thereís no one behind you
waiting for your spot and no one in front of you whose
spot you want," she said.