Fighting for the Frontier: Wilderness Tourism Faces High Gas Prices

Wide open spaces and private hikes in wild lands restore the soul, but will high gas prices render the wilderness vacation obsolete, tempting city dwellers to stay closer to home? In the face of New York Times op-ed pieces titled, “Goodbye to the Great American Road Trip,” rural communities tucked in remote corners of the country wonder how they will continue to entice travelers.

“We offer a rare personal connection to the land,” says Beth Nobles, Regional Coordinator of the Texas Mountain Trail. “There aren’t many places left completely untouched in this country, but they’re still here in West Texas in abundance, still very much part of the vacation experience. You can see the land as the earliest Spanish explorers did, as the Apache did, as the early ranchers did. What if vacationers always choose to stay closer
to home, forfeiting the chance to see herds of antelope, or hike a mountain away from the crowds — just you, the clear blue sky, and the trail? What will we lose if they ignore these natural places?”

Though Hollywood knows about the region’s unspoiled landscape, it still remains a well-kept secret. Last year’s Oscar winners, “No Country for Old Men” and “There Will be Blood” were both filmed in the region. Big Bend National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park, allow hikers to enjoy wild desert and mountain trails in relative privacy. Yet just this year, Big Bend made its first appearance on the Texas Governor’s Office listing of “top of mind destinations” a survey of Texans and non-Texans alike. “This is particularly sobering,” says Nobles, “when this incredible national resource, Big Bend National Park, is ranked #25; the outdoor store, Cabela’s is ranked #6 as a Texas destination. Are people eager to shop for outdoor equipment, but not willing to get out to land to enjoy it?”

Even in the face of rising gas prices, Nobles’ organization, a non-profit promoting tourism as part of the state’s Heritage Trails program, and representatives from the tiny community of Fort Davis, Texas and gateway city, Midland, are being aggressive in marketing West Texas to potential travelers. They recently contracted to show a 15-second commercial on a video billboard in Times Square (viewable on YouTube: ) showing women enjoying the dramatic landscapes of Big Bend and the Guadalupe Mountains. The team built a corresponding website ( and will embark on a media blitz in New York in July. The ad will play twice an hour, 18 hours a day, for three months.

“Our focus is giving people the opportunity to see this unique part of the world,” says Brenda Kissko, Travel and Tourism Manager of the Midland Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It makes a great family excursion, solo travel, girlfriend getaway or vacation with your friends.” Midland is the gateway to the Davis Mountains and Big Bend National Park, with the closest airport, Midland International Airport, making it easy and convenient to travel here. Sure, we offer great Texas barbecue and oil fields, but there
is so much more — unique museums, first-class art, hiking, horseback riding, and canoeing through dramatic Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park.”

The rise in gas prices may make such destinations a stretch for families, a sobering situation for small towns everywhere. “We are still the frontier,” says Lisa Nugent of the Fort Davis Chamber of Commerce. “With no stoplights or chain stores, we can offer something completely different from most tourist destinations.” One of this year’s winners of  the National Trust for Historic Preservation(R) Dozen Distinctive Destinations(R) awards, Fort Davis attracts visitors to star parties held by the renowned McDonald Observatory, as well as to Fort Davis National Historic Site, one of the country’s best restored frontier forts. Nestled at the foot of Sleeping Lion Mountain, Fort Davis has been a refuge for Texans for decades, due to its mile-high location and unspoiled mountain
scenery. “We enjoy the same altitude as Denver, but we don’t have much snow,” says Nugent. “That makes us a comfortable place for vacationing and outdoor activities year-round, like hiking, biking and horseback riding.” So far, the numbers are working in West Texas’ favor. Visitation to Big Bend National Park in April and May were the park’s highest ever for those months, and Fort Davis’ hotel/motel and retail tax revenues are up. That’s a trend the partnership running, are working to continue
across the region. “Only by working together, can we get the word out that a West Texas frontier vacation is still worth the investment,” says Nugent, “and that it is still so much fun.” See West Texas from home:

Video Billboard Ad on YouTube:

Texas Mountain Trail Daily Photo Blog:

Trip planning:
  West Texas Trip website:
  Texas Mountain Trail:
  Fort Davis, Texas:
  Midland, Texas:

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