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Daytripper with Chet Garner: Van Horn

(Photo © Eric Stephen)

If you’ve ever made the long haul to or from El Paso, then you have likely already visited Van Horn to refuel and refresh before getting back on the road. However, for those looking for a little adventure, there’s much more to this desert town than the truck stops along Interstate 10.

9:00 a.m.  I headed to Papa’s Pantry for the house specialty: green huevos rancheros. Unlike the traditional red sauce used on this classic dish, Papa’s uses green chiles to create a creamy, spicy, mouth-wateringly good trip to breakfast wonderland. After sopping up every last drop on homemade tortillas, I was ready for another round, but decided it best to start exploring.

10:00 a.m.  Van Horn lies in the Chihuahuan Desert near the foothills of the Sierra Diablo, Beach, and Delaware mountains. For a guided trip through this rugged terrain, I joined a Red Rock Ranch Tour into the McVay Ranch. We traveled through canyons of Precambrian sandstone carved by wind, water, and time. We viewed Native American pictographs and visited the movie set for Dead Man’s Walk (a prequel to Lonesome Dove), filmed here in the mid-1990s. With no signs of modern civilization to be seen, it was easy to imagine how the settlers must have felt when they first set foot on this wild frontier.

1:00 p.m.  I headed to Rodney’s Coffee Café, a local gathering spot. I ordered Rodney’s daily special, which that day con-sisted of fried catfish, fried shrimp, and fries. As I dove into my golden-brown fare, I instantly realized why every table was packed.

2:00 p.m.  I started a tour of town with a drive down Broadway Street, lined with hotel after hotel for weary travelers. I stopped to admire the crumbling façade of a courthouse-sized chateau started by a duke in 1885 before he ran out of money and skipped town on his creditors. Next up, I rolled into Los Nopales (with its Fancy Junk and Unusual Objects sign) to view sculptures made of twisted iron and glass resembling giant ants, dragons, and a grotto.

3:00 p.m.  Eager to learn more about this desert oasis, I headed to the Clark Hotel Historical Museum, a turn-of-the-century railroad lodge turned county museum. The bottom floor was packed with exhibits on native tribes, stagecoaches, railroads, and mining, with the upper floor feeling eerily untouched from its old days as a hotel, complete with dim lighting, creaking floors, and period-dressed mannequins around every corner.

4:30 p.m.  Back in the sunshine, I crossed the street to explore the inviting Hotel El Capitan, built in 1930. With the re-
cent renovations to this Southwest-inspired masterpiece, I could easily imagine the lobby full of cattlemen and cross-country travelers looking for a place to kick off their boots and relax. Looking to unwind as well, I grabbed a margarita from the hotel bar and found a table on the outdoor courtyard surrounded by the sounds of the flowing fountain and warm West Texas breeze.

6:00 p.m.  As the desert air grew cooler, I followed the footsteps of a legend to Chuy’s Restaurant, which has been around since 1959 serving legendary Mexi-can food to legendary folks including football player, coach, and commentator John Madden. As a well-known nonflyer, Madden’s epic road trips required epic grub, which is why he frequently stopped at Chuy’s and even inducted it into his “Haul of Fame.” 
While Madden was nowhere to be seen, I did find his reserved seat and ordered his favorite dish, the “Madden Special,” consisting of juicy chunks of chicken served on a fajita platter with sizzling onions, peppers, and a light cheese sauce. I can confidently vouch that Madden has very good taste.

Next time you find yourself in the mountains of West Texas, make some time to stop and explore Van Horn. Your spirit, your stomach, and I’ll bet even John Madden will be happy you did. So, whether you follow my footsteps or forge your own path, I hope to see you on the road.

For more information, contact the Van Horn Convention and Visitors Bureau, 866/424-6939.

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