The usual approach to Big Bend National Park
is along one of two long roads starting from Alpine or Marathon on US 90, the main cross-state route in the south of Texas. As with other lonely towns on this route like Marfa and Sanderson, these towns are small, with rather a faded appearance and offer few facilities.
The most scenic of the two roads is US 385 from Marathon, a 69 mile drive to the park visitor center past deserted land that becomes gradually more mountainous and impressive, especially around the Persimmon Gap
- a narrow opening in a lengthy rocky ridge that runs northwest from near Alpine to the Rio Grande in the southeast. The only major side road is FM 2627 which follows beneath this ridge further eastwards, into the Black Gap Wildlife Management Area
TX 118 from Alpine is even longer (81 miles to the park boundary), and more barren; it passes another Wildlife Management Area (Elephant Mountain) and also has no villages en route apart from Study Butte
, an atmospheric settlement of little more than one hundred people; formerly a home to workers at nearby mercury mines this now is a useful place to reprovision and learn about local events. Apart from TX 118, the only other road out of town is FM 170 - this crosses colorful lands past the semi-abandoned former mining center of Terlingua
, on to Lajitas and into Big Bend Ranch State Park