This “Big Bend Fun Fact” spurs this post on the “Farm to Market Road 1-70.”
Locals refer to this stretch of highway lovingly as “River Road” or the “Canyon Road.” It runs along the Rio Grande River, where the opposite shore is a view of the mountain vistas of Mexico. There have been numerous articles written about this road. Here’s a lovely excerpt from Texas Monthly (April 2005), On the Road Again, Big Bend by Michael Hall:
The drive is not only one of the prettiest in the state but also one of the oddest, with terrain that goes from serene to severe, sometimes within moments. You’ll see gorgeous vistas, strange shapes, and odd people living in the middle of it all, and you’ll wonder what was going on out here, both 40 million years ago and just last week.
I totally agree with this description. It touches on its uniqueness and is such a good introduction for what I want to share with you!
The views from this road are unforgettable, beyond words to describe, and an absolute must-see-for-yourself! It blows me away every time and I am not exaggerating. Other than the love for my children, this road will always hold a place in my ♥heart♥. Now my travels down FM 170 have been far too few, since it is over an hour to reach from my remote ranch. Of those few, very memorable, and fortunate trips, there are also occasions that have been unforgettable for more than just the views and glory of nature.
Before I begin sharing, I need for you to understand that this is an incredibly windy road – remember it follows the Rio Grande River? My first trip left me rather dizzy and nauseous. The road dips, up and down, from side to side, creeping up slowly, quickly descending. Yes, like a roller-coaster of nature roads! My little ones love it and squeal with delight. Just keep your eyes on the road or passing scenery and it will help you with your equilibrium. At the bottom of this post, I am sharing a video on the trip from Presidio to Terlingua on FM 170. Check it out to view the swerves yourself – over an hour of travel condensed into 12 minutes!
The speed limit is 50 mph, but it is not often posted. What is often posted are limits of 20-35 mph as you enter very curvy stretches of the road. So, what I want to share with you are reasons to . . .
1. Slow down there might be . . . livestock!
It was one of my first drives down the road. I had yet to encounter any livestock on the highway and happened to pass this traffic sign signalling the potential for cattle encounter. I almost snickered, “What? As if . . . ” My car was rounding the curve, slowly with the encouragement of the sign and lo and behold! There on the side of the road standing along the canyon face on a barely large enough strip of road medium was a very large . . . cow!
No joke. My heart stopped for those precious seconds it took for my car to drive past. My eyes wide in bewilderment. When the cow was safely beyond our side view, I was able to breathe! So relieved that the cow did not run for our car. Luckily it was during the day. I have heard stories of nighttime drivers and wildlife like deer running straight for their headlights. In our several years in Big Bend Country, we have not had to file auto insurance on wildlife encounters, but just beware that there is always the potential.
2. Slow down there might be . . . a photographer on the road with a tripod!
So, I mentioned how this road is incredibly scenic – jaw-dropping even. If you peruse the internet, there are numerous photographs from this stretch of road. Looking at some of these amazing images, you may wonder “How did they get that shot?” Especially of the ones of the road itself.
Our car was creeping up, up over a rise. When it reached the peak, the road curved to the left and luckily we were cruising slowly, because the photographer with his tripod needed time to gather his equipment and jump out of the way! It was so close. Recalling it makes me stiffen all over!
Again, bewildered eyes and an unforgettable lesson learned. “Kids do not stand in the road, and yes it is good to slow down once again on this road!” Lots of nodding and exclamations from my little ones. Very satisfied to begin imprinting the dangers of driving in their little minds.
3. Slow down there might be . . . a large RV that will not pull over.
I used to be a city girl where “time is money” and it was a rush-rush existence. In Big Bend Country, I have learned to let things come as they are or wait until next week. It was one of those days, when I happened behind a large and impressively equipped RV that was slowly lumbering down the River Road. Luck was with me and for my psyche that day, because my little ones were beautifully napping the afternoon drive away. So, the day was lining up for a peaceful, scenic, albeit incredibly slow drive that averaged about 25 mph. There are very few areas to pull over on this road, with the canyon face on one side and the river on the other. We were a caravan for a serious stretch before they were able to pull over, allowing us to pass.
4. Pull over and let others pass . . . because they might be driving recklessly.
I think you have figured out that I drive comparatively slow and much more considerately now that I have my precious cargo wherever I go. Here in the wild west, I seldom encounter traffic. Only a temporary result of road construction or maintenance. I admit to a bit of paranoia even, because I seldom have anyone even trailing me. Travels on this road has taught me to let people pass, especially those who are exhibiting a bit of road speed zeal. I would not speed up, because who knows how fast they want to go?
We stop along the road at the Big Bend Ranch State Park scenic stops to play in the Rio Grande. My kids are mud slickers. Absolutely adore being barefoot and wet, conditions that make for the “best days ever!“
Anyhow, it is a mind-boggler, but I have observed people racing haphazardly down this road. Tires squealing, motors revving, vehicles chasing one another up and down and around again. Absolutely terrifying for a mother to watch, because I have seen teenagers spilling out of these vehicles. Because I have seen so many of those decorated crosses on the side of the River Road. Mostly white crosses with contrasting decorative flowers that are stark contrast to the natural setting they are left in. Remembrances of the many that took unnecessary risks on this road and lost their lives, crushing the hearts of those they left behind.
This pretty much wraps up what I wanted to share from driving down this unique stretch of road. Moments that I will never forget from my once-upon-a-city-slicker perspective. Moments other than the utterly jaw-dropping beauty that you MUST see for yourself . . . Did I mention this before or enough for you?
Here’s that video I mentioned by TakeMyTrip.com.
The River Road: Texas FM 170 – Presidio to Terlingua
TakeMyTrip.com also provides a considerate overview of the road with snapshots and descriptors. Click on the image below to read their post.
I hope you had fun on the River Road with me! Please don’t be shy in sharing any of your reflections or experiences driving down scenic drives.
I would love to hear from you.
Have you heard of the River Road before? Any experiences you would like to share?
Every day, every moment is a chance to learn and explore.
Have a great one!
As always, here are a few references for you, in case you would like some lovely books to help plan your Big Bend adventure.
These three listed below are available at
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