When you travel to this restored fort in West Texas for horseback riding, hiking, and good old-fashioned R&R, you’re going back in time in style.
I feel like an extra on the set of a classic old western as I drive down the long gravel road leading to the main lodge at Cibolo Creek Ranch. Off to one side, a dozen shaggy brown bison clop their way down a rocky embankment into a muddy pond. A vulture soars overhead, riding the heat thermals on a warm afternoon. Ahead of me in the distance, the coffee-colored adobe walls of an old fort rise against a backdrop of grayish-green cactus-spiked hills.
As soon as I step inside the foot-thick walls of that meticulously restored fort, I want to tug off my boots, sink into a leather couch, and stay a while. And the good news? I can.
John Poindexter, a wealthy Houston businessman, bid on this property at a courthouse auction in 1989. A third-generation Texan, he wanted to buy a ranch, and the dramatic setting of this one, located about 30 miles south of Marfa in the Chinati Mountains of West Texas, fit the bill. It’s situated within daytripping distance of Big Bend National Park, the Davis Mountains, and Big Bend Ranch State Park.
Early cattle baron Milton Faver, who’d allegedly fled to Texas from Missouri after killing a man in a duel, founded the spread in 1857. Remote and ringed with low mountains, the land features springs, canyons, mesas, and three historic forts, built to fend off attacks by Apaches, Comanches, and bandits.
Faver put 20,000 head of longhorn cattle on his new ranch, channeled spring water into canals to irrigate fields, and grew enough peaches to make his own peach brandy. He also ran a mercantile in Presidio, 30 miles to the south, and supplied goods to nearby Fort Davis. Life was good, considering the harsh conditions and remote location.
After Faver died in 1889, the ranch passed to his family and, eventually, was sold. The forts didn’t fare well. Adobe walls disintegrated and eventually fell into disrepair.
Poindexter wanted to restore it to the way it looked in Faver’s time. After acquiring the property, he set to work restacking stone fences, restoring irrigation channels to working order, and building gravel roads. He repaired the adobe forts, too, paying attention to detail.
Crews made replacement adobe bricks using local mud and painted them in traditional colors. They tucked air conditioning units out of sight and concealed electric controls and plumbing. Cibolo is a Spanish and Native American term for American bison (buffalo), and over the years Poindexter even reintroduced bison, native elk, and wild turkey to these remote hills.
Cibolo Creek Ranch opened as an exclusive resort in 1994. “Like anybody visiting the place, to me it’s always new, always exciting to come here,” Poindexter says. “I think we’ve done something semi-extraordinary — we’ve restored a 19th-century property. The art, the sculptures, the landscaping, the brush clearance, the road, the fences, the building, the furnishings, the staffing — it’s been a very resource-consuming effort, and I take some degree of satisfaction in the results.”
Today, Cibolo Creek Ranch is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places; Faver is buried in a glistening white adobe tomb at the top of a small hill behind the main fort. Along with Mick Jagger and Miranda Lambert, guests have included all sorts seeking peace and quiet and an inspiring location, including Tommy Lee Jones, who shot scenes for The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada here.
My husband and I made the seven-and-a-halfhour trip from Austin to the 30,000-acre property by car, but guests with more resources than me — movie stars craving the privacy and anonymity the ranch affords, for example — can fly in and land on the ranch’s own 5,300-foot asphalt runway.
After dropping our bags in a room in the hacienda adjoining the main fort, we quickly discover some things the ranch’s original inhabitants likely didn’t have: a sparkling swimming pool and outdoor hot tub, an impressive collection of artwork, burbling fountains, and well-appointed rooms. Outside, guests can rock in chairs overlooking a spring-fed lake or scan the skies with a telescope set up on a lakeside patio. “We say the stars are the size of dimes,” Poindexter says. And to take full advantage, there’s a firepit and stargazing parties.
We spend an hour after our arrival rambling the grounds. The two watchtowers of the main fort serve as pocket museums. We peruse the displays — stone spear points and arrowheads found on the property, old photographs of the original forts as well as Milton Faver and his wife Francisca, and an entire room filled with antique weapons, including a cannon and an assortment of rifles. We peer into a small restored 19th-century chapel in one side of the fort and admire the altar along with Spanish, Mexican, and American antiques tucked in every corner.
“It’s immersing yourself in an earlier time, the beauty of the mountains, and the majesty,” says Poindexter, who lives in Houston, but flies to the ranch every month or so to supervise the never-ending stream of projects and soak in the quiet of the desert. “We’re trying to make it a tribute to how this country used to look.”
Guests head out for a panoramic tour of the Chinati Mountains in open-air Humvees. The tour showcases Native American rock art, ruins at Shafter’s ghost town, and native wildlife (Photography: Courtesy of Cibolo Creek Ranch).
He checked government archives and sorted through Faver family memorabilia as he tried to restore the ranch to the way it looked in the mid-1800s. He planted native grasses in some areas. And inside buildings, he made sure modern conveniences were hidden.
Besides the main Cibolo Fort, where I’m staying, there’s the even more secluded Cienega Fort, used for large private groups, or the romantic, single-room La Morita cottage next to a third fort.
My room is spacious and Old West-cool, with its own fireplace, a seating area, and a bathroom big enough for a football team, complete with a giant tub, shower, two toilets, and a bidet.
Poindexter tells me he’s always working on something out at the ranch, and the next day, as I explore a little farther from the fort, I understand what he means. Crews are busy clearing brush out of the creek bed near the sporting clay range. Construction is underway on two new rooms at the end of the hacienda next to the small lake.
I’m nursing a torn ACL, so I skip the hiking and horseback riding and hitch a ride on an all-terrain vehicle for a ranch tour instead. We chug up a steep hillside for a view of what our guide says is the second-tallest waterfall in Texas. It hasn’t rained much lately, so it’s more of a silver trickle that spills down a canyon wall, but the waterfall — and a small spring on the other side of the fort — reminds me that water exists even in a desert. We drive through blooming ocotillo and agave to the top of a mesa, where we get a bird’s-eye view of the main fort where we’re staying. Lizards skitter out of our way and a snake slithers into the underbrush.
I can see why this ranch, with its wide-open spaces, rocky outcroppings, and cactus-studded hillsides, has been used as a movie set. Scenes from the James Dean movie Giant, along with parts of The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, There Will Be Blood, and No Country for Old Men were filmed here.
The Cibolo Creek Ranch on-site culinary team serves up Mexican-inspired authentic Southern cuisine. The ranch, where the history of distilling goes back to the 1800s, makes its own brand of the Mexican spirit sotol (Photography: Courtesy of Cibolo Creek Ranch).
After the tour, we head back to the fort for lunch, and then it’s time to really relax. I meet Diana Wassef and Patrick Manian, who operate a teahouse in the desert near Presidio and run Big Buddha Bakery in Marfa. They lead us in a meditation and tea ceremony in the fort’s courtyard. I realize then that sipping tea isn’t about what’s in the cup — it’s about slowing down, focusing on the sounds of nature, and making a connection with yourself and those around you. Birds chirp and water burbles from a nearby fountain as we drink three bowls of amber-colored Pu’erh tea. “We often think of tea as an everyday beverage,” Manian says. “I hope to bring it one notch deeper.”
I hold on to the sense of serenity that evening, when we gather with other guests around the long communal table for dinner. The table discussion swirls around the beauty of desert plants as we sip margaritas and eat grilled quail, mashed sweet potatoes, and pecan pie. We meet an artist from New Mexico, a gallery owner from Marfa, and a doctor from Dallas, all here to revel in a fort no longer used for defense.
And as I peek out at the night sky, my mind entertains what could be a scene from a western from those long-ago days. If a cowboy from the 1850s suddenly walked through the gates of this ranch, he’d feel right at home under this starry, starry sky, just like I do.
In addition to preserving its historical character, Cibolo is committed to commissioning and collecting fine art, including several sculptures by Scott Rogers representing Old West heritage (Photography: Courtesy of Cibolo Creek Ranch).
This article appears in our January 2024 issue.
For more information about Cibolo Creek Ranch, visit cibolocreekranch.com.
Lead Image: Cibolo Creek Ranch boasts breathtaking sunrises and sunsets (and pure-dark night skies and superlative stargazing) thanks to its pristine location far from light pollution.