This is the real Texas: vast open spaces; longhorn cattle; pickup trucks lined up in front of roadside honky-tonks; and deeply tanned cowboys with sweat-stained hats, slim-cut jeans, and muddy boots. While most of Texas has become quite metropolitan -- the vast majority of the state's residents live in cities -- the plains of West Texas retain much of the Old West flavor. Communities here are generally small and far apart, residents seldom lock their doors, and even the region's biggest city, El Paso, feels like an overgrown small town. For those willing to take the time and effort, this area is filled with gems: a wide range of people, attractions, and activities amid a landscape that's alternately bleak and beautiful.

The region's history and culture come alive at numerous museums and historic sites, such as Spanish missions from the 17th and 18th centuries, several restored frontier forts, and the combination courtroom and saloon used in the late 1800s by Judge Roy Bean, the self-styled "Law West of the Pecos." West Texas also offers some surprises, including one of America's most beautiful caves; the state's oldest winery; a replica of William Shakespeare's famed Globe Theatre; an avant-garde installation art complex in the much-hyped town of Marfa; and numerous lakes, including 67,000-acre Lake Amistad, a national recreation area along the U.S.-Mexico border that is a joint project of both countries.