The Rio Grande River shown above is the natural border between U.S. and Mexico. The roller coaster road FM-170 follows the river from Study Butte to Presidio, TX
We planned to get an early start for our planned ride on FM-170 from Study Butte to Presidio, TX. We knew we had a ride of 100 mi just to get to Study Butte, then ride the ~70 miles of FM-170, then get back to Fort Davis before dark. The day turned out to be super windy and cold with a temperature of 40 F. Mike had to re-hook up the electric heat on the motorcycles, and that took about 30 min. Once we got going, my engine light lit up, so we turned around, and Mike checked out the bike’s computer and found that the engine light was lighting up due to an engine exhaust problem. That had been a common computer glitch on Mike’s Triumph and were pretty sure my Triumph was just glitching too. We therefore got out of Fort Davis around 10:30 am. It was still windy and cold, but our Gerbing jackets and gloves kept us warm. We had full tanks but even though Alpine is only 24 mi from Fort Davis, we wanted a short break so filled up again. By the time we rode the 80 mi to Study Butte, it was time for lunch at Chili Pepper Cafe. They have good service and good breakfasts and lunches.
We tried to fill up at the Alon gas station in Study Butte (at the intersection of TX-118 and FM-170), but the gas pumps were not working. The cashier said the next gas station was in Lajita, on FM-170, 17 miles west of Study Butte. Thank goodness this gas station was on our route or we would have had to wait until the Alon station in Study Butte had its pumps working again. We only have about a 140 mile range on our bikes (Triumph Daytona 675R). If we had not filled up in Alpine, we would have been sweating it trying to get back to Study Butte to wait for the Alon gas station pumps to work. This lack of a reliable gas source made me realize that most of the local motorcyclists were thinking we are really crazy riding sport bikes down here where gas stations are few and far between. It turned out that the Lajitas General store only carried regular gas, and although our Triumphs like the Plus grade, we had no choice, and filled up. This is a good warning for all you riders out there thinking about riding in this area: make sure you know where the reliable gas stations are and whether your bike has the range to get to them. In the past we rode Suzuki 650 V-Stroms; I was sincerely missing the >250-mile range on the V-Stroms up until we rode into Lajitas.
Riding the River Road (FM-170) was pretty awesome. It was very curvy in most places and went up and down like a roller coaster. The road at its steepest has a 15% grade up and down. At one point, a warning sign warns that there is a hill ahead, and yes that hill is even a much steeper hill that the previous hills, and once the super steep hill starts on the down side it curves, Wow! Unfortunately the road is bumpy; it is not a smooth ride; one has to take the ride pretty easy to maintain control. For us, it was a bucket-list road to ride, and won’t ride it again this year. Locals probably learn the road and can ride it a little harder (maybe).
The road (FM-170) straightens up about 10 miles before Presidio, TX, and then the 59 mi of US-67 from Presidio to Marfa is in good condition and only a little curvy. There will be a Border Patrol station before Marfa where a control agent may check U.S. citizenship. The ride to Marfa goes really quickly. The 21 mi of TX-17 from Marfa to Fort Davis is a very straight shot. You will be in Fort Davis before you know it. We were back by 5:30 pm even though we had lunch, had gas issues, and made a few stops for photos and bathroom breaks. If you decide to ride the reverse direction back to Fort Davis from Study Butte, there will be a border control station about 12 miles south of Alpine, so be prepared. As previously described, it was cold when we started out in the morning, but it was HOT from Study Butte to Presidio. And it was March; I can’t imagine riding FM-170 in the summer, ouch. It then cooled down again between Presidio and Marfa all the way to Fort Davis.
The detailed riding route with pictures is shown below:
Fort Davis→TX-118 S→Study Butte→FM-170→Presidio→TX-67 N→Marfa→TX-17→Fort Davis – 260 mi
From Fort Davis, TX, intersection of TX-17 and TX-118 S on south side of town,
Southeast on TX-118 S to Alpine; Go 23 mi.
Once in Alpine, there will be an Exon on TX-118 on the left. Continue southeast on TX-118 S/ N 5th St for 1.6 mi once in town.
Left onto TX-118 S/E Holland Av at 2nd blinking light; Go 0.4 mi.
Right onto S Cockrell St/TX-118 S at next blinking light; Go 0.2 mi.
TX-118 S/S Walker St will curve to the left to get out of town. Go 77.3 mi
Right at Post Office before Study Butte to Chili Pepper Café. Park at the post office if you want to park on a paved surface.
Right/east out of Chili Pepper Café onto TX-118 S Go 0.2 mi to get gas
Gas at Alon (acros street from Big Bend Motor Inn) on left side of TX-118 (103 mi to here)
North/ west out of gas station on FM170 Go ~55.0 mi.and continue straight through Redford for another 16 mi.
Marianne, below, at the Three Tepee Rest Area on FM-170. This rest area has three cement tepees with a picnic bench under each tepee is easily seen from the road. It is before Redford and allows a view of the Rio Grande River after a short walk.
Mike, below, near his bike on one of the few straight sections of FM-170.
Continue straight ~16 mi on FM-170 to Presidio.
In Presidio, coming in on FM-170/4th St, left onto FM170/Millington Blvd/O’Reillly St. Go 1.8 mi to gas station (Exon on left) once FM-170’s name changes to O’Reilly St. This will be 66.6 mi from the Alon gas station in Study Butte.
Coming out of the Exon gas station, cross over FM-170 from Exon and take a left onto US-67 N/FM-170. Alternately, continue on O’Reilly St until it turns into BUS-67 which curves to the right. Then turn right onto US-67 N.
Once on US-67 N, continue to Marfa going through Shaftner, 58.9 mi
In Marfa, all gas stations are on US-90 to the right and left of intersection with US-67/S Highland Ave.
After crossing over US-90, follow signs for TX-17 which will direct you to take a Right onto E Lincoln. Go one block, then Left onto TX-17 N and go 21 mi to Fort Davis.
More helpful information:
Other restaurants after Chili Pepper café in Study Butte (Note – we did not eat at any of these):
Cafe at the Alon gas station
FM-170 – Rio Bravo
In Terliqua – Long Draw Pizza, High Sierra Bar and Grill, Starlight Theatre, Wallys Pole and Grill
Other points of interest on FM-170:
Barton Warnock Visitor’s Center on left before Lajitas
Lajitas General Store and gas (only regular)
Three tepee picnic area on FM-170 with short walk to view of Rio Grande river
Presidio – gas (Exon) on FM-170/O Reilly St