Life in Van Horn, the Texan town that is Jeff Bezos’s gateway to the stars

Inside the otherwordly base where Blue Origin made its terrestrial home

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Located south of the middle of nowhere, Van Horn, Texas, appears not to have much to offer the average traveller — aside from its being the site of one of the world's premier space flight companies.

Founded in 2000, Blue Origin is Amazon founder Jeff Bezos's billion-dollar private space flight firm that has successfully launched three manned flights, with plans for more.

And Mr Bezos found the perfect home for his company in the mid-2000s: over 66,000 hectares of flat, dry land — perfect for launching rockets — situated about 40 kilometres from Van Horn.

Van Horn's closest major cities are El Paso, two hours to the west, and Fort Stockton, two hours to the east. Most I-10 travellers whizz right past Van Horn or use it as a pit stop before rolling on towards Tucson or Phoenix in Arizona.

Over the course of last year, however, Van Horn — which relied heavily on tourism even before Blue Origin came along — received a major economic boost as astrophiles flooded the town, eager to witness wealthy rocketeers jetting off to space.

But apart from the rockets' red glare, why would anyone want to visit the quiet town of 2,000 people?

It turns out there's a lot to love about Van Horn, if you know where to look.

Hotel El Capitan is one of the most popular places to stay not only in west Texas, but in the whole state. Photo: Thomas Millard

Stay

If you decide to stay the night in Van Horn to catch a glimpse of one of Mr Bezos's rockets leaving the atmosphere, there are several comfortable places to stay, with the historic Hotel El Capitan being the crown jewel.

Built in 1930 by the Gateway Hotel Chain, the pueblo-style building was designed by famed architect Henry Trost.

It has 50 guest rooms and suites, some with private terraces and mini-courtyards with fountains, a handsome lobby with a cosy fireplace, and a gift shop packed with unique, eco-friendly souvenirs, such as locally sourced honey and handmade soaps.

If pitching a tent or parking a caravan is more your speed, Van Horn has numerous options, some with swimming pools, horse corrals and dog parks as well as all the amenities one might expect when sleeping under the stars — trailer hookups, toilets and cleared pitch pads.

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The Clark Hotel Museum is one of the oldest structures in Van Horn and was completed in 1910.

Trapped in time, some of the hotel's rooms have been preserved to show what life was like for the oilmen, ranchers and railway engineers who stayed under its roof.

Other rooms hold artefacts from the town as well as oddities that former guests left behind.

The original bar is still intact and there's even an ore car from the Hazel Silver Mine, once the second-largest producing mine in the state, parked on site for visitors to see.

But the real place to play in Van Horn is outdoors.

Hikers and bikers love the town due to its proximity to Guadalupe Mountains National Park, located less than an hour to the north.

El Capitan is the southernmost point of this epic mountain range, and at 2,464 metres above sea level, it is the eighth-highest peak in Texas. Its challenging terrain and distinct silhouette have made it famous among nature-lovers.

Wildlife is also plentiful in and around the area, with grey foxes, desert cottontails, black-tailed jackrabbits, ringtails and rock squirrels common sights, though rare glimpses of mountain lions and packs of javelinas are also possible.

If a scenic drive is more your thing, Carlsbad Caverns is only an hour and a half away.

You can also schedule a private tour of the popular destination of Red Rocks Ranch, which also features camping.

Jeff Bezos bought Longfellow Ranch in 2005, the same time the billionaire bought 66,773 hectares in West Texas. Photo: RanchWork

Jeff Bezos's favourite haunts

But what does Jeff Bezos get up to in Van Horn?

Though there were several sightings of the tycoon back in the early 2000s, Mr Bezos and wife Lauren Sanchez are not habitués of Van Horn's Cattle Company restaurant and they have yet to be spotted at Chuy's — though Tom Hanks, Harrison Ford and country legend Johnny Cash all spent time there, chowing down on cheese dip.

Located in the heart of Big Bend Country, Mr Bezos purchased the 141,640-hectare Longfellow Ranch in 2005, NBC News reported.

A working cattle ranch that includes the Pinon gasfield, the ranch features a luxurious lodge, a pool and spa.

It is also close to Blue Origin headquarters, which naturally has its own airstrip.

So, if Mr Bezos ever camps out under those stars he is so desperate to visit, he likely has a little more choice than most of where to lay his sleeping bag.

Updated: September 20, 2022, 6:48 PM
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