Located in a region where native Comanches, Mescalero, and Lipan Apache Indians once roamed, Monahans' history as a community extends back to the late 1880s with the expansion of the Texas and Pacific Railway across the south plains. For the few people living in West Texas, the building of a transcontinental railroad through the area meant the arrival of civilization. In the summer of 1881, Texas and Pacific Railroad contracted with surveyor John Thomas Monahan, who discovered that the lack of water for the laying crew and their animals would slow down construction of the rail. Monahans' digging of a water well produced an abundance of good water (250,000 US gallons (950,000 L) a day) and was instrumental in the success of the city. Prior to this solution, water had to be hauled from the area of Big Spring, Texas.
The availability of cheap land encouraged settlers to form a small community on the track known as Monahans Well. However, when oil was discovered in the area in 1926, the destiny of the community changed directions. Oil discovery brought people of many occupations and of varied interests to Monahans. The local economy began to change from an agricultural to an industrial economy,
Monahans is most easily accessed via Interstate 20. Midland International Airport is approximately a 45 minute drive away.
A car is practically necessary for getting around Monahans, as well as the surrounding region. While the town is small enough to walk around with relative ease, many attractions are at the edge of town and would be an unreasonably long walk from any lodgings. As a rural community, public transit options are few.
- Monahans Sandhills State Park is one of the most famous landmarks of the region, featuring sand dunes atypical even of the mostly desert Permian Basin. It offers camping, hiking, picnic grounds, and has a small museum and shop offering rentals of "sandboards" that can be used to ride down the sand dunes.
- The Million Barrel Museum is an open air concrete tank originally built by Shell Oil to contain up to a million barrels of oil. When this was found to be inefficient the original use was abandoned, and it is now used as a recreational ground for public events. It also features the Holman House museum, originally in downtown Monahans, with an impressive exhibit of early 20th century household furniture and artifacts.
Visitors to Monahans should consider seeking out Fermin's Mexican restaurant located just off Main Street, north of the railroad tracks. It offers good service and food, and is well-loved by locals. Also worth a look is Super Burger, located near downtown on Sealy Street; it offers standard burger fare, but is built as a burger stand of the kind popular half a century ago and rarely seen today.
A number of hotels can be found near I-20, some of which offer deluxe suites. Travellers to the region should be advised that due to the extraordinarily booming economy of West Texas and the resulting influx of new people seeking work, a great number of people are actually living in hotels and it can be difficult to find a vacancy without reservation. Additionally, prices for lodgings are considerably higher than in previous years.