Finally, after much editing of photos (down to 408 from 500+), trying to remember details in the correct order, and much proofreading, I have finally finished this post.
As I wrote in my previous post, my husband Steve & I decided a couple of years ago that we wouldn’t buy each other birthday gifts anymore. We would take little trips around Texas instead. Much more fun and the memories would last longer.
I mean, why not? Texas is a big state with a big personality. There’s always something new to see. And eat. Even in your own backyard.
We started out on Wednesday, August 29, with a very packed car and a little distressed we were leaving about 2 hours later than we originally planned. To be honest, it’s kind of par for the course for us.
Our first stop was a cafe in Roosevelt recommended by our friend Joe Nick Patoski. It was at the Simon Brothers Grocery & Mercantile. We arrived about 2 pm and were wondering if we’d found the right place. As Steve & I wandered around the store, we finally found the cafe. Behind a door with a tiny hand-written sign, “CAFE”. (I’m sorry now I didn’t get picture of that door.)
We tried the cheeseburgers. On Texas Toast. We weren’t disappointed. And the fries? Hand-cut. Yummy.
The little mercantile was an attraction in and of itself. I have no idea how old the groceries were and when the last time the place was cleaned. And, I loved the fact that the post office is in the store, too.
After lunch and a short walk about, we hit the road again. Then, 3 hours later, we were finally at our destination.
The first hotel we stayed in was El Cosmico. As Austinites know, it was opened by Liz Lambert in 2006, and it is one of the coolest places Steve & I have ever stayed.
It’s on the outskirts of Marfa on South Highland Ave. A wonderfully rustic, organic space. I saw 7 restored AirStream Trailers, 2 teepees, and 5 safari tents. Plus, there are several rock circles as spaces for people to pitch their own tents.
We loved it.
Once we settled in, it was time to make a quick grocery run to pick up food for breakfast. We had heard of a small grocery, The Get Go, that was supposed to be the best gourmet grocer in West Texas. It didn’t disappoint.
By this point, we were ready to go and get some dinner and go to see Paula Nelson at Padres Bar. It used to be a funeral home in a former life, apparently.
After our first choice of restaurant was closed, we headed to the outskirts of town and found Mando’s. A hole-in-the-wall Tex-Mex place (well, more Mex than Tex). Overall, the meal was very good. The beans had lard, the beer was cold, and my flautas were delicious. However, the salsa was quite bland. The only disappointment.
After dinner, we lurched off to Padres to see to Paula Nelson (yes, her daddy is Willie). She was just lovely and had a great band backing her up. It was a great way to end a very long day.
Day 2. Steve woke up at 6am and told me he wanted breakfast. I honestly thought he was joking. Nope. He was wide awake and wanted breakfast.
While I conjured myself out of bed (and it was a chilly morning, so it was very difficult), he went outside and started taking a few photos:
Soon, breakfast was ready. Lox & Brie Omelets with fresh tomatoes. They were really, really good.
So, after breakfast and a shower, I promptly went back to sleep. I’m not sure what Steve did.
Once we were both fully ready to get moving, we took a tour of the grounds of El Cosmico.
Now, off to see a bit of modern art. Prada Marfa. There’s really no point to it except as perphaps a commentary on consumerism. Admittedly, it’s not really my thing. But, if you’re in the area, it’s a must-see.
First, however, one must pass through Valentine. A town with a population of 217 and the only incorporated town in Jeff Davis County. It’s best known for Prada Marfa, where the post office will do a special postmark on Valentine’s Day, and where “Cahill, US Marshall” was set.
Not long after it was completed in 2005, Prada Marfa was broken into and its contents stolen. To thwart any future attempts, all of the shoes on display are left shoes only and all the bags have had their bottoms removed. Plus, the door is sealed (so no going inside for a closer look) and security cameras were installed.
Some people just don’t appreciate art.
So, after closely observing Prada Marfa, we headed back to Marfa for lunch.
I saw this sign on the way back and made Steve turn around so I could get some pictures. I loved it.
So, now for lunch. Steve & I decided to go to a place we’d been before, The Food Shark. Popular with locals and tourists alike, it has some of the best felafel outside of the Middle East I’ve ever eaten. My hummous is better, though.
Yeah. I said it.
They have a standard menu of Middle Eastern specialties like hummous, felafel, fatoush, and lots of fresh salads. Their specials go fast. In fact, the day we were there, they ran out of the special, Shrimp with Soba Noodles, right before I got to the window.
If you get there during the peak lunch hour, be prepared for a wait. So, patience is required.
After lunch, Steve & I went exploring around Marfa. We’d been there before, so there wasn’t much new for us to see. But, hey, we needed to work off lunch.
Steve had been interested in going on a tour around the Chinati Foundation. I was not. Minimalist art simply isn’t my thing. Honestly, I find it boring. I told Steve he could go if he wanted, but he decided against it.
Well, maybe next time.
For those of you who don’t know who Donald Judd is or what the Chinati Foundation is all about, here’s a little background:
Donald Judd was a sculptor in New York who bagan as a painter early in his career. By the early 1960′s he came interested in how objects (namely, boxes and stacks) interplayed with the space around them. In 1971, he came to Marfa and rented a house to get away from the art scene he had come to hate in NYC and to use the starkness of the desert landscape to create.
In 1979, with help from the Dia Art Foundation, Judd purchased a 340 acre tract of desert land near Marfa which included the abandoned buildings of the former U.S. Army Fort D. A. Russell. The Chinati Foundation opened on the site in 1986 as a non-profit art foundation, dedicated to Judd and his contemporaries. The permanent collection consists of large-scale works by Judd and other artisits. Judd’s work in Marfa includes 15 outdoor works in concrete and 100 aluminum pieces housed in two renovated artillery sheds.
Originally conceived in 1977, and created in 1996, the Judd Foundation was formed in order to preserve the work and installations of Judd in Marfa, Texas and at 101 Spring Street in New York.
Donald Judd passed away in 1994 of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in NYC. (Some information from www.wikipedia.org)
The hotel has a room dedicated “Giant”. They’re very proud of their connection with that movie.
The town is completely reliant on the tourism that the park, Judd & Chinati, the lights, and “Giant” fans bring. They’ve also started a music festival that happens in late September. It’s also home to many (overpriced) art galleries. And a lovely little bookstore with, of course, an art gallery attached. Plus, it has one of the best public radio stations anywhere, KRTS.
Dinner that night was at Cochineal (named after the little insect used to make natural red dye). A lovely little restaurant opened in 2008 by Tom Rapp and Toshi Sakihara. It’s menu changes almost daily to keep up with what’s freshest and the whims of the chefs. We picked a good day to go.
Once you were inside, you could be anywhere. The dining room was a very simple space. Small, but not overcrowded. It was still a little too warm for us to sit outside, but the patio was proving popular. It was full when we arrived.
Reservations are recommended, by the way.
So, we began with cocktails.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo of Steve’s cocktail. I believe he had the El Diablo. He said it was quite good.
Appetizer Time. Cream Cheese Dip with Crab and Horseradish. Hot, slightly gooey, smooth with just enough texture from the crab and heat from the horseradish. I’ve got to figure out how to make this.
Me. I had the Rack of Lamb with Truffled Potatoes and Garlic Broccolini. The lamb was cooked perfectly medium-rare with just enough seasoning. (I find that to be a real issue with many restaturants who serve rack of lamb. Simple is best. It doesn’t need a crust.) The potatoes were smooth without being starchy and the truffle wasn’t overpowering. The Broccolini wasn’t reated as an afterthought, like so many vegetables are.
Steve’s dinner was Barramundi en Croute with Vegetables and Pico. I had a little of his fish. It was perfectly cooked. I’ve never had Barramundi before, so the fact that it wasn’t too strong a flavor was a surprise. Steve said that the pico and vegetables were good, too. He must have liked it. He ate it all.
We figured as long as we were there, we’d just go for it and get dessert, too. Yum-my.
I had a wonderful date pudding reminicent of sticky toffee pudding. It had a caramel-bourbon sauce that had just the right balance of sweet and slightly bitter. And the bourbon flavor wasn’t too strong.
Steve opted for Lemon-Lime-Basil Shortbread Cookies. I didn’t get to try any. He ate them too fast.
After the bacchanalia of dinner, we decided to take a short walk around Marfa. We were struck by a creche of Mary.
Back to the car. To our trailer. And to bed.
Day 3. We checked out of El Cosmico and headed to where we would be staying for the next 3 nights, The Gage Hotel in Marathon. But, first, we had to pass through Alpine.
Alpine is located in a wide valley in the foothills of the Davis Mountains in northwest Brewster County. The town began in the spring of 1882, when a few railroad workers and their families pitched their tents along a small spring-fed creek at the foot of what is now known as “A” Mountain.
Alpine grew very slowly until 1921. Then came the opening of Sul Ross State Normal College (now Sul Ross State University) and the construction of the first paved roads into the area. The college, along with ranching and the transcontinental railroad, made Alpine the center of activities in the Big Bend area of Texas. In the early 1940s, with the establishment of Big Bend National Park, Alpine came to be looked upon as the entrance to the park. Since the early 1960s the rapid influx of affluent retired people into the area has been an important factor in the town’s continued growth.
Alpine is the largest town in and the county seat of Brewster County with a 2010 population of 5,905. (Information from tshaonline.org)
Steve and I decided to get out and have a walk around town. We stayed there on our last trip in 2010, but we didn’t really explore Alpine. This time, we decided to rectify the situation.
There was a record store he wanted to see; but, it was closed. Labor Day weekend. In fact, we found quite a few businesses closed for the holiday. No matter, we still had a lovely time. Even bought some original art.
I think if I was to move anywhere else in Texas, it would be Alpine. Just enough town with open space nearby.
Back in the car to our next destination. Marathon. Or, as the locals say, Marath’n.
Marathon is the second-largest town in Brewster County. It’s out on TX90 with a population of 433 (2010 census). The town was founded when the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway built across what was then part of Presidio County. A crew building east from El Paso reached the townsite in March 1882. (Some information from tshaonline.org)
The main attractions of the town are the Gage Hotel and the fact that it’s only about 45 minutes away from Big Bend National Park. It’s another town that is completely dependent on the tourist industry.
I would term the Gage as upscale rustic. The hotel itself was commissioned in 1927 by Alfred Gage, a businessman and rancher. It was intended as a hotel and main administrative building for his 500, 000 acre ranch. In 1978, J.P. & Mary Jon Bryan bought the Gage and returned it back to it’s original Trans-Pecos glory (from www.gagehotel.com)
It was very different from where we stayed for the previous 2 nights. And, for shmoes like us, quite elegant. Plus, it had an indoor shower.
We took a very short walk for lunch after we checked in. Pizza at Guzzi’s. Decent, if utilitarian, pizza. I wasn’t expecting that.
So, off for a quick nap before our next destination. Big Bend National Park.
Big Bend National Park was opened on July 1, 1944. It is The park covers 801,163 acres (1,252 sq mi)and is larger than the state of Rhode Island. It’s the least visited of all the national parks with only about 300,000 visitors a year. The park was named after the large bend where Texas and Mexico meet along the Rio Grande. The park is in the Chihuahuan Desert and is surrounded by the Chisos Mountains.
It’s simply an amazing place.
I wanted to head to the Chisos Basin and the Window, the most popular spot in the park, to see the sunset. A little corny, sure; but so worth the journey.
Big Bend is about 40 miles from Marathon. The main ranger station is at Panther Junction about another 30 miles in. It seems like forever to get there because there is a 45mph in the park. And, yes, they do enforce it.
We made it to the Chisos Basin, finally.
While waiting for the sunset at The Window, we decided to take a hike down the Basin Trail.
We hiked the trail about half of its 1.6 miles. It started to get dark and we turned around.
Off to see the sunset.
After a rather encyclopedic photographic study of the sunset, we decided we were hungry and headed out the south way from the park.
After about another hour’s drive through the park and another 30 minutes outside it, we finally made it to Terlingua. We ended up at High Sierra Grill (at the El Dorado Hotel) for a rather late dinner.
The night we were there (Friday) was surprisingly slow. There were fewer than 10 other people when we arrived. And most of them were drinking at the bar.
There was musical entertainment that night. Steve felt bad the musician was only playing to so few people, so he bought 3 of his cd’s
Steve had a cheeseburger. I had chicken fried steak. Not the best I’ve ever eaten, but it was most definitely above average. Certainly better than Threadgill’s.
Yeah. I said it.
After another 90-minute drive, we were finally back in Marathon and to bed. Very late.
Saturday. We had made plans to get to the park early. That didn’t happen.
We started off the day by, what else, foraging for breakfast. One of the shop owners near the hotel told us about this one place, the Burnt Biscuit Bakery. She said they had great fried pies. Well, that sold us.
You can’t go wrong with a good fried pie.
But, we figured we’d better go with some savory protein first.
I had a sausage & cheese croissant. I’m still trying to decide if the croissant was homemade or a pre-packaged one. I’m leaning towards the latter. Steve’s biscuit was definitely made in-house, however.
The proprietress was quite friendly & chatty. I sensed that tourists had been thin on the ground lately. She let it be known that she and her husband (the baker) were looking to sell so they could move to the Panhandle to be closer to their kids and grandkids.
I almost bit. But, changed my mind when I decided that Steve would most likely not go for the idea.
As a reward to ourselves, we bought a couple of fried pies. Steve had peach. I had cherry.
The shopkeeper was right. They were delicious.
Back in the car and back to the park.
We spent about 4 hours driving through slowly and stopping frequently to take in the sights, the fresh air, and to take lots of photos.
(I generally don’t buy souveniers. I take photographs. They last longer and its a whole lot cheaper.)
We drove back to Terlingua to have a light dinner (well, light for West Texas) at the Starlight Theater.
A little background on Terlingua:
The name Terlingua has been applied to three different settlements in southwestern Brewster Country. The original site was a Mexican village on Terlingua Creek three miles above the confluence with the Rio Grande. With the discovery of quicksilver in that area in the mid-1880s, the Marfa and Mariposa mining camp became known as Terlingua; the original site was then referred to as Terlingua Abaja, or lower Terlingua. In 1902, in addition to the mine complex, Terlingua consisted of several temporary structures occupied by some 200 to 300 laborers, mostly Mexican. Three years later the population had increased to 1,000. Quicksilver production peaked during World WarI. By 1922 40 percent of the quicksilver mined in the United States came from Terlingua, but production began to decline steadily during the 1930s. On October 1, 1942, the Chisos Mining Company filed for bankruptcy. A successor firm ceased operations at the end of World War II when most of the population dispersed. Terlingua became a ghost town. During the late 1960s and early 1970s tourism brought new life to the village. Terlingua became famous for its annual chili cook-off and in 1967 was deemed the “Chili Capitol of the World” by the Chili Appreciation Society. In 2000, the permanent popuation of Terlingua was 277. (information from tshaonline.org)
Steve & I visited Terlingua Ghost Town on a previous trip, and we tromped around what was left of the homes and cemetary there.
The homes in Terlingua Ghost Town where were all the workers at the 4 mines in Terlingua, mostly Mexicans. The homes were essentially mud brick with some wooden support. Most of the roofs are now gone, but I did see some tin corregated ones. Whether they’re the original or put there by squatters, I don’t know.
The cemetary is fascinating, if not a little depressing. Most of the graves were not only of the Mexican workers, but their families as well. And they were all young. I think I only saw one grave of someone over 50. Hardscrabble living and mercury poisoning no doubt contributed to the sort life span of these folks.
We arrived in Terlingua a little early. Since the Starlight didn’t open for dinner until 5, we had a cold beer on the porch of the Terlingua General Store. My favorite thing: signs all over the place saying “No dogs on the porch”. There were dogs all over the porch.
Finally, the Starlight opened. We were hungry and in a hurry. We had tickets to go to a Star Party at the McDonald Observatory. 90 minutes away.
So, yeah. We were cutting it close.
We just ordered appetizers for dinner. It was a good thing we did. They were huge.
Steve had Wild Boar & Venison Sausage with a Barbecue Dipping Sauce. My dinner was Chicken-Fried Antelope with a Coors Beer Gravy. I liked his sausage better than my antelope. I think it’s a pretty safe bet it was farm-raised. I was expecting a gamier, more venison-like flavor. It just tasted like beef to me.
We then rushed off to the McDonald Observatory, just outside of Fort Davis. If you haven’t been there, go. It’s an amazing place. We went (for the second time) to a Star Party. For those of you who don’t know, a Star Party begins at around sunset. One of the observatoy’s employees does a presentation at the outside ampitheater talking about what we’re going to be seeing that night. Then, everyone gets to look through very powerful telescopes at the night sky.
That night, there was a full moon, so many of the dimmer stars weren’t visible. But, we did get to see Saturn and a very close up & personal view of the Moon.
They also do tours of some of the larger telescopes during the day. Next time, we’ll have to do that.
Once we saw all we could and enjoyed the cool evening, we drove back to Marfa. Our friend Joe Nick Patoski’s wife, Chris, was playing in Joe King Carasco’s band that evening at Padres. (You old-time Austinites will remember Joe King quite well.)
We arrived about halfway through the show. We hadn’t seen Joe King in a while. He hasn’t really lost any of his entertainment value. And, yes. He still wears his crowns. That night was a classic.
We finally got back to Marathon at 2am. So, the plan on getting up at 5am to go back to Big Bend was out.
Day 5. My birthday.
We finally dragged ourselves out of bed at about 9 am.
Breakfast was at the Marathon Coffee Shop. It was delicious, and big. We needed the big for the hike that we had coming.
Steve, as is his habit when it’s on the menu, ordered migas. I opted for short-stack of pancakes with bacon and hash browns.
Can’t go wrong there.
We packed the car with cold water, and a backpack filled with Gatorade, dried fruit and nuts, and a first aid kit. Off we went to hike Boquillas Canyon.
Boquillas Canyon is down at the tip of the Big Bend where Mexico and Texas are separated by the Rio Grande. At one time, people were able to cross back and forth pretty freely. However, in 2002, the crossing was closed.
But first, of course, we had about a 2-hour drive down to the canyon. So, we stopped often to take photos. Again.
We finally made our way to Boquillas Canyon. There were more people there than we had seen in our entire time in Big Bend. Maybe 20. Some were tourists like us. Others, Mexican Nationals who apparently regularly cross the river to sell trinkets to the tourists.
I would’ve done it, too (in spite of the warnings up in the park telling us not to). If I had brought any money. And entertainment was provided by one gentleman singing “Guantanamera” while fishing in the river. He really did have a great voice.
As we wee beginning the hike, I was struck by some holes in the rock. I found a sign explaining them. They are mortar holes cut into the rock. The indigenous poeples of the area used the mortar holes to grind mesquite seeds, roots, and other grains for food.
Each one of the holes is about 12″ deep. I don’t know if they were originally cut that deep, or, if over time, the holes were simply worn deeper into the rock.
Fascinating. I love history. And archaeology.
First, to go down into the canyon, we had to go up the front side. And with the heat being what it was that day, about 100F on the canyon floor, it was no small feat.
We were down in the canyon for a couple of hours walking around, resting in the shade. Watching the burros on the Mexico side. We didn’t go as far as we would’ve liked because the trail because there was a point where it became very difficult to navigate. Since my husband & I aren’t experienced hikers, we opted out of getting too adventurous.
So, after each of us downing a full bottle of Gatorade when we got back to the car, we went to Rio Grande Village for lunch.
Rio Grande Village is basically a campground with shower and laundry facilities and a small convenience store.
So, we had a convenience store lunch:
Since we had managed to work off our rather large breakfasts, as bad as this was, we were grateful to have the food.
Then, we headed out to Big Bend for the last time. On this trip, anyway.
So, after going through the Boarder Crossing Checkpoint for the 3rd time, we made it back to the hotel to clean up and enjoy well-earned naps.
Dinner that night was at the 12 Gage, the hotel’s restaurant. I can describe it no other way than that it’s basically an upscale steakhouse that takes itself a little too seriously.
It’s the big fish in a very small pond. In fact, it basically eats all the chum. The other restaurants in town (and there aren’t many) seem to get absolutely no business when the hotel restaurant is open. Perhaps, when tourism is up, the other places could get the run-off customers who either couldn’t get a reservation (yes, we had to make reservations) or don’t want to pay $200 for dinner for 2.
But, we dove in anyway.
As Steve and I usually do when we go to a more expensive restaurant, we do the whole play. Appetizers, Main Course, Desserts, maybe a snifter and/or coffee. We figure, what the hell. We’re already spending the money and more than likely we’ll never come here again anyway.
Needless to say, we don’t do this often.
As always, we started off with cocktails. I don’t know if there was someone new at the bar or the recipes weren’t followed, but our drinks were very underwhelming.
Things looked up when the appetizers came.
So, on to the main course. Since we were at a steakhouse, we ordered steaks. His was beef. Mine was bison.
We ended up with a small box of leftover steak to take back to the room. It was Monday’s lunch.
Steve & I discussed which meal was the best of the trip. And while it was almost like comparing apples to oranges, we decided our meal at Cochineal was it. Overall, we felt the quality was better, there was more attention paid to depth of flavor and, most important to me, the vegetables were treated with kindness; not an after thought.
This is not to say we didn’t enjoy 12 Gage. We did. But, it just doesn’t seem like it has to or wants to try to be something better.
And then, off to bed.
Final Day. Monday. Check-out day.
We cheked out of the hotel. And, as we were packing the car, discovered we were taking home more than we came with.
But first, we took a quick walk around Marathon.
Then, we stumbled upon Eve’s Garden. An Organic Bed and Breakfast. This place has to be seen to be believed. We were just standing outdise looking around and, Elaine, the caretaker/carpenter, came out and invited us in for a tour.
She said that she and the owners think that they’ll be finished in the next 2-3 years. I will say, the place is really interesting. They’re trying to make the building as organic/green as possible.
And, then, it was time to head home.
It was a 7-hour drie back to Austin. We stopped just outside of Ozona (about where we stopped on the way out) at a rest stop and had our final meal of the trip. Sandwiches made with the leftover steak from Sunday, chips, Peligrino, and fried pies.
Yeah. We’ll be going back.