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Sampling Big Bend

Written by , published January 30, 2012

TH’s February issue features the western portion of the Big Bend region, which covers vast and remote areas where you’d do well to plan on spending at least the better part of a week. So does this necessarily mean a shorter excursion is out of the question? Not if you have a general plan which includes more urbane pleasures such as exploring West Texas food and art, as well as with surrounding yourself with spectacular vistas.

My boyfriend David and I spent a little less than three days in Big Bend over the Christmas holiday, and the trip was well-paced and relaxing. Of course, we would have loved to spend more time, but prior commitments in Austin prevented us from doing so.

Alpine and Marfa were on our radar, plus Fort Davis and even a hike in Big Bend National Park if time allowed. We also wanted to begin our trip in Marathon, in time for dinner and stay at the Gage Hotel. The hotel was booked for the holiday, but the Gage recently acquired Captain Shepard’s Inn, right behind the hotel, which had rooms available. We stayed in a warm and spacious room with a balcony.

Photo by Griff Smith

Marathon is about an hour from just about everywhere on our itinerary, so the location made for easy planning, and an ideal home base. On our first full day, we drove to Alpine, and strolled down Holland Avenue. We stopped in Big Bend Arts Council Gallery and found an eclectic and affordable selection of paintings, pottery, sculpture, and jewelry created by local artists. Avram Dumitrescu, originally from Ireland, whose vibrant paintings of landscapes, food, and animals I admire, had pieces on display, and was also minding the gallery that morning. Later, we popped into Front Street Books, where I found a copy of a book Avram illustrated (and also signed), M.F.K. Fisher Among the Pots and Pans, by Joan Reardon. We also poked in the window of TONK (Things Ordinary Not Known) studio to admire the whimsical assemblages. The gallery sign said “Closed,” but owner/artist Rachel Anne Manera saw us and invited us in.

After a zesty, hearty tortilla soup lunch at Reata, we headed west to Marfa. Just a few businesses were open (we found many Marfa’s shops, galleries, and restaurants typically open Wed.-Sat., and we were there on Monday). However, we did take a short jaunt along Highland Ave. and perused the one of the Paisano Hotel’s gift shops, which has an impressive art book section.

Sadly, the Chinati Foundation was closed, but in search of more art, we proceeded onward to the Prada Marfa art installation, about 5 miles past Valentine on US 90. Built in 2005 by Berlin artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset, the structure still attracts curious tourists like ourselves, and also a man from Germany who was just leaving as we arrived.

There was still enough daylight left that afternoon for a side trip to Fort Davis, which we took via Hwy. 166, a scenic drive with spectacular views of the Davis Mountains. We stopped at Fort Davis National Historic Site and took a short hike up to a vantage point of a sprawling overview of the fort. We then drove to Indian Lodge, and explored the grounds to consider for a future stay. Our last stop was in downtown Fort Davis, where on State St., we found charming shops, inns and cafés, such as the Fort Davis Drug Store and Old Texas Inn, which even has a soda fountain. On the way out, we were wowed by the classic architecture and distinctive clock tower of the Jeff Davis County Courthouse. Our West Texas wanderlust was sated for the day.

After touring three towns on Day One, a more relaxing agenda was in store for Day Two. After a leisurely breakfast at the Marathon Coffee Shop, we visited photographer, writer, and artist E. Dan Klepper (who is also a frequent TH contributor) at his Klepper Gallery. I have long appreciated E. Dan’s artful images and compelling words, but I was awestruck by his graceful, minimalist assemblages of baling wire and various found objects.

It was finally time to explore the outdoors, so around noon we trekked toward Big Bend National Park. With the remaining time on our trip dwindling, we chose to hike the Window Trail. This popular trail is relatively short (5.6 mi.) and easy to navigate. However, we couldn’t help but stop every so often to gasp—not due to exertion but to admire the stunning mountain formations and surface textures. At the end of the trail, the Window’s ledge opens to a jaw-dropping, magnificent vista. On the way back, we spotted not only hawks, deer, and javelinas, but musician/artist David Byrne and a companion walking toward the Window. “Once in a lifetime?” to quote one of his Talking Heads hits.

Due to the short time and full days, we had dinner at the Gage, either in 12 Gage restaurant or White Buffalo Bar. Despite the voracious appetite worked up from the hike, White Buffalo Bar‘s Venison Fajita Black Bean Nachos made for a sumptuous meal for both of us.

On our final day, Wednesday, before heading home, we drove back to Marfa in hope of touring the Chinati Foundation as it would be open, but our luck ran out when we found the tour had sold out for the morning. So we had a delightful Swiss-inspired breakfast of knackwurst with eggs at squeezemarfa, and walked across the street to the Presidio County Courthouse to climb the stairs to the courthouse tower. The tower boasts astounding panoramic views. I thought I could almost see clear to Alpine!

Before this trip, it had been many years since either of us had been to Big Bend. This somewhat whirlwind visit will set the stage for more (and longer) trips to come, hopefully sooner than later.

 

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