On September 27, 2020, our visit to the Big Bend National Park area was over. It was time to go back to Houston.
Our adjusted plan was to drive 8 hours straight home because we had some unexpected experience at our Airbnb stay in San Antonio, which was our place to catch breath coming to Big Bend. Please read my article about what happened in San Antonio if you are interested: https://subaholics.com/san-antonio-2/
An eight hour driving in a day is intimidating nowadays for us. We are more used to an easy lifestyle. I decided to book a hotel room in Del Rio, which is three hours from Big Bend and five hours from Houston. As soon as the decision was made, I felt relieved immediately.
It turned out to be a good decision.
Pay a Visit to the Famous Gage Hotel
Before leaving Marathon, not only did we have time to enjoy our homemade breakfast at our adobe home, but also we got to pay a visit to the famous Gage Hotel.
It is very impressive to find a 100-year-old 5-star hotel in a remote town with only 500 population. The hotel has gone ups and downs with the passage of time. It was built on the speculation of big growth and was almost abandoned for a period of time, reduced to empty hallways and dusty rooms. And now the hotel has been remodeled and refurbished by the Texas State founder’s descendants, partly for business development and partly out of a sense of love and responsibility.
The hotel is doing really well, fully booked most of the time. Quite a few celebrities have lodged there. Wild West, the famous novel, was penned in the hotel…
In the Big Bend National Park, nature is so overpowering and a person feels subdued easily. However, the very presence of Gage Hotel, the refined and somewhat compulsive perfection is human’s manifest in front of the broad wildness. For over 100 years, the hotel has been almost single-handedly representing the civilized world conversing with the broad wildness. That somewhat eccentric spirit is touching…
Well, I was going to write about our journey from Marathon, Texas to Del Rio, Texas today, but I got sidetracked by writing about our tour of the Gage Hotel.
Well, I promise that I will write about our trip from Marathon to Del Rio and our visit to Judge Roy Bean’s original saloon.
The end of September desert heat could wear you down, making you lose perspective. Reflecting on our decisions not to visit Big Bend National Park again the second day, I believe we made a big mistake. We never got to explore the west side of the Big Bend, including the interesting Terlingua Ghost Town and Santa Elena Canyon. As much as we would have liked to go back to the park and continued on westward, we made a tough decision for the next day’s exploration to Alpine, Fort Davis, and Marfa, triangular on the map.
Alpine is the county seat of Brewster County, Texas.
Actually, when we first got to this region, we came to Alpine to buy groceries for our Marathon home, because the grocery store there are much bigger with a better selection and competitive prices. I remember we bought fried chicken dinner, wine, green onions, frozen pizza, mushrooms, bottled water, ice cream, sausages, and tortillas. They were all good.
Coming from Marathon to Alpine, it was a 30 minutes drive. You will see some red brick stately buildings as you enter the town that contain Sul Ross State University before you arrive to commercial section.
It was about 11:30 am when we parked the car in the commercial area of the city.
An old cowboy in a convertible
“What is going on? We used to be packed on Saturdays!” An older gentleman in a cowboy hat directed his question and comment at me. He was in a convertible, looking friendly. I guess the locals spotted us as visitors and kind of apologized for not being as cool as we had imagined, lol…
I suggested having lunch in Alpine. My logic was that we would have more choices here than in smaller cities like Fort Davis and Marfa. However, my husband made up his mind to having lunch in Marfa, the supposed cool town of artsy people, who made some big waves in the internet world. Even though I had proved myself hundreds of times in the past for having good common sense and instincts, my husband was stubborn insisting he was right 🙂
Alpine reminds us of typical USA small towns: The town was always small enough that no one insisted on tearing down the old buildings to make parking lots. It is still too small to interest most big-box store chains. The downtown businesses are still owned by local families and with this pandemic, who knows how they are doing. Most of the buildings here are one-story, except for the university building and Holland hotel, a landmark, built during a brief mercury mining boom, designed by Henry Trost, a distinguished regional architect.
No lunch in Alpine. We continued on with our journey to Fort Davis.
The research for Fort Davis was delegated to my husband. This man first drove us to a residential area. When being asked by a resident if he could help us, my husband said no. No idea where we were going. What I did know was we got to a dead-end, some jagged mountains in front of us, a church by one side of the road, and some barking dogs from some houses around us. Instead of irritating him by asking him questions, I decided to make the best out of the situation: leaving him alone and taking some pictures.
By the time I was done with my pictures my husband looked sure of himself again. 5 minutes later, we were at Fort Davis National Historic Site. A key post in the defense system of west Texas, Fort Davis played a major role in the history of the Southwest. From 1854 until 1891, troops stationed at the post protected emigrants, freighters, mail coaches, and travelers on the San Antonio-El Paso Road.
The place took us a good 2 hours to tour. Despite the 90+ degree weather, we went to the visitor Center, Enlisted Men’s barracks, Commissary, Office’s Kitchen and Servant’s Quarters, Post Hospital, and the Commanding Officer’s Quarters…according to the park ranger, 800 men and 400 horses used to live here during its peak times.
The whole visit was a vivid reminder of the significant presence of the military in the settlement and development of the western frontier. One story, in particular, stood out for me is Henry Flipper story.
Henry O. Flipper the first black graduate of West Point
He was the first black graduate of West Point. He served at Fort Davis in 1880-81 and assigned the rank of second lieutenant. However, he was later tried in a controversial court-martial and was dismissed from the army in 1882.
What impressed me the most was that in spite of the setback, Flipper continued to strive for success. He became a prominent civil and mining engineer. Also, Flipper worked throughout Mexico and Latin America as the right-hand man to the Secretary of the Interior.
And he and his descendants didn’t give up on seeking to clear his name. In 1976 the military board reviewed the discharge circumstances and finally changed Flipper’s discharge to an honorable discharge. In addition, President Bill Clinton posthumously pardoned Lieutenant Henry O. Flipper on February 19, 1999, 118 years after his conviction. The sense of honor of Flipper and his descendants is one of the spiritual strength to make this nation great.
By 2:30 pm, we were done with the Fort Davis tour and felt hungry. My husband still insisted on going to Marfa for a late lunch. He read about the food trucks there, which captured his imagination. Did we make it to Marfa? Did we have lunch there from one of the food trucks? I will write a new article all about our trip to Marfa and our lunch.
The end of the September heat in the desert is grilling hot. The heat can make one lose his mind.
The house is located at a corner lot in a small town called Marathon, Texas
When I was searching for an Airbnb accommodation as my base to explore Big Bend National Park, one house caught my eye: a restored adobe style hacienda with a world-class garden, composed of native plants, rocks, unique garden furniture and art display.
Two days prior to our arrival day the owner lady communicated with me via text message about the check-in process. What came across funny to me is this: “I will leave the door open for you and the key is on the dining table.” This reminded me of a saying about Marathon: the best kept secret in Texas. Here we don’t have a mayor; we don’t have a police department or city council. Please forgive me for including myself as a resident of Marathon’s 500 residents now.
The original house was a farmhouse. It was recorded to be built around 1917 but the actual construction could be much earlier. The house is beautifully restored and renovated with love. There are a lot of custom features such as Spanish Talavera tiles throughout, saltillo tile and refinished hardwood floors.
On Thursday, September 24, we arrived at the adobe house around 3:00 pm. I came to the front door but found it locked. I went around the garden wall, getting to the back of the house. The kitchen door was open and the key was indeed on the dining table.
The house looked more charming than in the pictures, however, I found two bags of trash by the kitchen door. No big deal, I told myself. I soon found the dumpster and threw the trash in. Getting ready to unload our bags, a lady showed up.
She said the house was not ready for us and she was the cleaning lady. She offered us a different unit next door, which was totally cleaned and ready for the guests. I took a look at that unit and agreed to take it. However, my normally agreeable husband had a different opinion about this arrangement. He said at least we should talk to the owner about this and all the parties should be on the same page. Out of his laidback character, this time he even took the initiative to make the phone call to the owner.
It turned out the owner preferred us to stay at our reserved original space, and apologized for not getting it ready on time.
We like our adobe house and were glad we would be able to stay here. We told the cleaning lady that we would go shopping and she could take her time to clean. By the time we returned, the house was clean like a whistle.
A little patience goes a long way. Now we have been in the house for 3 days, loving it more and more. Not only do we love its old world charm, but also how we wake up every morning to the rooster singing.
I will write about our Big Bend experience next.
BTW, if you are interested in the hacienda for your Airbnb stay, I will send you a link. I am not related to the owner and don’t receive kick back for promoting her place.