Roy Bean Visitor Center: A Beautiful Hidden Garden in the Colorful Blooming Chihuahua Desert

When we left Marathon, Texas on September 27, 2020, we expected to be in Del Rio, Texas in 3 hours. Instead, after 1 hour of driving, we stopped the car, first in the middle of the Chihuahua Desert, and another hour later, at Judge Roy Bean’s original “Opera House/Town Hall”, Law West of the Pecos.

Our original plan for the day was to drive 3 hours non-stop so we could have time to do some sightseeing in Del Rio. Amistad National Recreation Area, Val Verde Winery, and Whitehead Memorial Museum looked good in pictures. Also, as a border town, I assumed the commercial areas in Del Rio would be interesting to explore.

Chihuahua Desert

The highway from Marathon to Del Rio is incredibly clean and scenic. So clean and white, I tried to put my sunglasses on and realized that I had them on already. At the end of September, the Chihuahua Desert did not look anything close to a desert. Instead, you could see an ocean of pink flowers, covering layers of mountains, near and far. The colors were so vibrant and impressive, and the thought of all these flowers being native and wild made us in awe.

We had to pull over the car to have a closer look at the natural beauty, which could be once of our lifetime of being in the Chihuahua Desert in September, during the blooming season of the pink flowers. Even today, I still don’t know the name of these plants. But I am glad I seized and enjoyed the moment on September 27.

Subaru Crosstrek
Subaru Crosstrek on the road to Del Rio

We resumed our journey, still thinking of visiting some sites in Del Rio.

Judge Roy Bean Museum

When we were about 1 hour from Del Rio, my husband saw a road sign “Judge Roy Bean Museum” and decided to pay a visit. I went along with him, thinking to myself that it should be a good place for a bathroom break 🙂

The visitor center is absolutely a hidden jewel on Highway 90, in between Del Rio and the Big Bend National Park. When it was first opened in the 60s, there used to be 400,000 visitors per year and the center reached its peak with Paul Newman’s movie portraying the legendary judge/bartender. And then a new highway changed everything. Nowadays, there are only about 40,000 visitors to stop by each year. With the current Covid 19 pandemic, there are even fewer people visiting. But all the facilities were kept clean and the ground was kept nice. The employees there were very friendly and helpful. It is worth to pay a visit there.

Path to the "Opera House"
Path to the “Opera House”

The opera house

What I found intriguing the way that Judge Roy Bean had a peculiar way to dispense hard liquor and harsh justice in Langtry, Texas around 1880. He fantasized and idolized an English actress until the day he died. He named his residence “Opera House” in honor of this actress, who he never got to meet in person while he was alive. And he even named the town after this actress, who eventually paid a visit to Langtry, after his death. Jersey Lilly Langtry, the English actress, Roy Bean’s idol, was quoted to say: I am happy as happiness goes, for a woman who has so many memories and who lives the lonely life of an actress.

I wonder what she really thought after visiting a town bearing her last name.

By the time we finally got to Del Rio, it was dinner time. We ordered some Thai food and called it a day, a day full of spontaneous decisions and wonderful encounters. Sometimes, no plan or “off the plan” could turn out to be the best plan.

Until next time, please take care!

Fort Davis: The Controversial Black Military Officer from West Point

Lunch in Alpine or in Fort Davis or in Marfa?

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.

Dead Stop in Fort Davis
Dead Stop in Fort Davis
Fort Davis Mountains
Fort Davis Mountains

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.

Fort Davis
Fort Davis, one of the many buildings

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.

Fort Davis Jagged Mountains
Fort Davis Jagged Mountains

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

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.

Honorable Discharge

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.

Henry O. Flipper

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.

Until next time, please take care!

My Big Bend National Park Exploration: The Shortest Long Day In The Desert

Big Bend National Park Adventure

Our adobe house in Marathon, TX is only 30-40 minutes to the Big Bend National Park. This misled us to have a simple plan: we just sleep-in late this morning and take our time to get to the park. What I underestimated was the size of the park itself: more than 800,000 acres.

Big Bend National Park Welcome Sign
Big Bend National Park Welcome Sign

Half hour was the distance from Marathon to the first sign:
Big Bend National Park
Rio Grande Wild & Scenic River
A US Biosphere Reserve

It took a few minutes to get to the real entrance at the Persimmon Gap entrance booth where we paid $30 for the category of “private car”. The receipt was supposed to be posted on the windshield, which was good for 7 days. We grabbed a brochure at the booth’s brochures holder. The first paragraph says it well: “Big Bend National Park is in a remote part of southern Texas. Check supplies before leaving Alpine or Marathon. Gas stations and water sources are few and far between. Cell phone service is unreliable. Some park roads may require four-wheel drive.”

Cool Rock Formations Big Bend National Park
Cool Rock Formations

The Persimmon gap visitor center was closed, due to the Covid19 pandemic. By the time I seriously needed to go to the bathroom, it was another hour’s drive to get to bathroom facilities at Panther’s Junction. For a while, I was looking for a bush 🙂

Along the way, there were beautiful desert plants. Actually the desert’s rainfall mostly comes in the July-to-October monsoons. Some of the plants had leaf-like spines, however, if you think you can hide behind them, you are making a big mistake. The “leaves” are very sharp and spiky.

Big Bend National Park Desert Plants
Desert Plants

Not only does Panther’s Junction visitor center have nice bathrooms, there are also a post office and information center. The drinking water is provided here. Considering we only had soda in a small cooler, we quickly drank up the soda and filled the cans with drinking water.

In Big Bend National Park roads end at the Rio Grande, the boundary between the United States and Mexico.

Subaru at Big Bend
My White Subaru Crosstrek at Big Bend

Unlike in the park’s brochure, the Rio Grande looked yellow and muddy in my pictures. Maybe because the color is different each season.

I tried to be as close to the edge as possible to have a better view of the river, but I was stopped by my husband, worrying about me falling off the gravel paths.

Big Bend National Park
Big Bend National Park
Rio Grande at Big Bend National Park
Rio Grande at Big Bend National Park

I saw some Mexican art and crafts, off to the side for sale: $8, $10…but no salesman around. There was a glass jar, the cash register? No idea. I was tempted to buy a little wire snake but decided against it.

With no cell signal, you have to rely on the road signs like the old days. It took us a while to find our way back to Marathon.

One little highlight on our way back to Marathon: we spotted the world’s smallest Target store, a competitive parody to the Prada store in Marfa, TX.

The worlds smallest Target Store in Marathon, TX
The Worlds Smallest Target Store in Marathon, TX

When we got home in Marathon, it was almost 7:00 pm.
We had the shortest long day in the Big Bend desert.

I will write about our trip to Ft. Davis, Alpine and Marfa next time.

Until then, please take care!

Marathon, Texas : I Was Delighted And Thrilled To Find This Ancient Adobe Hacienda In The Starry Desert

Adobe Hacienda in Marathon, Texas

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.

Marathon, Texas
Garden Wall Marathon, Texas

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.

Marathon, Texas
Native Plants Out of the Kitchen Window Marathon, Texas

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.

Marathon, Texas
Backyard garden and picnic Marathon, Texas

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.

Marathon, Texas
Mariachi Singers Marathon, Texas

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.

Until next time, please take care!