Sunday, January 15, 2012

Wide Open Spaces

  This is the first trip I have planned myself- destination, transportation, accomodations, sites to visit. I kept running across articles about Marfa and Marathon, TX in various magazines and when I learned Amtrak stops between these towns in Alpine (25 miles from each), I started to plan. [It is hard to get Luke excited about driving long distances].  Our schedule was dictated by the train, the Sunset Limited, which runs from New Orleans to Los Angeles three times a week; we boarded in San Antonio at 5:40 am on Tuesday and returned on Saturday.  The plan: two days in Marathon/Big Bend National Park, two days in Marfa, bookended by two half-days' travel by rail.  Rail travel was very new to me, being a Midwesterner, until Luke and I started dating long-distance, often taking the Amtrak between Chicago and St Louis; and I became enamored of the ease (just hop on, no showing up hours early, no three ounce rules) and comfort (wide seats and some spread-out room).

   It turned out to be a truly fantastic trip- the scenery was spectacular and the people we met so, so interesting.

The train skirts the Rio Grande and stops only in Sanderson (if passengers are waiting on the platform) and Del Rio; the rail time is 8 hours between SA and Alpine (6.5 by car).

Sunrise through smudgy window

Crossing the Pecos River on the highest working railway bridge

Arriving in Alpine after snoozing and reading (I read BetterPhoto Basics, Luke listened to music), we picked up our rental car and went to a coffee shop, where we chatted with the barista, an invaluable source of information regarding what to see, where to eat.


Inside the coffee shop, Plaine

Menu in Scrabble tiles
Main street of Alpine

The first of What We Ate: chicken-fried steak

Off to Marathon, 25 miles to the east:

Such beautiful, vast blue skies
Checked into the Gage Hotel:

The bathroom door was very, very low.  I am not a giant.

Other rooms were open so I took a few photos.

The lobby

Lobby lioness

TV room (the guest rooms did not have televisons)

Highway 90 runs right through Marathon (population 400) and in front of the hotel.
The grocery store - how great is that logo?
 A photographer in town, James Evan, takes candid photos and places them along the grocery shelves- if you like it, it's yours!

We found James McMurtry, a favorite musician!

He came back to the Gage.

Walked around a bit before dinner:

these figures made menacing shadows:

Speaking of menacing, Luke found this plant with toothpick-sized thorns:

Approximately 10 seconds after I took this photo Luke yelped in pain: he had stepped on one of these and it punctured his tennis shoe and his foot.  Luke limping, I clucking and cooing sympathy noises, we went back to hotel, cleaned the wound and headed to the hotel's White Buffalo Bar.  [White buffalo are very, very rare, we learned from the bartender.  It's not albino because the eyes and snout are pigmented.]

The bartender also mentioned a bar in the next block was having a soft opening with invited guests only (he felt snubbed) with the opening to the public to follow in a few days.  Of course we had to investigate a party in a town that appeared to be near-deserted.
  We walked in, the bartender said c'mon in, and Luke made a beeline for the piano (which I had not noticed, but he has a highly developed sense of play-dar).

The crowd:

The proprietress, all decked out for the occasion

At this point I was very, very glad we had not missed this party.

Signature cocktail of the Snake Bite Saloon
This woman was quite hilarious... when Luke mentioned this bar was pretty much his idea of heaven, she replied that her idea of heaven was being with her husband, with some Bud Light and that her husband "would do me a little bit".  [The group laughed uproariously in agreement].  The Tao of Belinda.

Luke entertained the crowd (and made a bunch of money in tips!) and in the morning we drove 70 miles south to Big Bend National Park:

But first, migas:

Inside the park at the Sotol vista overlooking the Chihuahuan desert:

Purple prickly pear

Tuff Canyon:

Santa Elena Canyon.  The river is the Rio Grande, the opposite shore Mexico.

Early iPhone:

Skipping stones
Rio Grande
Chisos Basin, where we had dinner:

I think Bob Ross would be very pleased by this photograph. Those clouds are so happy.

View from the lodge/restaurant

That night, we returned to the Gage and the White Buffalo, where we talked to a couple from Austin - both police officers - about Austin, Big Bend, Texas, crime... they were fascinating.

Then to Marfa!  To be continued...


  1. What a fun post Julie! ...and a fun vacation! Makes me want to live in Texas again. Jim's first assignment was pilot training in Del Rio. Being from Ohio I had never seen a cactus growing in the ground nor had I ever tasted an enchilada (this was the days before Taco Bell and the proliferation of Mexican restaurants!). Del Rio was like a foreign country to me and I loved it. I was very confused about country fried steak, I must admit.
    I ended up spending the school year up in San Antonio at UTSA so I made the trip between there and Del Rio a lot. Ended up with quite a few speeding tickets also...wish I had had the train option. My favorite town to drive through was Hondo which proudly displayed the following sign: This is God's country, don't drive like hell through it!
    Good memories!

  2. I am most confused by Chicken Fried Chicken....

    Anyway, great post, Julie! Looks like a wonderful time. Ed and Maddie and I have to go to Alpine and Big Bend for sure.