Adventures in West Texas
On an early Thursday morning in May (okay, like 9AM), Austin and I set out for west Texas from Austin. We started on the 6+hr drive equipped with a cooler full of homemade sandwiches, a bag of road trip snacks, and phones full of podcasts. To say the least, we were road trip ready!
There's not much I love more than exploring Texas, so driving across the state was something I was very excited about. I quickly realized I could probably spend my whole life exploring the Lone Star State and not see everything, but that's the beauty of this place.
Day 1: El Cosmico & Marfa, TX
We arrive at El Cosmico around 5pm and check into the coolest camping experience I've ever had. The El Cosmico campground and "hotel" consists of multiple types of lodging, including: retro Airstream trailers, yurts, safari tents, and tipis. We were feeling adventurous when planning our trip and opted for the tipi, and boy was that a good choice.
Once we were settled into our pointed lodge and had sufficiently explored the wonder that is El Cosmico, we were ready for some food and to explore Marfa. With no particular destination in mind, we stumbled upon Al Campo Wine Garden & Rustic Bistro. I'm sorry, wine garden?! Say no more. This place was fantastic - great food, great drinks, and better atmosphere. We could have spent hours here enjoying the food and ambiance.
We ended our night doing one of the top must-sees in Marfa: the Marfa Lights. On our drive into Marfa earlier that day, we passed by the "Marfa Lights Viewing Area" and took note. We headed back there after dinner as the sun was going down and stayed until after dark. It was after the sunset that we started to see them: random white lights moving around in the distance that appear and disappear as they please. We really didn't know what we were seeing and after much discussion amongst ourselves and those around us about what was causing the phenomenon, we stopped and let the mystery take over. Many have tried to explain the lights before: for the realists in the group they could be reflections of headlights from the highway behind, some say UFO's, and some may even say ghosts (a personal favorite). The lights are nearly impossible to capture in photos, so I'll leave this part up to imagination.
Day 2: Downtown Marfa, Valentine, TX, Terlingua Ghost Town, Big Bend National Park
After checking out of at El Cosmico, we decided to head to downtown Marfa. We found the best little breakfast place at Aster Marfa with fantastic coffee and plenty of morning food options. After fueling up, we explored more of downtown and walked down the block to see the iconically pink Central Fire Station and the elegant Presidio County Courthouse.
After seeing Marfa's iconic architecture, it was time for some shopping. Our favorite shops were:
Communitie Marfa (for amazing, iconically Texas hats)
The Marfa Store (my personal favorite)
You have to ask, did you even go to Marfa if you didn't go see the "Prada Marfa" store? The luxury art piece is actually located in Valentine, TX and is about 35 minutes west of Marfa, but that's just a technicality. The Prada Marfa store is an enigma to say the least. It's quite literally just a building on the side of the road. The permanent art installation only houses right Prada shoes and purses with no bottoms in an effort to deter theft. I knew a trip out west wouldn't be complete without reveling in the intrigue of this piece of art.
Once we were done quizzically taking in the Prada Marfa, we made the 1 hr and 45 minute drive to our airbnb in Terlingua where we were staying to visit Big Bend. I wasn't going to visit West Texas without staying a retro trailer at least once, so our lodging in Terlingua was a retro riverside RV rental that I found on Airbnb. The area houses multiple remodeled trailers for visitors to rent out and they are all picturesque in their own way. We enjoyed stargazing at night on the colorful daybed provided outside of the trailer, spent comfortable nights in the A/C'd trailer, and utilized the in-unit shower after a day of hiking. It was the perfect (and most picturesque) spot I could've hoped for.
After settling into our Airbnb, we wanted to explore Terlingua. Terlingua is partially a "ghost town" that was previously home to the Chisos Mining Company back in WWI. By the start of WWII, the mining company had filed for bankruptcy and its miners started moving out, leaving a shell of a previously booming industrial mountain town. Today you can still see buildings that were standing during the peak of the mining era, including one that was converted into a hotel, and others that are now shops and restaurants.
We enjoyed exploring the ruins of the old town and walking through the cemetery (still used to day by some natives). The graves were unique and perfectly placed upon a hill with the Chisos Mountain Range standing proudly in the background.
We worked up an appetite exploring and decided to find a place to eat. On the edge of the ghost town we found Taqueria el Milagro, where we feasted on amazing tacos. Our favorite was the fish tacos, and we even got a little adventurous and decided to try the prickly pear tacos (aka, cactus).
To end our first night in Terlingua, we decided to take a drive through Big Bend National Park. Big Bend of course has a significant amount of hiking trails, but there are also a number of scenic drives. We arrived at the park and started on the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. It is about an hour long road that takes you to the Rio Grande (the river that creates the border between the USA and Mexico). We were driving as the sun was setting over the Rio Grande and it was one of the most beautiful scenes I had ever experienced. The colors of the park were incredible. We even stumbled upon a lot of wildlife: wild hogs, wild horses, wild cows, and (to our serious surprise) a bear! It was the most incredible drive (but I'll spare you the details of the crazy storm we encountered on the way back...).
Day 3: Big Bend National Park
Our last full day in west Texas was dedicated to exploring Big Bend, home of the Chisos Mountain Range. We started our day with breakfast at Espresso Y Poco Mas (Austin with a breakfast burrito, and me with a parfait cup and coffee) and planned out our day.
Our first hike of the day was to Balanced Rock, a short but sweet hike via the Grapevine Trail. We were a bit discouraged when we arrived at the trailhead at 10:15AM and saw a sign that said we should be
off of the rail by 10AM due to intense heat. Perhaps against our better judgement, we marched on, and to our relief, met several other hikers along the way (other rebels or fellow lunatics? Your call.) Balanced Rock is just that: a large boulder positioned atop two other rocks at the top of the hill. The hike was fairly easy, relatively quick, and luckily, breezier than we expected. It also lead to a gorgeous view of the valleys below.
From Balanced Rock, we headed to another trail called Lost Mine. With a 4.8 mile trail, 7,800 ft in elevation, and more switchbacks than we cared to count, this proved to be much more difficult than Grapevine. We definitely got our steps in with this one! As we made our way up the trail, we were given a peek here & there of what was waiting for us at the top: an amazing view of the Juniper Valley. The views from the top were spectacular, and well worth the sweat & impending sunburns.
After finishing a majority of our water supply, next up on our list of spots to hit was the Santa Elena Trail, aka the walk to the Rio Grande. We took the Ross Maxwell Scenic drive again until the very end where the trail began. Seeing the Rio Grande was magical. It was like being in two places at once as were we swimming in the river that creates the border of the US and Mexico. Here we cooled off, relaxed a bit, and took in the beautiful view of the river with some other travelers.
Our last stop in the park was supposed to be the trail to Boquillas Hot Springs. The short trail leads to a few abandoned buildings and eventually to the foundation of an old hotel that houses the 105 degree hot springs. Unfortunately for us, this particular trail was closed due to COVID, and it took everything in us (and mostly the sun going down) to not break the rules.
Instead of soaking up the heat of the springs, we continued driving through the park until sundown. We then drowned our sorrows in food and drinks at the Starlight Theatre back in Terlingua. The Starlight is one of the most well-known restaurants in the area because the building was part of the ghost town. The tasty food and cold Lone Star Beer & margaritas slightly made up for us missing the hot springs.
We spent our final night out west taking in the night sky, personally wishing I could pack it up and bring it back to Austin with us. I know they call it the Lone Star State, but I swear we saw the entire galaxy that night. We had the most peaceful yet adventurous three days in West Texas, not worrying about work, responsibility, and the stresses of everyday life. It was the perfect long weekend in my favorite state with my favorite person.