Big Bend National Park: A Four-Day Adventure…Day One – Why Marfa?

IMG_1846Two years ago when we wintered worked at Traveler’s World in San Antonio we did not get out to Big Bend, so this year we were determined to do so…and we did! Our adventure began on Sunday, March 18 as we departed San Antonio at 7 a.m. with our first destination being Marfa, Texas, approximately 6 hours west. Let’s talk about six hours and many miles of nothing – anything and everything you’ve ever heard about driving through Texas is correct – a whole lot of nothing!

In the middle of this nothing, our first stop was in Langtry, Texas, the home town of the infamous Judge Roy Bean, a.k.a. “the hanging judge.” Here, a wonderful visitor’s center provides a respite for travelers and shares the story of Judge Bean his reported harsh justice, and his infatuation for the British actress Lilly Langtry. He was so enthralled with her (although he never actually met her) that he named the town after her and called his saloon “the Jersey Lilly.” Judge Bean’s saloon/courtroom still stands as does his home. Working up an appetite, we stopped in another little town, Marathon, for a late lunch at the Oasis Cafe.

Now, perhaps you’re asking, “Why Marfa? Where is Marfa?” As the locals share, “Marfa is tough to get to – tougher to explain, but once you get there you get it!” And believe it or not that motto is spot on! Marfa was founded as a railroad water stop in the late 1800’s and is best known as being the film location for the 1955 move Giant, starring James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and Dennis Hopper. Marfa is also famous for the mystery lights that can be seen dancing across the Chinati Mountains, their origins never able to be fully explained. Is it swamp gas, ball lightning, phosphorescent mineral displays, UFO’s or the wandering spirit of Apache ancestors? Since the 1970’s Marfa began to attract artists, free spirits and others looking for what Marfa natives call “urban dislocation!”

We checked in to our hotel, Riata Inn, and after chatting with the manager, we knew exactly what we needed to do. Our first stop was the Hotel Saint George for happy hour. Excellent margaritas and a special bourbon drink made for a lovely early evening. We stopped into the Hotel Paisano which is where the stars of Giant lived during the movie production. A beautiful hotel, it is still resonating with those celebrity spirits as documented through tremendous photographs and artifacts. James Dean is one of Bill’s idols, so you can imagine how much he enjoyed this stop.

According to our hotel manager, we couldn’t miss Planet Marfa, an outdoor bar teeming with locals, serving beer, wine, nachos and hot dogs! What else could someone need? We sat at the bar taking in the local flavor, chatting with our bartender, Crystal – oh, she’s also the assistant to the judge in Marfa – and experiencing the nachos – best ever! Planet Marfa is only open from “Spring Break to Thanksgiving” and only Thursday through Sunday. So glad we got to feel the Marfa vibes at this beer garden.

Of course it was nice and dark by now, so we did trek to the roadside park viewing center to hopefully see the Marfa Mystery Lights. I consider myself a very patient person but couldn’t see hanging around waiting for something that might never occur.

Even though the first day of our adventure was a long and full one, we totally loved Marfa and now know where we can go if we ever want to be totally off the grid!

More to follow…

Stay Calm and Travel On…


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