Marfa and Big Bend – AFAR contest winner hits the road in West Texas

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Last year All Roads North partnered with AFAR, the experiential travel magazine, to design a West Texas road trip as a competition prize for their readers. Here the winner, Tiffany Behrens, recounts her experience of her travels through this endlessly surprising corner of the country.

On the trip in general…

 

 

I am probably the person least likely to use a travel service for planning a vacation but on this trip I discovered I may actually be the one who needs it most! I have spent hours scouring tourism websites, Yelp, and the like when planning past vacations looking for the best activities, trusted guides, and the most unique meals. The best part of this trip was the detailed suggestions on the journey guide for activities, places to eat, etc. I did not have to debate with hubby even ONCE about our itinerary! This could literally save a marriage. But we also weren’t trapped into doing anything we weren’t interested in or that we couldn’t fit in timewise. I LOVED driving through Texas. Those wide open spaces and sun faded landscapes were heaven for me! The itinerary was just perfectly scaled down enough to keep decision making simple but still give us options. I loved that each place to stay you chose was unique from the others and the mixture of nature, culture, art and shopping was just perfect!
 

On the Gage Hotel in Marathon…

 

 

The Gage Hotel is the perfect embodiment of what anyone who is new to Texas imagines Texas will look like, only better! All that country-western, high desert, cowboy ruggedness refined to a level of sophistication and comfort seen in the best hotels. It was unexpected and the most comfortable of all the hotels!
 

On hiking in Big Bend…

 

 

Wow wow wow! Coming off a long lazy winter, we probably tried to pack in more hiking than we should have, but we were seduced by all those rock formations! We hiked the Hot Springs trail and then soaked in the hot spring itself, as well as the Rio Grande River. On our full day we hiked The Mount Emory Trail, which started out as a longer hike to the south rim but we couldn’t resist attempting that peak when we got to the junction and changed plans midway. On the last day we tackled The Grapevine Hills Trail and the Tuff Canyon Floor Trail (we planned on going to Santa Elena Canyon but after learning about tuffaceous rock from our river guide I could not resist an up close and personal!). Each and every one of these trails offered a different landscape to explore. We were split half and half about our desire to see everything and our desire to avoid one of the rare bears or lions in the basin. We did not see any bears or lions but we did see snakes, lizards, Mexican Jays, road runners, javelina, deer, jack rabbits and a desert fox!
 

On Chisos Mountain Lodge…

 

An American road trip classic! You could easily imagine old Chevy station wagons loaded up with mom, dad and the kids! I doubt the lodge has changed much in forty years which makes it a nostalgic classic.  As a National Park, amenities were expected to be minimal, but we were pleasantly surprised by the mini-fridge and microwave in our room – when we stay there again (because we LOVED the park) I will definitely be a bit more prepared to mix up meals a bit with foods I bring in from a local grocery.
 

On the Texan night sky and the Marfa Lights…

 

One of the things I had on my list to see while in Texas were the stars! I had been told Big Bend was the best place to see stars and being a Chicagoan, I have gotten so used to seeing just a few in the sky due to all the light pollution, that I really wanted to see a million stars twinkling! Of course I was completely thwarted by the full moon! On the night we went to the Marfa lights viewing area, before the moon rose I was able to see more stars than I have ever seen in my life. So even if the Marfa lights are no-shows or underwhelming, the stars will take your breath away! The Marfa lights were honestly not what I expected. If some locals hadn’t been there pointing out the lights to their guests we would have dismissed what we saw completely, assuming they were car or airplane lights. So we saw a whole ton of lights but they were underwhelming. I’m honestly still not even sure if what I saw was what I was supposed to see? LOL!
 

On the ghost town of Terlingua…

 

 

We were so close after our kayaking trip we decided to check Terlingua out. It’s an interesting little town that was once a ghost town and is now becoming a quirky artistic spot much like Marfa. It’s small and there isn’t much going on yet, but definitely one to watch and we heard dinner at the Starlight Theater is good. The trading post is full of art and crafts from Big Bend and Mexico. My favorite part was the cemetery; many offerings remained from Dia de los Muertos celebration this past fall, some touching, some humorous.
 

On the weirdness of Marfa…

 

 

Marfa is a unique town! On the one hand you have these great little fancy boutiques stocked with beautiful artisan goods, and on the other hand you have these crazy little places that are busted up and falling apart. My artistic soul loves the dichotomy! I sell vintage and antiques and I have an appreciation for old weathered things that not everyone shares. We met quite a few people out and about in Marfa, from our first night sharing a table at Stellina with a mother daughter vacationing together, to our very last stop at New Star Grocery Art Museum with just 30 minutes of time left before heading home. We met wonderful people! Some were weirder than others (oh we have some stories!) but vacations are not for homogenous experiences. Weird is great as far as we are concerned. 
 

On El Cosmico, Marfa…

 

El Cosmico is just super cool! We weren’t sure what to expect in terms of amenities in the RV but it was fully stocked and so comfortable. The bed was way better than we anticipated, much more hotel and less camp, and we were very grateful for that. The sunrise was beautiful each day and I had a blast taking a late night bath under the stars on the deck.
 

On the Chinati Foundation…

 

This was a very unique experience for the hubby and me. However, I’d love to see the Chinati Foundation restructure the tour because, as awesome as it was to be able to see some of these works and though the intention is publicly accessible art, you just don’t get nearly enough time to experience the pieces. Michael was so so enraptured with Donald Judd’s 100 untitled works and really wanted to spend more time walking in that building but we had to hurry to see Dan Flavin’s light installations in the time allotted. On a positive note, Michael found a new appreciation for modern art that I think really surprised him! This is a place that one could return to multiple times and have a different experience of the art each and every time.
 

All images credited to Tiffany Behrens

 

To start planning your own tailor-made road trip to Texas please get in touch

 

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