Far West Wanders
After hiking Guadalupe Peak, Maggie and I backtracked a bit of our route from the day before and went to Alpine, the quirky college town I love so dearly.
The two-hour drive was peppered with pit stops to take photos (#254challenge, people) and gape at the beauty around us. At one point, while enthusiastically describing the Borderland Research Institute’s pronghorn restoration efforts in the area (sorry, Maggie), I glanced out the driver’s window and was greeted by a herd of the animals grazing the high desert. I screeched in delight.
We had tentatively planned on driving into Big Bend the next day, but by the time we rolled into Alpine, our muscles had tightened and sunburns set in. Maggie was familiar with Marfa from a family trip over Thanksgiving, and tossed out a lower-key plan — simply splitting Thursday between exploring the two little towns. It’d allow downtime before another big drive on Friday, and I readily agreed.
We set up home base at Antelope Lodge, which turned out to be a collection of adorable casitas that I wished I could take back home with me and live in forever. I took an ice-cold shower to try and reverse some of the damage I’d done to my poor skin earlier that day, then headed into town to eat the junk-foodiest dinner we could find, because that’s the reward for a long hike, always. Burgers and grilled cheese at Century Bar & Grill did the trick. (Protip: If you go, order off the bar menu, because the regular menu is too fancy and too expensive. You’re welcome!)
The next morning, we rolled out of bed and headed back to Marfa.
I’ll admit to being a little skeptical of the town initially. There is this stubborn part of me (handed down through generations on my mom’s side) that just really, really doesn’t want to be told what to do — but not in the way you think. Like, I’ve never had major issues with authority, but if everyone is doing something, my automatic response is to not want to do that thing, whatever it is. Everyone is cutting their hair short? Not me! Everyone traveling to some newly-popular location? Catch me avoiding it like the plague. Everyone is freaking out about a certain movie or show? I gain real, true delight from people’s distress when I say, “Meh, haven’t seen it, and don’t want to.” I like being different!
So my gut instinct to Marfa’s extremely trendy reputation is, as you might imagine, strong and negative. However, I stuffed my superiority complex down to the depths of my soul and decided to approach Marfa with an open mind.
And you know what? I get it.
Marfa is hipster to a nearly-disgusting degree, but it is so in the most genuine way possible. A sort of art colony in the middle of far West Texas, it is the single most aesthetically pleasing town I have ever been to in my life — clean lines and perfectly mismatched colors, a precise blend of old and new. I could not stop taking photos, and in a way, it was nice to be in a place that didn’t care. All of these people love photos. They’re artists. Half the town, according to Maggie, was just an art installation of some kind anyway.
We grabbed coffee and toast at Do Your Own Thing, zig-zagged our way down streets of storefronts and residential houses, walked a few flights of stairs to the top of the courthouse building, and purchased souvenirs here and there. Everyone we ran into was more than happy to make small talk and share their story — how they ended up in such a bizarre little town, why they stayed, where they came from.
It may be trendy, but I got the feeling that the residents of the town really liked those things I was tempted to dismiss just because other people liked them, and I can get behind that. Marfa is cool — not because it’s trying hard to be. It just is. You win, Marfa. With your hippie-dippy magic hipster vibes.
(It also has fantastic shopping, though some of it you need a budget that I definitely do not. Ranch Candy was probably my favorite of all — beautifully, humorously curated and not unreasonably-priced — and Marfa Book Co. was a museum-like browsing experience that involved a lot of self-control for me given my love for coffee table books. And I’ll admit to geeking out hard about getting to visit Cobra Rock Boot Company in person. Their handcrafted boots are still out of my realm right now, price-wise, but the owners are so kind and their work is so beautiful. I got a t-shirt to tide me over until I’m rich.*)
By afternoon, we wandered back down Highway 67 to Alpine, grabbed lunch at Cowdog, and did more shops-wandering before landing at Front Street Books and Cedar Coffee & Supply. Front Street has one of the best (if not the very best) Texana collections I’ve ever seen, and after deliberating for a while I settled on one pick and we spent a few hours at a table in the coffee shop reading and editing photos.
My sweet parents, who were getting concerned with the amount of PB&J we had eaten at that point, I think, sprang for us to get a dinner that included vegetables at Reata, and we went to bed that night full, happy, and ready to tackle our monster drive the next day.
We took Highway 90 to San Antonio instead of I-10 in hopes of seeing bluebonnets; and while we struck out on flowers, we were thrilled with the tiny towns and amazing amount of sheer open space that we encountered along the way. Until Del Rio, there really wasn’t much of anything at all, and by the time we hit San Antonio, spring break traffic felt jarring.
Drives back always feel longer than drives to, and we were relieved when we finally rolled into Katy around 9 hours later. The trip was more than worth it, though, and I’m already itching to go back.
*I will never be rich.