West Texas actually surprised me. Other than Marfa, Big Bend National Park and the Observatory, I had no desire to visit the nothingness of West Texas, which for you non Texans is about the size Colorado. I’m all about exploring, but it’s almost faster to get on a plane and visit Rio than it is to get to Big Bend. However, a unique opportunity to work remotely and spend time with The Man came into the picture. My company Pigtail Media specializes in experiential, social media marketing for the travel and hotel industry, so traveling can actually be very productive. People see photos and must think I never work, and as lovely as that sounds, it’s not even close to the truth. In fact, I could use some help with my addiction to work.
But, plugged in as I am, weeks like this remind me I’m tremendously grateful to be able to take my work anywhere.
The Man was launching The Beer in West Texas and had a beer conference in Colorado. He spent a week traveling From Texas to Colorado while I stayed in Austin for a required meeting. I then flew to meet him in Tuscon for a wedding at a Dude Ranch.
The past month ½ had been filled with intense work. Like the kind that you just have to remember to put one foot in front of the other and have faith you are actually moving. So taking 2 days to chill on a Dude Ranch was much needed to have a quick reset. Cool factor: It was actually the ranch where Nickelodeon’s Dude Ranch was filmed. I LOVED that show: probably because it was basically a show where they managed a hotel. Funny how things align years later. Double cool factor: We spotted a super rare Gila Monster. SO COOL!
Alpine, Texas. 3 days
Sunday we made the long drive to Alpine from Tuscon. I had no knowledge of the town prior. As in I didn’t even Google where it was. On the way, we had to drive through El Paso (which I have been to), but the highway required us to follow along the Rio Grande for about :45 min due to construction. Stop and go traffic on an 8 hr drive is … awesome. Annoying, but it gave us a unique opportunity to really take in Mexico on the other side of the massive fence. We were complaining about traffic, while shanty homes littered the hillside a mere 300 yards away. Slap of a reality? Yeah, I think so.
Once we finally arrived in the dot-of-a-town, Alpine, we were greeted with a blast from history: It felt like we were in an old western movie. The historic hotel is known to be haunted. Here’s a little fun fact about me: I’ve always been completely interested in ghosts and mysteries, but I’m terrified I will someday see one and I will never be able to sleep again. The Man didn’t know the second piece. And so, as I try to go to sleep, he starts in with, “What’s that shadow? Did you hear that noise? It must be the ghosts! Ooooo. Boooo. Spooky!” Let’s just say that between the train outside our window going by 4 times a night and the fear I would crack open one eye to find wrinkled-up-cowboy-ghost beside my bed, I didn’t sleep much that week.
Besides the “hauntings,” the place was actually quite great. I set up “Pigtail Media headquarters” for the week in the room. The Internet was pretty spotty at times -meaning one wireless supplier manages most of the town, and well, they went down. So essentially the majority of the town had no internet for a day.). I held one conference call in the freezing cold one morning because that was the one place I could get a signal. Ish. Ok, it was like 45 degrees, but I only had one light sweater – It’s Texas! I had no idea it would be cold.) Another video conference call had me worried a ghost was going to walk in the frame. I’m sure those on the other end loved my frequent checks behind me.
The stories from the locals were somethin’ else. Truly amazing in all honesty. Tales of real struggle. But also of finding peace, finding themselves, and just being. Staying a few days let me settle into the feel. I took the time to chat with everyone I could to learn about them.
But this was definitely a small town, and I was happy as a pea to move along to the next town and adventure after a few days. One local put it well, “Marfa is way smaller. See, they only have 1 grocery store and 1 dollar store. Alpine has two of EACH. Much bigger!”
Before heading out, we visited the University of Texas McDonald Observatory. I saw one of the most amazing shooting stars of my life. The skies in Texas really are bigger, and I think they might be bigger in West Texas. So here we were, 5 hours or so from a city life in one of the least populated places in the US, and I run into a person I previously worked with on a week-long project in Toronto 6 years ago. The world is a crazy-small place.
Marfa, Texas – 1 day
Marfa is a town of 2,000 and it’s in the middle of nowhere. I mean nowhere. Yet, like a local told me, you could be in the middle of New York and ask anyone in the art scene if they new Marfa and chances would be high they’d know. This place is now a haven for art. Probably the most famous “landmark” is the Prada stand-alone “store,” which is an art exhibit, though it’s technically not even in Marfa.
I’m not sure I “got” Marfa – In the way most people “get it.” It was amazing to me, but it was more about the locals and the awe-inspiring landscape, which is not the story I had heard. However, I think when events come through, maybe it’s a different story.
I finally got to see what El Cosmico was all about! The “glamping” – Glamour Camping – hotel, from the extremely creative Liz Lambert. She is also owner of San Jose in Austin among along other boutiques. I desperately wanted to stay in the one of their teepees – my mother spent some time in a teepee before I was born, and I felt like I should experience something like that … but in the comfort of a hotel-like situation. Unfortunately all teepees, tents, trailers and yurt were booked. This was the middle of the week. Crazy. I was able to get a personalized tour, which was really special to me.
We stayed at Thunderbird Hotel, which also has Liz Lambert’s design spin on it. While she no longer owns it, it still has her unique touch. Adored it! I met with the GM who happened to be born and raised in Marfa. The stories she shared of the changing town, and her intense love for the tiny community warmed my heart. She knew how to enjoy the little moments and good people life gives us. I wanted to take her back to Austin.
You wouldn’t expect a dot on the map to hold a high dollar restaurant, but never fear, you can easily spend $100 + on dinner here. I must say, it was delicious and the surrounding was perfect.
If you’re never heard of the Marfa lights (unexplained lights 1st spotted in the late 1800’s that are still deemed a mystery by researchers), it’s worth a read. Long story short, we didn’t see them, but enough cowboys and Rough Rider-likes shared very difference stories with us. Enough to convince me something is not normal out there.
Lajitas – 2 days
Lajitas Resort is, once again, in the middle of nowhere. See this pattern? Texas is big, ya’ll. We passed zero towns for an hour getting here from Presidio, Tx. Zero homes. Zero cows. Not a bar of service. Zilch. Nada. The road followed the Rio Grande for magnificent views in every direction.
The resort is on the banks of the Rio Grande and has all the modern conveniences. No potential ghosts or unexplained Marfa lights here, but wow does it have views.
Officially, this was one of the best views I’ve had from “my office.” I sat on the verandah with Mexico in the background and video conferenced with my Reset Retreat partners, one in Portland and one in Croatia. Technology blows my mind sometimes.
There were not a lot of options for food, but luckily one included eating in a ghost town up the road about :15 min in a new direction. Terlingua was a Ghost Town, but now holds the Star light Theatre (also a restaurant), a coffee shop and a few scattered residences and businesses. Ruins surround the rest of the area. It’s a special little place. And if you’re out there someday, order yourself a Guns and Oil beer under the stars. I hear they have ‘em out there.
Big Bend – 1 long day
We hiked about 9 miles and drove about 175 miles … in a day. My kind of Saturday adventure. There is so much to share, so I’ll leave it to a few pictures.
We hiked inside a Rio Grande canyon.
We took a long hike up to one of the most beautiful 360 degree views I’ve ever seen. And I’m from Washington State: I’ve seen my fair share of them. This was breathtaking and we only passed a few people the entire time.
We ended up at the Hot Springs hanging half way into the Rio Grande just as the sun was setting. It could not have been more perfect timing. 7 other people from Austin were also there – one a survivalist, which made for unique conversations. The Beer made a celebratory cameo as we cheered the West Texas launch. Everything was quiet. Unbelievingly quiet. Except for the storm water rolling by in the Rio Grande a foot away. And then a million stars came out.
A two-hour drive back that night, ended us in Marathon at the historic Gage Hotel where I could have spent another few days. To be back by Monday morning workweek, it was on the road again to Austin for a month in the South Congress area!
If you ever get a chance to visit Big Bend and West Texas, be prepared for skies bigger than you can imagine and a chance to enjoy nature and really appreciate the individual sitting right next to you.