After Austin we had a decision to make. The path to the right led north, to Dallas via the big slide at Waco (seriously, watch the video and tell me that isn’t tempting?). The left path, on the other hand, stretched far far into the West Texan desert.
Fans of Robert Frost that we are, we took the road less travelled by and headed west, to Marfa. Marfa is a well established community of artists who have chosen to remove themselves from the bustle of city life in favour of sweeping views of nothing. We were starving (as usual) when we got to town and couldn’t check into our tent for a few hours, so drove around aimlessly until we happened to stumble upon Capri Kitchen. Tucked away in a gorgeous courtyard, this tiny kitchen was churning out delicious plates for just a few hours every day. We settled on the kale salad – lovingly massaged raw kale with just the right amount of lemon, pecorino and garlic croutons, and fantastically crispy and sweet corn cakes with slow roasted tomatoes. Both plates were practically licked clean.
We were staying in an RV park and campsite called El Cosmico, in possibly the fanciest tent I have ever not had to put up. Marfa’s most famous attraction is actually not in Marfa at all, rather a 45 minute drive away just outside Valentine. Prada Marfa, an art installation disguised as a Prada storefront, was built in 2005. Six days later it was swiftly broken into but, not being a real store, the thieves only made off with 14 right shoes. Now it sits lonely in the desert, gathering cobwebs, feeling like a simultaneous critique and homage to the consumerism it represents.
Obligatory ‘Mustang in front of fake Prada’ photos taken, we drove back to Marfa to explore the town itself. Honestly after weeks of ever present southern charm, I have to admit that I was slightly underwhelmed by Marfa. It wasn’t so much that people were unfriendly (in fact everyone we met at El Cosmico was utterly lovely), it was more that the locals were quite dismissive. Maybe we were just two more not particularly artistically knowledgable tourists trampling through their town, but we felt the least welcome we had for weeks. We spent a while wandering round town, peering into galleries and looking for somewhere to eat. There were about ten places in the whole town to choose from, all of which seemed to be open for a different two days a week. We eventually stumbled across Cochineal, which our guidebook assured us was shut that day but seemed to have humans inside. They immediately presented us with bowl of homemade hummus which which hummed with delicately balanced spice. George had sushi, which was apparently remarkably delicious, especially considering how far we were from a sea of any variety. I ate a perfectly cooked piece of fish on a bed of mashed sweet potato and asparagus, all drowned in brown butter. After a lovely yet strangely sterile dinner experience, we both wanted a drink. We stumbled across the Lost Horse Saloon; a proper characterful Texan dive. A whiskey and a Lone Star later in the back yard later, staring at the real Texan stars, Marfa made a last minute sprint towards growing on me.
As if Marfa wasn’t remote enough, we decided to further continue our retreat from society by venturing south four hours to Terlingua. Just outside the Big Bend national park, basically on the Mexican border, Terlingua was a thriving mining town a hundred years ago. Now the population has shrunk to just 48 at last count, and is largely a ghost town. We were staying in an adobe dome about an hour out of ‘town’. Built by a wonderful human named Trevor, the dome is completely off grid – all of its power is generated daily by solar panels. A solar fridge, rainwater tap, gas stove and composting toilet were all the amenities for miles and it was completely glorious. After stocking up on supplies at the nearest store, Needful Things, a twenty minute drive away, we made a remarkably impressive lunch of fresh corn tacos and with all the fixings. We hadn’t really managed to cook anything since staying with Mary in Atlanta right at the start of the trip, and it felt so good to just sit and eat a simple meal, prepared ourselves, with no one else around instagramming their lunch or stressing over how much to tip the waiter. Right there, in that hut, with nothing but tin shacks and the odd goat for miles around, I finally felt reconnected to food as nothing but fuel and simple pleasure.
The next morning, we woke up at 5am to go climb a mountain, obviously. If we thought navigating the dirt roads to the dome in daylight was tough, then doing it in the pre dawn dark was a different ball game entirely. We eventually found our way to the main road and an hour later, just as the sun started to break over the horizon, we entered the Big Bend national park. As cliched as it is, there are no words to describe quite how breathtaking the mountains were in the early morning light. We were the only ones on the road as it swept through the landscape. We found the trailhead for the Old Mine trail and parked up, noting the bear proof lockers by the side of the road and suddenly wondering if we had bitten of more than we could chew. This feeling was heightened when another pair of walkers turned up in full hiking gear and I looked down at my trainers and the shorts that I’d slept in feeling like the kid who forgot her gym kit. Nevertheless, we set out ahead of the others, purposely striding past the sign warning of recent mountain lion sightings (apparently you should pick up all small children and under no circumstances run away. Seems legit). One brief freak out over potential bear/lion droppings in our path, and a few miles of clambering over rocks later, we broke through the tree line and found ourselves momentarily on top of the world. The sun was still low in the sky and cast long shadows in the valleys below us, only heightening the feeling of being on some sort of Avatar inspired floating mountain. The idea that we were still in the same country as the food trucks of Austin, the cowboy hats of Nashville and New York in all its eccentricities felt mildly ludicrous. And we hadn’t even needed hiking boots to get there.
On the way home, we bathed in some hot springs on the banks of the Rio Grande. The surprisingly non Grande river acts as the natural border between Mexico and the US – we could have easily waded over to hang out with the Mexican donkey grazing on the opposite bank. We didn’t though because, you know, US border patrol are terrifying.
That evening we decided to brave the thunder storms gathering on every mountain and head into town for dinner. The Starlight Theatre was our destination; originally an open air movie theatre in the 1930s, it was brought back to life (and given a roof) in 1991. It was everything we could have dreamed of in a Texan saloon bar, from the ageing cowboy with a guitar in the corner singing country songs, to the stuffed goat drinking a beer in the back. Side note – It turns out the stuffed goat was actually the first Mayor of the next-door town. We met his living successor later that night and had the honour of feeding him beer ourselves. Long story.
No sooner had we sat down and ordered a beer, two brave young men approached our table and asked if we’d like to dance. The dance floor didn’t look like it had seen any action in quite some time so it seemed rude to refuse. Dancing with Luis and Victor, it emerged they were in Terlingua on the Texan equivalent of a lad’s holiday (Magaluf this was not) and were still in high school! Our food arrived and was surprisingly great; blackened salmon on a bed of greens with a great cucumber dill dressing. A few more beers in (us, not them, drinking laws and all..) and we found ourselves bundling into cars for an after party at their hotel. Just before we left, we asked for the check only to be presented with a note saying that out bill had been taken care of by our new friend Victor! Who could have guessed that the craziest night of our trip wouldn’t be in bars of New Orleans or the Nashville strip but at a golf resort in the West Texan desert?! The whole night was a bit of a blur but definitely featured a meeting with the town mayor (the aforementioned goat), coolers filled with beer, belly flops into the pool, and an eventual visit by the Sheriff to shut the whole thing down (a real human one this time).
The next morning, we reluctantly packed up the car, bid farewell to our dome away from home, and turned north. It felt like we had been in Texas forever yet had barely scratched the surface. We had run out of time though, and New Mexico was calling.
Written by Laura.