The Road to 65, Mile 82 ( and the Twilight of Mile 81): Big Bend’s Outskirts

February 17- 18, 2015, Marfa-

Big Bend National Park is way off the course I set for myself, upon leaving San Antonio, yesterday afternoon.  I drove from Lackland AFB to Del Rio, almost without stopping.  Uvalde is a nice town, which I visited in 2012, and may again, some day.  Del Rio looks worth a few days, but at that point in time, it was rush hour and, even in that small town, things were a bit too congested for my frame of mind.  So, onward it was, with a twenty-minute break overlooking the serenity of Amistad Reservoir, just past Comstock.  I get the sense that one could meander for a dog’s age, along this section of Rio Grande/Rio Bravo- clear to Langtry, or down to Devils Lake, going the other direction.



When I got to the confluence of the Rio Grande and the Pecos, there was enough light left for a couple of keepsakes.



It was not so, when I pulled into Langtry, the home of the infamous Roy Bean.  Everything was shut tight, and ghost towns aren’t much fun in the dark, so the place remains on my to-do list, for sometime between now and the Great Beyond.

I ended Tuesday in the small, “not much here” town of Sanderson, with its five motels, three restaurants (lunch and dinner, and closed at 8) and a sizable Stripes gas station, whose chimichanga and burrito were my 8:45 PM supper.  I was grateful for the hospitality at Budget Inn, which offered a tray of snack foods, “just in case they’re all closed”, and a light India-style breakfast of sweet chai, crunchy puffed rice and a biscuit, this morning.

The road west, out of Sanderson, heads across the Chihuahua Desert, towards three unique and artsy towns:  Marathon, Alpine and Marfa.


The foothills of the Chisos Mountains loom to the south.


Marathon (MA-ra-thun) is the most traditionally Western of the three, though Alpine has the Cowboy Poets Festival (Feb. 26-28) and Marfa has the supernatural aura.

I stopped in Marathon for a sausage biscuit and coffee at Johnny B’s, and a look-see next door, at the Gage Hotel.  The welcome at Johnny’s was a hearty “Howdy Do” and about five cups of coffee, in a twenty-minute stool sit.


The Gage is a solid, old-fashioned business hotel, with a satisfied group of return clients, from what I saw this morning.






Alpine, on this Wednesday morning, was all business.  Sul Ross State College is the largest institution and employer in town.  Lawrence Sullivan Ross was another of those larger-than-life Lone Star figures, associated with the Republic of Texas, the Confederate Army and Texas’ full-blown recovery from Reconstruction.  Sul was governor of Texas for two terms, refused a third, and took on the establishment of Texas A & M University.  After he passed, in 1898, the Legislature named the University of the Big Bend, in his honour.

The downtown is dignified by three distinct churches:

Here is First Christian Church.


Down yonder, with the dome, is First Baptist.


Lastly, we find First Methodist,holding down the east side of town.


With all God’s children thus covered, here are a few shots of the commercial side of Alpine.



This edifice offers services for the disabled and abused, with handicrafts programs and a small store for the sale of the products.


I had intentions of taking lunch in Marfa, at the Thunderbird Cafe, which is also a culinary training facility, so I left Alpine and crossed the northern edge of the Chisos.


Marfa’s downtown features El Paisano Hotel, and Presidio County Courthouse.  Marfa has an active arts scene, partly inspired by the eerie “Marfa Lights”.  It being broad daylight, I set that thought aside.  I will be back in this area, for a Big Bend- Fort Davis fortnight, sometime between April and November of 2016.  In the meantime, here’s Marfa.

El Paisano Hotel was founded by Trost and Trost, in 1930. It served as James Dean’s stomping ground, during the making of the film, “Giant”, in 1955.



Even though Alpine holds the Cowboy Poets Gathering, Marfa gives it a good boost. Out here, neighbours are neighbourly.


Presidio County Courthouse’s dome may be seen fifty miles out, on a clear day, or so the tale goes.


First Christian Church is content to be seen from the edge of its own street.


Downtown Marfa has several fine old Art-Deco buildings, along its main drag.


The Thunderbird is a restored business hotel, and has the town’s most dependable lunch spot, the culinary institute.  It is unsigned, but for a small rectangle saying “Lunch”.


The institute is across the street from the above hotel sign.  The entry is one block south, behind this creative wall of native stone.



The courtyard was filled with appreciative locals, with whom I enjoyed lovely deli items and nouvelle-Mexican cuisine.  The pulled pork reuben was a marvel, and definitely worthy of both the time it took to prepare and the $ 11. 00 price.

Yes, I will definitely be back this way.  Home was calling though, so I did the rest of the way, to Van Horn, through El Paso, Las Cruces, Deming and Lordsburg, in short order- which meant four hours.  Dinner was at another gem- La Casita, in Thatcher, AZ.

SAM_4429  I felt at home, sitting at the counter as the booths and tables were full.  The take-out trade was also fast and furious.  La Casita’s food is that good.  I was touched that the owner gave each of his waitresses a break, with fried ice cream as a treat.  I filed that item in my head, in case I get back here during a lunch hour.

The rest of my jaunt homeward took three hours, so by 11:30, the quixotic and chaotic were done, for another few weeks, at least.

4 thoughts on “The Road to 65, Mile 82 ( and the Twilight of Mile 81): Big Bend’s Outskirts

  1. Roy Bean…I haven’t heard that name in years. The Indian style like breakfast sounds much better than the usual motel breakfast offer. Sounds like your home. Glad it was a safe journey.


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