West Texas Backyard: Marfa & Bend

I’ve spent the lion’s share of my last year poking around places far away from Austin, and it wasn’t sitting right with me. People travel from all over the world to see legendary Texas and the very proud, somewhat outrageous, residents it houses. Ask anyone around here what country they are from and the answer will usually be Texas. And the crazy part about that? People abroad know exactly where that is.

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Who better to explore Texas with than a born and brewed local? I guess the brewed part might be a stretch because my friend Kacie grew up overseas and now lives in Seattle, but she is a huge fan of national parks and I knew she would be up for an adventure. We compared calendars, packed up and headed West.

Texas is Large

As a prairies girl I always knew better than anyone what expansive land looked like — the Great Canadian Shield spans, quite literally, across the country. By landmass we’re #2 and you can watch your dog run away from home for days.

But, in true Texas fashion, everything seems… bigger. After leaving Austin’s city limits we saw more tumbleweed than people and the horizon beyond the rolling, dusty hills looked as far away as California. We set out 450 miles due West and for hours I swear we were exactly where we started. (Probably because I took a wrong turn and added two hours to the trip, but all part of the experience as Dad would say).

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We finally righted our path and end up back on I10, the highway that runs from the Pacific Ocean all the way to Florida.

And then, BAM

And there we were…

Ahead of us drove a lonely U-Haul making its way across the desert.

We were a safe distance back when out of nowhere the truck starts swerving erratically. A back tire blows and fishtailing forces the truck violently between both shoulders. Cue: Kacie and I re-enact David Spade and Christopher Farley in Tommy Boy:

The truck flies off the right shoulder, does a full somersault returning to its mangled wheels, and barrels back on the road screeching to a halt. The entire side has been torn off, jaggedly exposing the remaining contents that haven’t been splayed across the road.

We slam to a stop. Kacie frantically calls 9-1-1, I put the hazard lights on, check both ways for cars and run as fast as I can toward the wreckage. As I got closer I smelled chemicals and fuel, and in that split second knew that I was going to see a dying person.

I reached for the door, and out slumped a conscious young man deep in shock.

Me: Are you ok?

Him: I think so.

Me: Is there anyone else in there with you?

Him: No.

Me: We need to get away right now.

And we did. We walked together back to Kacie who told us help was on the way and kept talking with him to ensure he stayed with us.

Kacie: I’m so sorry this happened. It looks like all of your personal things were in the truck.

Him: Ya, it’s a sad story.

Kacie: It really is, I’m so sorry.

Him: My wife just left me and am moving my stuff to Arizona.

Kacie/Verity: … shit, that got way sadder.

A brigade of ambulance and police vehicles quickly arrived breaking the awkward silence and we hung around to give a statement. After an hour EMS gave us the green light to leave and the young man thanked us and we exchanged numbers.

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Fast forward: The next day our bottle of wine date was interrupted by a text from Sam, the U-Haul guy. He went to the hospital and against all odds came out ok. He also mentioned he was surprised that the accident was picked up by a bunch of entertainment news outlets like Billboard and TMZ. Check out the articles – Sam is quoted and basically says he owes his life to us, or something like that.  

Turns out he’s a musician in a super popular band called Asking Alexandria and Kacie and I have all access passes with our names on them! He also said that his wife heard of the accident, picked him up, and they got back together. We raised our wine glasses to him, and our own good health.

Enough Adventure for One Day

Natural next step was scouting the closest liquor store to our campsite. 50 miles out from our final destination we pulled up to Alpine (a mirage in the desert) and bought some overpriced provisions.

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Later that evening we arrived at the legendary El Cosmico, a hippie campground in an eerily quiet, painfully remote little west Texas town called Marfa — not to be confused with Martha with a T. When you google El Cosmico the two suggested questions are: 1) Who owns El Cosmico? And 2) What is the color of the universe? You get the idea.

We set up camp, cracked some drinks and settled in for the evening.

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Marfa

Beyond its remoteness, the town is known for minimalist architecture and installation art. You can walk around the 1.6 square mile town in a few hours and see a remarkable range of buildings and public works. You’ll also witness abandoned, dilapidated structures for blocks on end.

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555 families live year-round in Marfa, and Kacie and I met all of them. We were inducted as locals during our second day in the city. The golden hour of 5 p.m. hit and we headed to the (only) local watering hole Lost Horse Saloon. During the preceding 48 hours we independently met every single person at the bar — who were all getting drunk together. The waiter, the tour guide, the person asking for directions, campsite attendant and the coffee shop worker.

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We also had the great pleasure of visiting Prada Marfa, an iconic instillation structure (I mean ‘pop architectural land art project’) beloved by hipsters worldwide. A mandatory photo op ensued.

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Big Badass Bend

Pictures and descriptions simply won’t do this national park justice, so I’ll keep it short and recommend that you visit Big Bend as soon as you can to see it for yourself. The protected area houses 118 miles along the Rio Grande separating Mexico from the US — who says you need new a wall?!

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We saw loads of animals during our stay including, in random order: javelina (mini desert pig), roadrunners (they go at the speed of light), coyotes, eagles, white tailed deer, jack rabbits, bunny rabbits, and loads of birds. It was my time in Bend that convinced me to become a more competent bird watcher, so I bought binoculars and the book Field Guide to Birds of North America by Kaufman (highly recommended) to become officially official. Equally endorsed, Big Bend Beer (not pictured) and prickly pear margaritas.

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Being spry, adventurous types we decided that hiking and bouldering were in order. Most unfortunately, the park had a few surprises in store.

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The bouldering route we had our heart set on didn’t exist. I know this because we spent an hour bushwhacking to the base of the rock face only to realize our park rock climbing map was written when Jesus was walking the earth.

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And the South Rim 12.6 mile trail somehow got the best of my knee. On the descent to camp it locked up and I straight-legged my way down. A special thanks to Peg, the random nurse on the trail, who took pity on me and bandaged my leg for the way down. Nothing a few Big Bend Beers wouldn’t fix.

Despite my ailment, the views were breathtaking. I’ll leave you with some photos.

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BRB just doing stuff for a bit k?

x V

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7 Comments

  1. I am extremely inspired together with your writing skills as neatly as with the format in your weblog. Is that this a paid subject matter or did you customize it your self? Anyway stay up the excellent high quality writing, it is uncommon to peer a great blog like this one today..

  2. Another great adventure from a great story teller!

    Texas is a great state full of so many adventures…I look forward to reading your next story.

    Take care and travel safe.

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