Sunday, December 30, 2018

Small Towns in a Big State

December 17-26, 2018
Brackettville - Marathon, Texas

Monday we arrive at Fort Clark Springs RV Park - the historic fort being the only thing here except for a gas station/convenience store and two little eateries. The fort is also home to the majority of residents in what are now private properties. It's definitely "different". 

Narrow asphalt interior roads lead to asphalt tight sites. Level with 50 amp FHUs and a nice green area out our front window. Maybe ten of the 85 sites are for over-nights, the rest are all working permanent residents. No idea where they work, there's nothing here.

Thought we'd visit Kickipoo Caverns State Park, but it's closed this week for hunting. Again, "different". I'm disgusted to see there is a trophy hunting ranch outside of town. All of the land is owned by a handful of ranches leaving zero access to anywhere off the state highways.

We do take a couple drives, and chill out at home before moving on.

A lone hawk surveys the area.

This Oryx herd is fortunately not on the trophy ranch, so they may be strays or rescues.

Their horns can't be easy to navigate in the thick Mesquite.

Several Armadillos along the roadside - they're so weird looking!

A handsome bull - one of very few cattle on all of this ranch land.

A herd of pretty Chital (axis deer) visit us at the RV park.
We fail to successfully get ahead of the wind on Wednesday morning, and I fight it all the way to Marathon, Texas. For the first time in months we see real mountains - and we're happy to be back in the West! Crossings at Seminole Canyon and the Pecos River are especially beautiful.

After reading Laurel's post (Raven and Chickadee) about the quirky little towns of Marathon and Terlingua they visited last year at this time, I was happy to route us here. We love quirky!

Marathon Motel and RV is a cute little dirt park at the edge of "town". We score the end site with wide open views and lovely sunsets. Level with FHUs and sporadic park WiFi, it's very dark and quiet. There's a train less than 200 yards from us, but we love the whistle and rumble so it's a plus for us :-)

Normally they do star-gazing from the beautiful courtyard, but with the bright full moon, and the very cold night time temps, nobody comes out.

With more fenced-off private land, we probably could have done just a couple days in Marathon, but we're here for six, and of course we make the best of it!

Post Park, a small desert oasis 5 miles south.

As soon as we park the welcoming committee waddles right to the Jeep. They make a u-turn when Tessa pokes her head out the window. She never bothers them as we explore.

Love the 'do'.
On the way to Alpine we stop by the world's smallest Target. In 2016, unknown persons adorned this tiny cinder block building on US 90 with the familiar store logo. You can find it on TripAdvisor's list of Things to Do in Marathon :-)

It's a long drive, but we make our way to the Elephant Mountain Wildlife Management Area so we can "get behind the fence". All to ourselves, we enjoy the quiet and getting some dirt on the tires.

Happy to have mountains in our views again!

Yuccas blooming among the gold grass.

A bright spot of winter orange.
Texas still-life in the abandoned orchard.

Pretty long views on our way home.

Winter Solstice full moon.
Later the western skies steal the show.
Although the train moves rapidly through Marathon now, and there are only a couple small cattle herds visible, Marathon was established in 1882 as a major shipping and supply depot for local ranchers. During the Mexican Revolution, Captain Douglas MacArthur moved troops into the area to aid civil authorities in maintaining order. He was later replaced by Lt. George S. Patton. A little place prepared some very big names for bigger battles!

Many industries, including a short oil boom, came and went and the population fluctuated between 218 and 1,000 over the decades.

Today 462 residents live in what has become little more than the "gateway to Big Bend National Park".

The Eagle was the only local newspaper in Marathon - from 1908-1912.

Lovely Christmas window at one of three main street shops.

Built in 1927 by local rancher Alfred Gage, it is now owned by Stephen Austin descendant JP Bryan who has restored it to a beautiful western destination. Zane Grey is said to have written one of his famous novels while staying here.

The hotel grounds offer a beautiful setting in the center of town.
How we like our holiday crowds!
Gage Gardens offer a pretty place for walking - even in the sparse winter season.

It's not the beach, but big lawn zoomies are fun too!

A fun character with wild hair!
This straw-bale B&B is a bright beauty in an otherwise brown setting.
A drive north on Hwy 385, we find a dirt road that takes us into a pretty canyon and around a few smaller ranches. We spend the afternoon exploring - finding a surprising number of critters along the way.

Small bison herd.

Touches of color along the canyon.

Easy to see why they're called Mule Deer.

Ears nearly as big as the rack!

Even a cattle tank can be pretty in the desert.

A rare "push me-pull you" - so clean and shiny! 

Prairie Dogs pop up for a quick peek.
A large shadow ship passes beyond the dark waves.
We love spending part of Christmas morning on Skype with Ezra and his family. Hard not to be there in person, but it's fun to share his excitement.

Showing us some of his goodies.
We enjoy a lovely Christmas evening at the Gage Hotel with delicious Prickly Pear margaritas (as recommended by Laurel) and a couple exceptional dinners.

Lots of family Christmas fun - including an engagement - Congrats Corey and Christie!
Next stop the breath-taking Big Bend National Park!


  1. We’ve yet to make it to Marathon....definitely on our next trip to Big Bend. Glad you were able to find a place to get out in the wilds, Jodee!

  2. Nice that technology offered you a Holiday gathering with family. Big Bend NP is still on our list of National Parks to visit. Can you still cross into Mexico there? Looking forward to your visit!

    1. Not as good as the real thing, but helped a lot :-) You can enter at the little town of Presidio, just past the state park. Of course you can enter illegally across the river!

  3. You are giving Texas a real look. We just can't seem to spend much time there. I'm glad that others are sharing the state with us. You found some very cool wildlife. Well worth the visit. Tessa is certainly enjoying the big yard with zoomie room. Technology is a wonderful thing to keep us in touch with family. How nice that Ezra shared his gifts:) Looking forward to your post on Big Bend NP. Happy New Year!!

    1. We blew through Central Texas last time and said we didn't ever need to do that again. Southern Texas has been pretty spectacular from Corpus Christi west. I'm glad we did this route!

  4. You do some of the best moseying (can I 7ae it as a noun)? Love your full moon and great sunset. Looking forward to visiting Big Bend with you.

    1. We have perfected the mosey! The skies are beautiful here. Probably at sunrise too, but I've stayed in the warm bed until well after they pass!

  5. How did I get 7ae when I typed use?

    1. LOL - always fun to try and figure out what's close on the keyboard to see what it was supposed to be :-)))

  6. Big Bend--one of our all time favorite places. Technology is a wonderful thing--I had a screen time visit with the Germany folks at Christmas time and Thursday I attended a funeral--via a live stream on Facebook.

    1. It is amazing here! Like so many, you have to be here to really appreciate how beautiful it is. Wow, a funeral on FB is genius for those who can't travel. We complain about social media killing conversation, but it does facilitate connections we couldn't make otherwise.

  7. TX does have some quirky places, one of these days we'll take the time to explore the state extensively. The last full moon was certainly very bright and it's been real cold down here.

    1. I'm glad we've given it another chance. The amount of land owned by just a few people is sad, but being in the national and state parks has been wonderful. Can't imagine it cold there!! Our lows will be in the 20s when we move on to Marfa tomorrow :-(

  8. I'm so glad you enjoyed Marathon! Quirky is our kind of place, too. :-)) How lovely to spend six days there. You really got out and explored so much of the surrounding wild land—we just wandered the town for two days after our week in Big Bend NP. It was our introduction back into civilization, LOL!
    I wish we had been there to have dinner with you at the Gage! I think we chose wrong when we were there, because our quail were kind of skimpy. The steak, however, looks fantastic! Weren't those prickly pear margaritas the best? Your brilliant sunset photo is fantastic!
    Happy New Year!! See you soon! :-))

    1. So glad I read your post over again and routed us to this area for the holidays! And yes, those margaritas were spectacular.

  9. Looks like you were on safari. When I traveled through there I stayed at friends in the cute town of Alpine. Sadly, I didn't get to the park so am really looking forward to your tour of Big Bend.

    1. For not being able to explore much in those areas we did see a good amount of critters!! Alpine was covered in ice when we came through yesterday.

  10. I can't believe how many different, and beautiful, animals you saw! I'll be referring back to this when we go through this area next year. Such cute places. I also like quirky. A nice Christmas even though you weren't with the family. Nice to video with them and love the pictures.

    1. After having so little access beyond the highways, we were really excited to get out on the dirt. And very surprised to see all the critters!!

      The RV park is pretty sweet, the BBQ place is yummy, and the long views are wonderful - but you really only need a couple days to appreciate all of it :-)