It all started on a Monday.
“We could leave this Saturday”
Every so often I get this itch to travel. Never mind that my husband and I were leaving the following week for a trip to Vegas. That just wasn't soon enough for me. I needed to travel to the mountains in the middle of nowhere. Now. My sister and I had talked about taking a road trip, just us girls to Marfa, TX. But, upon looking at the calendar we realized the soonest we could both get away would be after the holidays. Unless we went somewhere that Saturday and returned Monday. Oh yes, unless…
A few years ago my little sister, Val, had a collection of bronze sculptures in a gallery in Marfa. For reasons unforeseen, the sculptures went from the gallery in Marfa to a rancher named James’ front porch in Alpine, TX, about 40 miles away from Marfa. Lubbock, where we live, is about 302 miles away.
"Val has spoken to the man a few times on the phone regarding the sculptures. Seems ligit.”
Looking for a bit of an excuse to get outta town and get away from it all we came up with the plan to go get the lost sculptures of Val’s past. No idea who this fella was or where he lived.
"Coyotes wear collars right?"
We talked about it on Monday, made it official on Tuesday and found ourselves in the pitch black night driving to Marfa by Saturday. A friend of ours got married on Saturday at 2 pm. We were on the road by 5 pm. We knew we’d be driving in the dark. We had no idea it would be so dark you couldn’t see your hand in front of you. And, it was a part of Texas I was not at all familiar with. Scary and creepy do not even begin to describe my feelings as we drove along the sparsely lit route we mapped out for ourselves. With little varmint eyes staring at us, coyotes howling, and fires from oil wells blazing in the middle of nowhere. I suppose the weirdness of the whole trip started then.
We rolled into Marfa at about 10 pm Saturday night. By 12 am we had seen the mysterious Marfa Lights, 4 shooting stars, met a band traveling from New York, and had a beer in a teepee bar warmed by a fire. Trippy does not even describe this night, or this trip. Our first night there we stayed at a cool hotel, the Thunderbird. Imagine minimalism meets 1960’s dorm room. The room was great, the breakfast even better. In a town as small as Marfa even they devote themselves to green living. Using serving utensils made of biodegradable bamboo. The food was all organic milk, oatmeal, cereal, fruit, etc. An earth-friendly paradise. There we met an older gentlemen biking from El Paso to Alpine then back to El Paso. Say what?
“It’s better to use your head than lose it” -Written on the walls of the artillery sheds at the Chinati Foundation, formerly the Military Base Fort D.A. Russell, as a message to German POW’s from World War II.
Sunday morning we head to the Chinati Foundation. Cool got cooler at this point. We saw installations and pieces by Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, and Claes Oldenburg. The Judd installations were extraordinary. 100 large aluminum works fill the former artillery sheds, as 15 works of concrete sprawl across the former military polo field outside near the highway. Strange just got more strange. I am not a huge fan of Flavin’s work. I find it to be a waste of energy and space, among other things. Just my personal opinion. We also saw the piece Monument to the Last Horse by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. A giant sculpture of a horseshoe as an homage to Louie, the last cavalry horse put to rest in 1932 at the former Military base.
“Guess we’ll have the tomato and cucumber sandwich”
Fat Lyle’s. That was the name on the RV trailer we ordered our lunch from across the highway from the Chinati Foundation. Who would have ever known such deliciousness could derive from tomatoes, cucumbers, and cheese, nestled between toasted warm bread? It was a little slice of heaven.
“We must have missed the turn”
2:30 pm. That was the time we had scheduled to meet with our horseback tour guide, Dennis, at the Cibolo Creek Ranch Resort. It was 1:30 pm and my GPS had taken us clear past where we should have turned. Turned out we were damn near Mexico. Don’t EVER rely solely on your GPS. We ended up at the shanty town called Shafter. It was about a quarter mile of winding dirt roads wide enough for one car. There were houses made of car parts if that tells you anything. Although, there was a lovely church. And, had we not gotten lost we would have never seen Elephant Rock. It is a sight to behold.
“Guess I’m supposed to push this bird doorbell”
After driving 10 minutes on a dirt road that seemed to lead to nowhere we came upon what seemed like a cruel, cruel joke. I just knew there were cameras to some practical joke show watching us panic like fools at the thought that we were going to get shot for embarking on private property. There was a tall iron gate keeping us from entering the property, and we had no idea how to open it. I looked to my left and there was a bird shaped doorbell. I pressed it, and lo and behold the gate opened and we were on our way to an oasis that we had no idea even existed.
The following 24 hours were filled with what can only be described as adventure, silliness, and bucket list check offs. I cannot seem to find the words to describe how much this trip meant to me. Instead I leave it to my camera to help fill in the rest.
"Is that not the cutest thing you've ever seen? It's a tiny!"
Dennis: "Valerie, you're going to ride Boots"
Val: "Should I wear a helmut? Is he going to freak out when I get on him?"
Dennis: "Marci, you get Cimarron. He's a lagger"
Marci: "Then he's the horse for me. I'll get him to catch up"
"You guys are getting shots that few people ever bother to look at. This is where it's really beautiful"
"On the other side of those mountains is Mexico"
"Cibolo Creek has a guard donkey. He protects the livestock from coyotes and mountain lions"
"Let's do a mini photo shoot with this beautiful setting and sunlight"
"You guys are leaving today? Hope you'll come back and see us soon"
"Oh! Here are my sunglasses!"
"I'm so glad you like to blow bubbles on road trips"
"Of course. It's a blimp. A real blimp. Out here in the middle of nowhere"
"This place really is weird. Isn't it? I knew it wasn't just me"
"They're all left shoes"
"I mean, I get graffiti. But, graffiti on your own wall. Not the Prada Marfa wall"
"Val, you doing a little window shopping?"
"Someone sure did shoot at this place."
Val: "Thank you so much for bringing me back my sculptures, James! Would you take a picture?"
James: "A picture of what?"
"That cop that just pulled us over was so nice. That was so thoughtful of him to give us a warning AND a better route home. Goodbye, Marfa and Alpine. We will miss you, and we will be back"
Me: "Now let's see if we can make it most of the way back home before it gets dark"
Val: "You know what I'd like to see? A hyena and a mountain lion go at it"
This trip meant so much to me. Not only did my sis and I start a new tradition of taking a road trip once a year. But, I also saw a side of Texas that I've never seen before. A side that is beautiful and strange, rugged and tough, a place that dares you to try to make it. It's also life changing. It has been one of the few places I wasn't ready to leave, and I left a little piece of my heart back in that part of Texas.