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Solitude, surprises in the high desert

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Solitude, surprises in the high desert
« on: March 29, 2007, 08:37:22 PM »

Solitude, surprises in the high desert

Web Posted: 03/24/2007 07:06 PM CDT
Kelly Fenstermaker
Special to the Express-News
MARATHON — Drive around the back roads of Marathon and you can't miss it. Domes and vaulted roofs painted outrageous hues of orange, purple and pink rise above neighborhood trees and houses. What appears to be a Mediterranean village gone psychedelic is actually Eve's Garden Bed and Breakfast and Ecology Resource Center. This fantasy retreat is the creation of Kate Thayer and Clyde Curry, a manifestation of their dream to grow organic food and create housing both beautiful and environmentally sound.

Within the grounds of Eve's Garden, winding paths lead to lush gardens and unexpected fishponds. Intimate nooks and crannies secluded in curved walls invite guests to curl up with a cup of tea and a book. Beyond the gardens, mountains and space — endless space — meet the edge of town.

"This place is a sanctuary of beauty and serenity," remarked Priscilla Wiggins, a part-time resident of Marathon whose paintings are featured in the inn.

Curry and Thayer are a perfect balance of talents and the responsibilities they share at Eve's Garden. Tall and lanky with reddish hair and startling blue eyes, Curry is an accomplished builder. He constructed the domed buildings with papercrete, an innovative material made of shredded recycled paper, recycled Styrofoam and Portland cement. It is lightweight, easy to work with and has outstanding insulation properties.

Building papercrete bricks and adding guest rooms is an ongoing, dawn-to-dusk process for Curry, and he can usually be found in overalls spattered with paint and concrete. He also built a straw bale house on the other side of town.

Thayer is lithe and slender, with long brown hair shot with gold. She is responsible for the gardens, interior d?cor and the delicious breakfasts served to guests. Much of her time is spent at work in a 4,000-square-foot greenhouse on the property. A jungle of colorful flowers, fruits and vegetables, it supplies much of what ends up on the breakfast table.

On my visit, all the rooms were ablaze with brilliant orange, yellow and red nasturtiums, grown by Thayer. That morning, she served an omelet made of onions, mushrooms and freshly picked zucchini. Along with that, we had homemade apple and walnut muffins and fresh fruit salad.

The inn's main house is a 100-year-old frame that the couple renovated. It contains the kitchen, two dining rooms, living room and a 44-foot lap pool. The rooms are filled with antiques, and the walls are covered with pictures, many by local artists. In the living room, a massive coffee table separates two deep, cushy couches.

Although it's tempting never to leave the magic of Eve's Garden, exploring Marathon should be on any visitor's list. The high desert climate (altitude of 4,000 feet) makes it one of the coolest places in Texas. Once a railroad shipping point for cattle in the early 20th century, today most of the town's approximate 660 residents are supported in some way by tourism.

The Gage Hotel, on the main street (U.S. 90), opened in 1927. It is a major focal point, with a bar and an excellent restaurant with indoor and outdoor dining. The boardwalk, east of the Gage, features a lineup of stores, galleries, a soda fountain and sandwich place, and a bakery. Just west of the Gage, the Marathon Coffee Shop, with Internet access, is a popular hangout for both locals and visitors. After driving into town to pick up their mail, ranchers in broad-brimmed Stetsons and clinking spurs often drop in for lunch.

The back roads of Marathon, on the north side behind the Gage Hotel, are worth a look, too. This is the highest part of town, with views of several mountain ranges. Wonderful old Victorians mix it up with adobe houses and the occasional corral with one or two horses. A museum on Third Street North and Avenue E displays early ranching and railroad memorabilia. Across the street from Eve's Garden is St. Mary's Catholic Church, known for its beautiful wood doors, hand carved by a local resident.

The neighborhood ends abruptly at ranch land, a vast prairie extending to the Glass Mountains. Formed millions of years ago by volcanic eruptions, these mountains harbor cattle, some buffalo and a handful of people. It is a land of harsh beauty and deep solitude.

The other side of the tracks, equally interesting, is dotted with slightly more modest adobe houses, some crumbling; others beautifully renovated. The old jail, built with native stone, stands on South Second Street between Avenues C and D.

For its size, Marathon has an unusual number of artists, writers and photographers. Among them, James Evans, a celebrated photographer who started out in Marathon as a cook at the Gage Hotel, has a studio on the boardwalk. Two blocks east of the Gage, Mary Baxter, painter of West Texas landscapes, has a gallery identified by a huge jackrabbit painted on the front.

Then there is Alan Tennant, author of the best-selling book, "On the Wing."

"I looked at a nighttime satellite map of North America that showed light images," said Tennant. "In the Trans Pecos, there were fewer lights than anywhere, which meant less intrusion of people onto the land. So I moved to Marathon."

When the sun sets, there are a couple of places to go for dinner. One is the Gage Hotel. Its varied menu features one of the best fillet mignons I have encountered anywhere. If you order it rare, it will make the chef very happy and he may come out to congratulate you on your discriminating taste.

After dinner, there isn't a whole lot to do, but the West Texas sky is one of the darkest in the state, and the stars are breathtaking. Spending an evening in a comfy lawn chair looking at them and listening to the song of the cicada can be entertainment in itself.

Marathon is the last stop before Big Bend National Park, reached on U.S. 385. Before leaving the area, bird watchers would be advised to visit The Post, a prime bird watching spot five miles out of town, due south of the Gage Hotel. It is a public park with shade trees, picnic tables and restrooms. A large pond attracts ducks, vermillion flycatchers, elf owls and many other western species.

Interest in nature tourism in general has recently increased in Marathon. Last August, the town celebrated its first Nature Festival with speakers on a wide range of subjects.

"I'm pleased with the direction Marathon is taking," said Thayer. "Ranches are opening their land to eco-tourists and are working with the community in a common goal to preserve our land."
Kelly Fenstermaker lives in Fort Davis where she rides Arabian horses and hosts and produces programs for Marfa Public Radio.
San Antonio Express-News publish date March 25, 2007

Where to eat
• Gage Hotel
Open every night
(432) 386-4205
•Cottonwood Station
11:30-2 p.m. for lunch; 5:30-9 p.m. for dinner
Thursday, through Sunday, with live music Friday and Saturday
(432) 386-4300
•The Courtyard Caf? (in the Marathon Motel)
Serving breakfast, 6-10 a.m. Monday through Friday
(432) 386-4241
• Eve's Garden Bed and Breakfast
(432) 386-4165
• Gage Hotel
(432) 386-4205
• Marathon Motel
(432) 386-4241
www.marathonmotel.c om
• For places to stay, restaurants, and other information about Marathon, consult www.marathontexas.c om
•For a guide to the Big Bend, see m
How to get there
• Marathon is on U.S. 90, about six hours by car from San Antonio. The nearest commercial airport is Midland/Odessa, about 170 miles away. Rental cars are available.



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