HO BOY. Did we ever have a Texas-sized time visiting this fine state.
To achieve our overstuffed itinerary, we not-so-secretly stole a couple of days from Oklahoma. We felt justified doing so because Texas is SO big- plus, we wanted to cram as much as possible into this state, which we’ve both visited and loved in the past.
When telling an eccentric park ranger at Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge that we were headed to Texas next, he demanded that we stay in Oklahoma longer and avoid Texas altogether. We told him we were going to Austin- “yeah, that’s ok then. That’s OK, but nowhere else!” Then we said we were going to Big Bend National Park, which got another nod of approval, and then the desert of West Texas, to which he finally conceded that we were going to the ONLY acceptable places in Texas. Ranger Randy, you know how to pick ’em.
Texas has a reputation, and not without reason. The cities of Houston and Dallas are akin to L.A. in terms of sprawl and lack of walkability. The gun laws and death penalty are downright creepy. Louise had good reason to skirt around Texas in ‘Thelma and Louise‘ (which we re-watched recently as we entered the southwest). One thinks of the drawl, the desert, the longhorn steer, the football (er, ‘Friday Night Lights‘ that is), and the endless blue skies. Since I had been there before, I also knew they had a fierce monopoly on exotic jerky and outdoor music venues.
Austin is one of our favorite cities to visit- we’ve been to the South by Southwest festival multiple times (some together and some apart for work)- and love the energy and creative spirit the city is teeming with. Plus, THE FOOD! Also, some good friends have lived in Austin for a few years, and visiting the city is always a double-whammy to visit both them and the surrounding city. This time around they put us up in their house, and we owe them big-time!
Our visit to Austin was wonderful as always. The first thing we did was get our butts to an Alamo Drafthouse. Our marriage is partially built on a mutual love of movies (pretty sure it was the ‘Billy Madison‘ reference I made when we were watching Kenneth Branagh’s ‘Hamlet‘ as homework on one of our first dates 😉 ). These theaters are the ultimate pinnacle of moviegoing awesomeness. If you aren’t familiar with them, they are cinema grills run by true cinephiles. They serve great food and don’t allow talking during the films, to the point where they will kick people out if they continue talking after being warned. To a couple of moviegoing curmudgeons like Carl and I, it’s heaven. We say our prayers daily for a branch to open up in Minnesota.
We intentionally took a break from USAnywhere dealings in Austin, to recharge and enjoy our time there as a vacation from moving around so much. We ate about a million tacos, swam in Barton Springs, played frisbee, went to an awesome bouldering gym, took woodsy walks and played amongst the bluebonnet flowers (which were in bloom just in time for our visit!). Our friends Kat and Andy took us to Jester King Brewery, which takes up residence right next to a pizza farm outside of town. We drank excellent beer and played corn hole into the evening. All this and a final visit to the Whole Foods headquarters for a giant breakfast buffet served as a reminder for why we developed such a great affection for Austin in the first place. It was good for our hearts to spend time with friends, and again, we REALLY owe you guys!!
Next we went on to Big Bend National Park, which required us to drive all the way across the state to the southwestern corner. Big Bend sits right on the Mexican Border, where the Rio Grande divides the two countries. We’d never really heard of it before, but a few people brought it up at our wedding reception when we were asking for recommendations for this trip. To put it plainly, we adored this park. It’s massive in every sense of the word- the land stretches across a hundred miles, the rocks (mountains?) tower above you in the sky, and dozens of diverse hikes are on offer in different parts of the land. It feels so massive and remote; the opportunities for adventure are many. We camped in the park for 3 days. It got up to 100 degrees in the afternoon, which completely surprised us (being that it was still March!) We napped in the heat and hiked in the evenings and early mornings.
It was one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever seen. Someone said to us that “it’s second only to the Grand Canyon!” which we can certainly believe. Everything about it felt huge and awesome. We never wanted to leave! Even though we’ve explored other parts of the southwest (and more famous National Parks since- sorry, I’m behind on these blogs!), this one still tops our list. The diversity of the landscape is so great- the park even has natural hot springs that were developed in the early 1900’s. We swam in the ruins.
We also discovered our new favorite beer here- the Hefeweizen from Big Bend Brewing. It’s fruity and nutty and light and delicious. We bought as many as we had room for (which wasn’t a whole lot- our fridge is WAY tiny and we can’t justify devoting that much space to beer)- but we still have a couple of treasured cans. Maybe we’ll give you one if you come to visit us :).
Alas, we had to move on from Big Bend- but we were equally pumped for our next stop: Marfa, TX. I can’t remember when I first heard about this art mecca in the middle of nowhere, but it’s popped up several times in the last few years on many a well-curated Instagram feed. This once-fledgling small town got a major boost in the 1980’s from artist Donald Judd, whose time at an army base in Marfa inspired him to return and make it home to some of his large-scale artwork. Read more about him and his influential body of work here! With the help of the Dia Art Foundation, the Chinati Foundation became a major museum in the area spearheaded by Judd, and several galleries and boutiques have staked their claim and flourished in Marfa despite the remoteness of the town. It’s also a popular site for movies to film, because of the beautiful, remote desert landscape. Recently, No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood featured several shots of the area surrounding Marfa.
We stayed at the El Cosmico Campground, which was a tiny bit of pure magic. The campground has tent spaces available, but it also offers boutique army tents, teepees, and remodeled vintage trailers to spend the night in. From the concept alone we thought this place might feel a little ‘hipper than thou’, but in reality it felt completely laid back and positive. We loved it! We stayed one night in a teepee and the other in our trailer, exploring town by day.
We were bummed to finally leave Texas, but we had a rendezvous with my parents in New Mexico to look forward to. We made the requisite stop at Prada Marfa on the way out of town (an art installation featuring a non-functioning Prada store on the side of the highway), and drove into the desert towards Carsbad Caverns.
More next week on our travels in New Mexico!
US Anywhere is a year-long, cross-country documentary project by newlyweds Carl and Anna. They are taking the 52 weeks of 2016 and are using them to travel the country and make short films about all 50 states (plus Washington, D.C.). The project will seek to illuminate the states and the hugely diverse urban and natural landscapes of the US. They hope to inspire others to dream, travel, explore, and connect with the United States.