We rolled into Marathon, TX on Sunday, April 23 for a three night stay to visit Big Bend National Park (see next post for more on the park).
Marathon is a very small southwest Texas town with a population of merely 470. A little post office, a couple of saloons that were shut down, a gas station, a little grocery store and the Gage Hotel, a beautiful historic building that looked out of place because it was so nicely maintained compared to the other buildings on the single street. Just “out of town”, maybe a half mile or so west of town, we found the Marathon Motel & RV Park, our home for the next three nights.
Interesting place. The reception area, stunningly beautiful, is just past what must have been the original motel that now seems to be used as someone’s house. The architecture of the new portion of the property reminded us of Sedona, AZ. You know, the rounded, smooth adobe walls painted soft brown or deep red. A big, beautiful wall to separate the courtyard from the main road at the front of the property with a soothing water feature adding the soft, bubbling sound of gently running water to relax you as you enjoy the sitting area within the courtyard. There is even an outdoor fireplace built into the wall in one corner of the courtyard with a post and beam roof to provide some respite from the sun. In the center of this courtyard is a fire pit and some wooden chairs that were used by guests to enjoy the night sky.
Beyond the reception area are five duplex cabins, the new hotel, a large party area and commercial kitchen facility suitable for weddings or other catered special events. Siobhan especially appreciated the herb gardens within that space. Just to the left of all this recently renovated complex was…a parking lot for the RVs. Oh well, seems like that is common fair out here. We had a place to stay with full hook-ups and the rest of the grounds were much nicer than expected. Since we were so tired from the rough, windy ride into town, we decided to chill for the afternoon once we got the camp set up.
This place, unbeknownst to us, is a destination for regional astronomers. It’s far enough away from everything so there is no light pollution from city lights. In fact, they have an observatory, some high-powered telescopes (way beyond my knowledge of the subject) and even a number of concrete pads set up for guests to use with their own equipment. They also have a lockable storage shed for the guests’ telescopes. Once it got dark, all this made more sense. Guests congregated near the observation pads, set up their gear and traded stories about what they have seen in the past and what new discoveries they were making that night. No wonder the motel advertises that it is located “under one of the darkest skies in the country”.
Although we’re not astronomy buffs, we certainly did appreciate how the stars seemed to jump right out of the deep black sky. It felt like you could just reach up and grab them, right from your lawn chair (but then we would have had to put down our wine glasses). Special.
One afternoon, we walked into town to explore the old buildings and pick up our mail that was forwarded to the old post office. The PO lady was so friendly and helpful, remembering Siobhan from the previous day (mail had not yet arrived). Funny, she asked for ID, even though we were the only people coming into the PO that she had not know for years. Just following the rules, she told us. No worries, we replied. Good to know someone else wasn’t walking away with all those bills, right!
On our walk back to our MH, we explored the Gage Hotel, the gentrified place we mentioned above. This place is something else. Remember, we are in the desert here. There is nothing for miles in any direction but sand, scrub and hills. Ok, maybe an occasional steer or two and even a horse once in a while. Quite desolate way out here. That made this oasis of blooming flowers and trees and grass all the more amazing. Once inside the walls of this spectacular facility, you would quickly forget that you are in the desert.
We spoke with the receptionist, got a little background on the place and a brief tour. They said it would be fine to explore the grounds on our own and we quickly took them up on that offer. The grounds sprawl across 27 acres of lush greens, all natively landscaped with ponds, fountains, nine-hole putting green, rose garden, vineyard, fruit orchard, pool, tennis courts and a large fire pit with banquette seating. We came across a chess board in the finely manicured lawn with 3′ tall chess pieces available for your next match or similarly large checkers if you prefer. The Gage Hotel is the type of place that we would find on one of our VBT tours, all the amenities one could dream of. (Hold on to your wallet though, nightly rack rates varied from $165 to $350, even way out here in the middle of nowhere!)
We thought this tiny little town had character and that you might enjoy hearing a little bit about it.