By June Naylor
Above photo by Nick Simonite
Even Without Snow, It can be A Winter Wonderland
The pull of the Trans-Pecos in winter is strong, what with blue-sky days and crisp, starlit nights that are best appreciated with fewer people around. With its ranks of cactus and ancient rock against backdrops of purple mountain ranges (occasionally there’s a dusting of snow), Big Bend country provides the ultimate remote escape. Here are a couple of places to consider hanging your hat during a sojourn to one of the most beautiful parts of Texas.
Brite Building Marfa
Travelers drawn to the spectacularly chill vibe of El Cosmico’s yurts but desirous of lodgings with real walls, climate control, contemporary kitchen and baths and space to spread out will want to book this 3,800-square-foot second-floor apartment.
Located in the heart of Marfa in an art deco-influenced, Spanish-style landmark dating from 1931, the Brite Building space is one of owner Liz Lambert’s dwellings when she and her family spend time in the Trans-Pecos.
The aesthetic is much like that at nearby El Cosmico, as well as Lambert’s other hotels in Austin and San Antonio — clean and unfussy, with natural surfaces and earth tones punctuated by the occasional bright serape bedspread. Artwork includes sizable landscape prints by Austin photographer Nick Simonite and vivid posters from El Cosmico music festivals.
The apartment offers two bedrooms with king beds and big bathrooms, plus a cavernous living area that flows into a kitchen and dining space, all wrapped by windows with panoramic views of the town and desert beyond. Daily housekeeping is included with the space, as is a well-stocked minibar.
It’s just a five-minute walk to The Get Go, a boutique grocery store with all the fixings for dining in. Otherwise, it’s an even shorter walk to takeout drinks and meals from the wine bistro called Al Campo, and Jett’s Grill and LaVenture, the restaurants at Hotels Paisano and Saint George, respectively. For al fresco dining, check out Cochineal for chef Alexandra Gates’ prix fixe menus on weekends (available dates are posted a month ahead of time) and Para Llevar, where smoked salmon pizza and spicy pimento cheese on flatbread from chef Seth Siegel-Gardner (a James Beard finalist, relocated from Houston) make a lovely afternoon lunch (available for takeout, too).
For more diversions, wander over to the Chinati Foundation to roam the grounds of the legendary art installation under the fluffy West Texas clouds. Take a picnic on a day hike in Davis Mountains State Park, and be sure to stop next door at Fort Davis National Historic Site, where paths wind around restored cavalry post buildings.
Plan an evening to go high atop Mount Locke to the McDonald Observatory in the Davis Mountains; book ahead for one of the star parties, at which astronomers show you night-sky wonders through extraordinary telescopes — but be sure to bundle up, as it’s often very cold at elevations more than a mile high.
The Gage Hotel Casitas, Marathon
A selection of diverse little houses belonging to The Gage Hotel creates options for hanging out within arm’s length of the landmark 1927 lodging rising out of the Brewster County desert.
In nearly 40 years of renovations and expansions, owner J.P. Bryan — who resides nearby on his ranch — has acquired more than two dozen homes and buildings near the hotel. Among several turned into guest houses, the newest is the Alfred Gage Suite. Located in a small building immediately behind the hotel, the space, — originally the hotel founder’s office — makes for a cozy getaway for couples. A large, open floor plan includes a living area and king bed, adjoined by a lavish bathroom and a pretty porch for morning coffee and evening cocktails.
Across the highway and the railroad tracks running parallel to the road, the just-refurbished Wilson House sleeps four. You’ll want to while away the hours in front of the big rock fireplace or on the porch and patio. That’s when you’re not taking long walks in the adjacent, beautifully landscaped Gage Gardens, a peaceful 27-acre spread with pathways around a pond and historic ruins. As at the Alfred Gage and the original hotel, hacienda-style furnishings include heavy, elegant pieces accented by decor employing rustic woods, stone, leather and Native American textiles.
Casita guests have an easy walk to the hotel’s 12 Gage restaurant and the White Buffalo Bar, both of which offer patio as well as indoor seating. Nearby, the Brick Vault Brewery & Barbecue provides all the smoked brisket and housemade ale you can handle. The French Co. Grocer is where you go for picnic provisions as well as hats and other desert survival gear for hiking adventures in Big Bend National Park, an hour’s drive south of Marathon.
Back at the Gage, book a spa treatment for post-hike restoration. And don’t miss the art galleries in Marathon, including those belonging to artists James Evans and E. Dan Klepper.