Bick, you shoulda shot that fella a long time ago. Now he's too rich to kill."
-- Uncle Bawley in 'Giant'
We made our way to west Texas in a roundabout sort of way through the New Mexico mountains, heading toward Marfa. Maybe you have heard of Marfa, Texas, way out west...way out. Marfa is located 74 miles from Van Horn and has around 2,000 residents. This part of west Texas is sparsely populated with many miles between towns. As you approach town there isn't much to see other than west Texas desert and a Prada store sitting all alone out on the empty highway. In this part of the world you need a sense of humor to survive. Marfa is a place known for its art and artists, its writers-in-residence program and a theater group. The Prada store is an example of the off-kilter and experimental creativity of the art scene...a fake Prada store in the middle of nowhere.
Marfa has another lasting claim to fame. It was the location for shooting the movie "Giant" released in 1956. It was James Dean's last movie.
Our Marfa destination was El Cosmico, a camping site just outside of Marfa. This is not exactly a normal hotel and it would not be considered old...unless you consider sleeping in a teepee as old. This is more of a "glamping" experience.
We were booked in at El Cosmico for two nights. The first night in two safari tents and the second night in a teepee. The safari tents were nice; equipped with a queen size bed, side tables and a chair all on a raised wooden floor. There was a hanging pendant light as well as a reading light and a radio. The best part was the heated mattress pad. This was November and it was pretty cold at night -- down in the low 40s -- and the heated bed was great. Very cozy
The place is rustic to say the least. The bath house provides the communal shower and toilet facility. The shower house also includes a claw-foot tub if you are bold enough to try it. There is a kitchen house where campers can cook their own meals. They also have a small store but not much else. Besides the safari tents and the teepees there are a number of vintage (1950ish) trailers. The trailers had cooking facilities and bathrooms.
While it was great fun and very comfortable in the safari tent, I opted to sleep elsewhere and made plans to stay at a local hotel the second night. This was based on a medical complication that I should have planned for and didn't...my fault, not El Cosmico's. My daughter opted to stay in the teepee the second night.
She had a great experience with the teepee. One really has to stay in a well-constructed teepee at least once to appreciate it. It was much larger and had a cow hide covered wooden floor and a couch/futon as well as the chair and side tables and heated queen bed. There were three tepees and about eight safari tents as well as the six or eight vintage travel trailers. I think I would consider one of the trailers for my next visit.
We were hoping to see a dark night sky and thousands of stars but it was a full moon and we mostly saw the moon. We could walk anywhere at night without a flash light because the moon was so bright. It is known to be a good spot to take pictures of the night sky because there is almost no light pollution and the low humidity cuts down on the haze.
HOTEL PAISANO - MARFA, TX
I already mentioned that I opted to stay at a local hotel the second night in Marfa. The Hotel Paisano is a historic hotel on the national register, built in 1930 and designed by Henry Trost, a well known southwestern architect. The hotel was used to house actors during the filming of the Edna Ferber classic "Giant".
When I checked in I mentioned to the desk clerk that I spent the previous night at El Cosmico. He said that they frequently get "refugees" from El Cosmico. My room was next to the room Elizabeth Taylor stayed in during the filming of the movie. Maybe James Dean or Rock Hudson stayed in my room? Maybe it was George Stevens or Dennis Hopper? Who knows? Edna herself?
The hotel is restored (mostly) and is well maintained. They seem very proud of the hotel and its history. The main lobby is a shrine to west Texas Spanish revival. All of the public areas are nicely kept and restored. The rooms are quite large for an eighty year old hotel and are well maintained but in need of just a little more restoration. The bathrooms are beautifully preserved from the 1930s.
My room was nice and roomy with some nice period (1930-40) style furniture. It had French doors leading out to the balcony overlooking a large courtyard with a fountain. It was a little too cold to take full advantage of the balcony but in warmer weather it would be great.
The hotel has a nice and popular restaurant. The food was good and plentiful with a varied menu but the prices were a little high…but where are you gonna go…Van Horn?
WHAT TO DO
We were on a tight schedule -- visiting Big Bend National Park and Guadalupe Mountain National Park and the distances are such that you have to leave early and you get back late. If we had more time there is plenty to do in Marfa. The town is small but it is artsy -- there are several art galleries and art studios. The theater company will often put on performances. You might see a movie being made. Scenes from "No Country for Old Men" and "There Will be Blood" were filmed in Marfa. There is really nothing left to see of the movie set from "Giant" but the area will look familiar if you know the movie. There also is a local paranormal spectacle called The Marfa Lights, which you can drive out to at night and try to see. So many folks do that they have set up a designated parking lot and viewing area so people won't park on the highway and get run over. This is west Texas, after all.
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This is my last installment of my In Praise of Old Hotels series until I get back out on the road. It might be a few months but I'll get there.