On our big wish-list map of places we want to hit on this trip, we have two dots in far southwest Texas: Big Bend National Park, and the town of Marfa. Marfa is on several “best small towns” lists that we came across while researching destinations, such as this one (go Staunton!), and we thought it would be a great base from which to explore Big Bend. However, due to Spring Break, there were no campground spots available in Marfa, so on the recommendation of Robert from Pedernales Brewing, we stayed in the tiny town of Ft Davis (he loves to stay at the Stone Village Tourist Camp). It’s at the top of a rough triangle of towns separated by 20-25 miles, with Marfa and Alpine making the bottom points. The drive from Ft Davis to Big Bend was about an hour and a half. Big Bend was freaking amazing. That will be a separate post.
This tiny old-Texas town really grew on me. There’s a short stretch of shops, a few restaurants, three hotels, a sweet little grocery, and our RV park on the main drag. That’s really it. We were a little concerned by the lack of options until we realized it was just a base for exploring the area, and as a base, it was great.
We stayed at Overland Trail Campground, ideally located a block down from the grocery, and a short walk from the little general store and a couple Mexican restaurants. The great location was balanced by the very small sites: we were packed into the campground like sardines with barely space to set up our “yard” (oh and we fixed the awning!). The main section for RVs didn’t have sewer hookups, but the campground policy is that it’s ok to empty gray water onto the ground… convenient but kind of gross. Overall, though, the campground was cute and the location really couldn’t be beat. Wifi existed, but didn’t work the whole time we were there.
Davis Mountains State Park is a short drive from town, and has lovely trails for hiking and run-hiking. We made a loop of the Skyline Drive Trail to the CCC Trail for a total of about 4.5 miles, and parts were fast and smooth sailing, but much of the trail had large rocks that made for tricky running. We’d recommend it as a hike rather than a run, and it’s a nice hike.
If you are interested in the universe, or just like a pretty night sky, attend a Star Party at the McDonald Observatory (home of StarDate!), one of the darkest places in the US. Every Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday evening, the observatory hosts the public for constellation tours and telescope peeping. Reservations are required because star parties are very popular–you’ll have to wait in line for a few minutes at each telescope. I loved it; J, not so much. And I dragged him up there on his birthday. Sorry, dude.
For a quick and easy run in town, jump on the two-mile path along the main street that stretches from the Fort Davis National Historic Site (we didn’t tour it) to the city park just south of town on route 17.
And, of course, visit Marfa, Alpine, and Big Bend, which we’ll get to later.
On J’s birthday, after eating at random and frequent times throughout the day while on the road, we decided to have ice cream for dinner after returning to Ft Davis. We walked two blocks down from our campground to the Fort Davis Drug Store‘s soda fountain, and ate our ice cream on the benches out front. It was a lovely small-town experience.
After going for a tough morning run in the mountains, we treated ourselves to breakfast at Lupita’s Place. The servings were huge and delicious and totally negated our earlier calorie burn. The picnic tables out front are dog-friendly.
Stone Village Market, the little local grocery store was full of quality natural products, along with local food and beer. They did awesome breakfast tacos, oatmeal, and coffee in the mornings for a perfect breakfast stop before a long day of driving, or for leisurely dining at the dog-friendly tables out front.
We didn’t eat at Cueva de Leon, but they have live music at dinner Thursday through Saturday, so it could be a fun nightlife option in a town with no nightlife. David, the proprietor of our campground, said it’s the best restaurant in town. It’s BYOB.
25 minutes southeast of Ft Davis is the slightly bigger, more happening town of Alpine. Our main mission in going there was to visit the Big Bend Brewery, which was great. We did generous flights and half-pints of all the different beers, sitting at a picnic table out back with Bugsy and new friends from Austin and Galveston. Loved the beer, enjoyed the scene, J wrote up smarter beer notes here.
Before the brewery, we stopped at La Casita, a dive-y little Mexican joint with tables out front where Bugsy could join us. The food was slightly above average, but the meat-free options were few and uninspired (lard in the refried beans, boo). Alpine has a much better selection of restaurants, and has actual bars and music clubs for nightlife, and of course the brewery, so when we come back we’ll likely stay there instead of Ft Davis. Plus, it’s 25 minutes closer to Big Bend NP. Our much younger and hipper friends from the brewery had a few recommendations for next time:
Oh Marfa. We wanted to love you, we really did. We even gave you a second chance, but you disappointed us. We visited Marfa, an acclaimed artsy town 20 minute drive from Ft Davis and 25 minutes from Alpine, on a Wednesday midday and a Thursday late afternoon. It was Spring Break so extra tourists were in town, but still–most of the town was closed. On Wednesday, we found an open coffee shop, Frama, on our second attempt, where there were 4 people in line ahead of me, and my latte took 20 minutes because they were so slammed with Spring Break tourists. Hmm. The coffee was excellent though, from local Big Bend Coffee Roasters. We stopped by a bar with a nice looking outdoor area for Bugsy that was open (!), and found a taco truck advertising incredible sounding tacos–fried avocado! But they were out of most everything and the wait for a taco was 40 minutes. No.
The Food Shark taco truck was closed. The grilled cheese parlour next door was closed. The bbq taco joint in an Airstream was closed. The burrito restaurant was closed. The pizza place next door was closed (permanently?). The really nice hipstery grocery didn’t have any premade food. We left and ate lunch in Alpine, and the new friends we met at the brewery with more local experience agreed that Marfa is overrated–and they’d visited on a weekend.
On Thursday, after visiting the incredible Big Bend NP and taking the scenic drive out along the Rio Grande and Big Bend Ranch State Park from Terlingua to Presidio, we came back through Marfa. Many of the closed places had advertised Thursday through Saturday hours, so we hoped for a better Marfa experience… but no. All those same food places we tried Wednesday were still closed. We ended up ordering food to go from the very busy and noisy (because nothing else was open?) grill at the charming, historic Hotel Paisano and taking it to the really cool Capri Bar, with fancy cocktails, local beer, and a huge, pretty yard with a variety of little seating nooks, fire pits, and hammocks that was perfect for antisocial Bugsy. The food was delicious (I cannot get enough fish tacos), and the special margarita hit the spot. Capri Bar is the best thing about Marfa, in our opinions.
I was interested in seeing the Marfa Lights, but there’s nothing to to until dark but sit at a bar, but then we’d have to drive 20 miles home. The seemingly really cool RV park in town (where we had originally wanted to stay) claims you can view the lights from the campground, so spending a night there would be the way to do it.
Marfa is known for its art scene, but with a dog along it’s hard to do much art gallery tourism. Maybe if we’d been able to visit galleries (and if they’d been open) and tour the Chinati Foundation exhibits we would have appreciated the town more. It could be cool on a summer weekend when places are actually open for business. Who knows. We won’t be back soon. [We did go back, in 2021!]