Trip Guides

Big Bend: A Fun, Funky Stay

Sometimes excitement awakens in the place you rest your head. Travelers discover this in Big Bend Country, where hip hoteliers and old-charm revivalists promise singular stopovers. From hip hideaways to lavish hotels, we searched for a stay with loads of personality.

Photo credit: Nick Simonite

“And can we talk about the hammock grove? It is majestic, it is the laziest thing you’ve ever seen or been a part of, and it is heaven on earth.”

“We capped our night at the adjoining White Buffalo Bar, where the wall-mounted head of a snowy bison seemed to judge our drink choices. But we had no regrets about the peach mint mojitos—or the choice of hotel.”


  • Family
  • Outdoor
  • Big Bend Country

Travel lodging too often can be an afterthought, an outcome of price, distance, and convenience. On occasion, though, where you stay can be as memorable as where you go. The free-spirited Big Bend region brims with such magical exceptions. We checked our bags—and our preconceptions—at the doors of its most unusual way stations.

Cosmic Quirk in Marfa

When a place bills itself as an “18-acre nomadic hotel and campground,” you know you’re in for something different. El Cosmico, located just outside the small-town art haven of Marfa, blends hip, spare amenities and a freewheeling vibe.

Founder and area native Liz Lambert bought the land in 2006, transforming it with do-it-yourself elbow grease and an eye for boho-chic design. Entering the grounds, we felt as if someone had dropped us into a diorama in Wes Anderson’s childhood playroom.

Among the most popular of the rentable units are the seven vintage trailers, each with a different aesthetic. There’s the Imperial Mansion, a 45-foot-long suite decked out in amenities. Its counterpoint, the 18-foot-long Little Pinky, is cute, cozy, and hot pink.

We chose a more spartan version of “glamping” (glamorous camping), with a stay in a tepee. Spanning 22 feet in diameter, each modest tepee features a queen bed, a love seat, a daybed, a lamp, electrical outlets, and speakers with hookup.

Other lodging units include a yurt and safari tents, and those who bring their own tents can camp out on the grounds. That low-priced option comes with access to the communal space and bathhouse, where outdoor-ish showers offer a sense of liberation and a degree of privacy.

And can we talk about the hammock grove? It is majestic, it is the laziest thing you’ve ever seen or been a part of, and it is heaven on earth. My midday nap between the elms was as sweet as the pre-nap chat with neighbors; nothing brings strangers together like unabashed sloth.

Nothing, maybe, except food and music. El Cosmico also has a communal kitchen, and occasionally hosts live bands. Refreshingly, Wi-Fi is nowhere to be found except in the lobby, where bikes can be rented for a ride into town.

That’s only if you can tear yourself away.

Ghost Town Getaway

There’s an undeniable mystique about ghost towns, which can be eerie, sad, peaceful, and exciting all at once.

Visitors to Terlingua, the ghost town just outside of Big Bend National Park, know the feeling as they traipse through the ruins of a mercury-mining community that went bust in the 1940s. Dilapidated buildings, vestigial mine shafts, and rocky ruins make the town a fascinating place to explore.

And for some, it’s a great place to stay. Villa Terlingua, a 90-year-old ruin refurbished into a quaint house, offers stunning views of the sunrise over the Chisos Mountains. And our night at Terlingua House, a spacious respite on 15 acres of land, included access to an on-site telescope. We looked through its eyepiece in the midst of a calm night, with hardly another soul around.

Luxury’s Lap in Marathon

What makes the Gage Hotel in Marathon one of a kind? Try big-city amenities in a pocket-size town of 430, architecture steeped in history, and Instagram-ready optics.

Since 1927, the establishment with the yellow-brick facade has ensconced vacationers. Its main building was designed in Spanish Colonial Revival style by El Paso architect Henry Trost. We stayed in Los Portales, a newer collection of adobe-style rooms flanked by shady porches.

At the hotel’s 12 Gage Restaurant, we stuffed ourselves with a dinner that included Texas quail and beef tenderloin, both lovingly prepared. We capped our night at the adjoining White Buffalo Bar, where the wall-mounted head of a snowy bison seemed to judge our drink choices. But we had no regrets about the peach mint mojitos—or the choice of hotel.

My #TexasToDo

Five-star hotel balconies can’t compete with the views at Chisos Mountains Lodge. Nestled in Big Bend National Park, the hotel is privy to nature at its grandest. Amenities include eye-popping sunrises, proximity to hiking trails, and canyonside meals.

Featured in this Trip

Family Family
Outdoor Outdoor
Big Bend Country Big Bend Country

Fun Fact:

Camp Design Build Adventure is a four-day workshop on the El Cosmico grounds for those seeking not just a place to stay, but a place to break from the norm while using power tools. Founded by architect/designer Jack Sanders, the workshop “focuses on locality and community in design,” or the idea that where you build should influence what and how you build. Bring a hammer, ideas, and a willingness to collaborate.

Marathon

Marathon's name was suggested by a sea captain who said the area reminded him of Marathon, Greece. Glimpse the town's colorful past at the Marathon Hi...

Marfa

Marfa was established as a railroad water stop. In 1955, the El Paisano Hotel served as the base of operations for filmmaker George Stevens while film...

Terlingua

Mercury was discovered here in 1890, and soon a thriving city was devoted to extracting the rich red ore (cinnabar). Only remnants of rock and adobe b...


Texas Monthly
Texas Monthly is an authority on the Texas scene, covering music, the arts, travel, restaurants, museums, and cultural events since 1973.
Ryan B. Martinez
Ryan B. Martinez is a freelance writer and editor based in Austin. He loves and has written about popular music, comic books, issues pertaining to the LGBTQ community, and his hometown of El Paso.
Arrivalist