What an adventure it was.
I’ll just cruise through these first bits quickly to get to the dramatic part.
Monahans Sandhills State Park - Our first stop on the trip. We slid down sandy slopes again and again, smiling so big we had sand stuck in our teeth for the rest of the afternoon.
Marfa - Marfalous. There’s just no place like El Cosmico. We camped there, ate the tastiest food we’ve ever had at Cochineal for dinner and a humongous breakfast burrito at Buns N’ Roses the next morning. None of the restaurants, cafes, etc. play music. It’s eerily quiet, which made me anxious at first, but I soon began to understand and appreciate how the silence enhances the town’s mystery and quirkiness. I would have loved to spend more time hopping around art galleries, but was very happy just to get to walk around the grounds of the Chinati Foundation and see Donald Judd’s untitled 15 works in concrete before it was time to head to our next destination.
Big Bend - When we arrived at the Chisos Basin Campground, Mason’s words were: “I didn’t know Texas had crap like this!” Our tent was surrounded by mountains, shrouded in mist in the mornings and painted crimson by the alpenglow in the evenings. Even the weather was cool enough to make me think twice about where we were. We hiked some beautiful trails, saw desert wildlife, and met a lot of nice volunteers and campers, including a four-year-old boy named Hazard who wore a NASA space suit and loved to swear. Our plan for the final day was to hike the Lost Mine Trail and head back to Marfa, but chilly rains moved in and pushed us out of our campsite and on the road earlier than planned. We were okay with that, because we were looking forward to spending our last night of the trip at Hotel Paisano. Spoiler alert: we never made it back to Marfa.
The Breakdown - We were on the road heading out of the Park around 10:30 AM when suddenly the car stopped accelerating. Mason pulled off the road, and immediately told me we were going to be alright. I was less optimistic at the time, especially because I realized there was no cell service, or no tow truck or mechanic around for hundreds of miles. And my bladder was full. But thankfully, Mason was right. After we had waved a couple drivers down to fetch a Park Ranger, we were picked up about two hours later and taken to a visitor center where we could make some calls. We were cold, drenched with rain, and frustrated that our brand new car broke down for no reason in the most inconvenient location of all time. After a long, anxious day of talking to the auto company, we were able to arrange for a tow truck to come from two hours away in Fort Stockton to fetch us at our current shelter at Panther Junction, take us to our dead car, and haul us back to Fort Stockton, where the nearest dealership was. We soon realized that once we would arrive in Fort Stockton, there would be no way for us to get out, as there is no place to rent a car there. It took a lot of cell phone battery life and a little begging and pleading, but Mason arranged for us to be dropped off in Midland instead, where the next-closest dealership was. The tow truck drivers who came to our rescue hours later were fascinating guys; Justin was a Marine Corps survivalist, the other (Justin’s Uncle, John) was an ex-border patrol officer who brought along his two chihuahua dogs named Drover and Mr. Stink. They both wore black cowboy hats (the men, not the chihuahuas) which they doffed when they shook my hand, and they smelled like leather and denim and dip. It was almost 2:00 AM by the time we were towed to a secure place, and Mason and I spent the night of our anniversary at a Holiday Inn in Odessa, as I’m sure Jay-Z and Beyonce have done time and time again. We somehow managed to clog the shower with dirt from our bodies and then passed out on the bed within seconds. Bow chick a wow wow, am I right?! We headed home in a rental car in the morning, happy, because it was over.
Now that it’s all behind us, it’s a fun story to tell when people ask about how the trip was. The truth is, it was awesome, up until the getting stranded part. But even that wasn’t really so bad, because we had each other to keep company, to laugh at little moments, to come up with solutions together, and to remind ourselves it could always be worse. It was an unconventional, thrilling, and memorable trip from start to finish, and we’re already excited for the next one. Kidding! Sort of.