“The desert doesn’t care
About how much money I have,
If I’m known or well loved.
It exists beyond the existence of me.
I am a guest. Watch my step.
Up, up, up, the cliffs we go.
There isn’t really an end,
we just walk until it’s time to turn back to where we began.
The sun beats on my shoulders,
Another weight to carry.”–Lauren M. Smith
Let’s Start at the Beginning
I’ve dreamed of hiking Big Bend since the entirety of 2021. It was my New Year’s resolution, and I wanted to share that experience with a really good friend. I didn’t know how I would get there, what trails to hike, where to stay, or who would end up joining me, but I just had to go.
Flash forward to March of 2022, and my best friend Mickie and I are in a rental car headed to a remote camper in Terlingua, Texas. This trip would absolutely not be possible without Mickie (proper name Michelle, but all my best friends have nicknames). She is always willing to go on an adventure, while also making fun and practical decisions. She is patient, and she understands my quarks better than anyone else. A special part of this trip was that it was at the beginning of the Lent season. Lent is a spiritual time to practice resisting temptation, denying self of pleasures to practice humility and discipline, and remember Jesus’ sacrifices for me in preparation for the Easter season. So, getting out of WIFI/ cell service and chilling out in the desert away from civilization was the perfect place to get in the mindset of surrendering without distractions. We all need a good social media break from time to time too!
How We Got There
This trip took 6 days total. One day for traveling each way. We began out journey on Friday after work from Dallas, Texas to Midland, Texas for the first half of the trip. (Shoutout to my awesome cousin, Justin, and his beautiful wife, Amy, for hosting us! Love y’all!!) In the morning we ate delicious breakfast tacos at a local Mexican restaurant in Midland, got groceries at HEB and filled the cooler, filled up the gas tank, and drove to our Airbnb camper in Terlingua, Texas.
We decided to rent a car to avoid wear and tear (plus hundreds of miles) on our own cars. I paid for the rental and Mickie paid for half on Venmo. We got the car insurance but didn’t need it, but I believe there are discounts or ways to use your own car insurance with rentals to avoid the extra fees. This was the most expensive part of the trip (car rental and gas). We also did the trip right as gas prices went crazy here in the States so that was an unexpected higher cost in our budget.
Both stays were about $85/ night. Mickie reserved the camper for Big Bend and I reserved the home for Marfa. The end cost ended up being the same, or we would just divide the total in half to make it as even as possible. We both love to leave good reviews and communicate with the Airbnb owners, as well as receive good reviews as guests when we travel. I would recommend staying at both of these places again! Both are safe, unique, comfortable, and clean.
The best part of our stay at the camper in Terlingua was watching the star at night! Mickie and I laid on the picnic table and just marveled at how many stars we could see in the 360 degree view. It was breath-taking and so peaceful!
We kept entertainment simple at the camper, and honestly at Marfa too. No TV, WIFI, or movies. We played games like We Are Not Really Strangers, Uno, and Mancala. I also brought Clue (my favorite). I had a book and a journal as well. We just enjoyed talking about life and hanging out. We also made a fun road trip playlist on Spotify!
Our Packing List
Mickie and I made a sharable note on the Notes app where we could live edit and assign who was bringing which item beforehand. Big tip, make sure you have a couple lanterns. It gets really dark in the desert. Additionally, it was very cold at night and I wore lots of layers (hoodie and sweats), a beanie, and mittens in the morning.
Here is a sample of what we brought:
Window Trail 5.2 Miles
This was a good trail to start. It had beautiful views, some foliage shading, and a window view between two cliffs where a waterfall dried up. There were a lot of uphill moments coming back that were difficult at times with my asthma, but very proud we completed this one!
Santa Elena Trail (Cliffs by Rio Grande) 1.4 miles
This location was so pretty right as the sun set between the cliffs in the valley of the Rio Grand River. There was a good size crowd and nothing sketchy seemed to be going on while we were here. The river was very low. When I turned back to look at the sunset, it felt like God himself was coming from around the corner. So peaceful and captivating.
Mule Ear Trail 7.4 miles
This trail was in the middle of a vast expanse of flat desert where our eyes could see for miles with no sign of life. No foliage besides small cactus and bushes here and there. We did find a little oasis that has a spring! We ate our PB and J sandwiches on the side of a cliff. It was glorious! This trail gets its name from a cliff that has two peaks in the shape of mule ears (to the left of the big picture above).
Hiking Pro Tips
Mickie was the chef of the trip. She taught me how to cook with a portable stove provided by the host of the camper stay that was fueled by a small propane tank. We cooked sausage, veggies, and potatoes. It was so good after a day of travel and hiking! We saved the leftovers in the ice cooler and they were fine the next day. We had the seasonings, plates, forks, knives (eating and cutting), oil, tin foil, soap and dish towels, spatula, sponge, paper towels, propane, a pot, oven mitts, and sandwich bags (to name a few things). We were paranoid for a bit that we would attract animals to our camper (usually you are supposed to cook in a area away from your sleeping site), but there was no animals anywhere (that we could see).
Coffee: We bought a cold brew/ iced coffee to store in the cooler and then heated it up on the stovetop in the pot in the mornings. I think it would be fun to experiment how to make coffee with filters and boiling water over the fire pit. Yay camp coffee!
Hiking snacks: capri sun, PB&J sammies, dried fruit, grapes, oranges, and nut mixes. (Obviously nothing that needs to be cold or spoil out of a fridge).
When we got to Marfa, we got a few groceries and made meals at the Airbnb such as scrambled eggs with sausage or simple meals from the local grocery store. We limited eating out to save money on the food expenses for our trip, and it really made a difference!
Mickie and I both agree our favorite place to eat in Marfa is the beautiful, delicious, and cozy, Margaret’s, located downtown by the main street/ square area at 103 Highland St, Marfa, TX 79843. It was fun to people watch, and it was designed so elegantly. Loved it!!
Marfa is a quiet town about 2 hours or so north of Terlingua/ Big Bend. It is famous for the lone Prada, Marfa faux boutique created by Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset in 2005 by highway 90 (which is actually in the neighboring town, Valentine), the Marfa lights, and the home of the Judd Foundation which houses the work of Donald Judd.
In the above picture of me under the Marfa doorway, I am downtown on the corner of Highland Street and East Lincoln Street. I loved visiting the Marfa Public Library where Mickie and I played a round of chess. We visited the clothing store Communitie Marfa, which had chic western wear. We stopped by the Wrong Store, and it had funny and strange items. There were several unique shops and places to explore downtown. We found some fun thrift stores as well! I found a Reader’s Digest 1985 copy of Pride and Prejudice for $5!
The main grocery stores are Porter’s and The Get Go. I love that there wasn’t a Walmart or Target nearby. Several restaurants closed early, so make sure to check hours ahead of time!
The best breakfast burritos are found here at Marfa Burrito located at 515 S Highland Ave in Marfa. Visitors can sign there names anywhere on the building! (and I’m pretty sure Matthew McConaughey has been here before–fun fact).
The Trip to Prada, Marfa
To get to the Prada, Marfa store, go to the address 14880 US-90, Valentine, TX 79854. It will be on your left if you are coming up highway 90 from Marfa. On the way, you will see a weather blimp at these huge pop-up murals of James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor from their 1956 movie, Giant, by John Cerney to pay tribute to where part of the movie was filmed. There is also a lock fence where people have added locks and ribbons by the store for those they love.
Lessons Learned and Things We’d Do Differently
Overall, this was such a fun getaway trip with Mickie. We both agree we should have planned to go to Marfa during the weekend then go to Big Bend during the week. There is more to do on the weekend when places are open in Marfa. Taking turns to drive was very helpful, as well as alternating getting gas. Make sure to rent/ bring a car that can have 4 wheel drive and tolerate gravel roads.
I learned how to be comfortable with silence on the hike. Mickie and I walked quietly for several miles, and I really liked that. You know you are comfortable with someone when you can be with them without feeling the need to fill a void of silence.
I remember sitting with Mickie at dinner in Margaret’s, and we were talking about how I always feel like I have to be pretty or put together to feel wanted in a relationship. I told her that I always have on make-up and never wear my glasses on a date. It’s superficial, and something I am insecure about at times, but she gave me the best advice, and I would like to end this guide on this note:
"You deserve to be fully loved, without the need to be perfect. It's not something I need to prove to myself, but for someone else to prove to me."
That really hit home for me, and encouraged me to be kinder to myself.
I hope this guide is helpful to you! I will add to it as I go. Let me know where your favorite spots are in Marfa, or favorite trails in Big Bend! Special thanks to Andrea for her post “30 Most Instagrammable Spots in Marfa, Texas” on her blog, The Salty Canary, for the location ideas to visit in Marfa.
Petit à Petit,
To read more on my self-reflections during Lent and my travels this year, see my post Reflections During Lent here.
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