A few years ago , I hosted some friends from New York City in Marathon during the Christmas holidays . It was their first-ever trip to Texas . They ’ d flown into Austin for a couple days before we headed west . We were late leaving Austin and so arrived at the Gage Hotel after dark .
The next morning , they marveled at the big , blue , seemingly limitless skies and the fringe of mountains that surround Marathon . We went to breakfast at the since-closed ( and lamented ) Marathon Coffee Shop . We sat at one end of a long table , at the other end of which were a few of the cowboys from the surrounding ranches . My friends were enthralled with the cowboys ’ chatter – when we ’ d get rain , if it was going to turn cold ( it was in the mid-30s that morning ), and so forth . One guy broke up the whole group with a story about a cowboy , born and raised on one of the big ranches south of town . Once , eating breakfast in Marathon , he was asked if he ’ d ever been to a big city . He answered , “ I ’ m here , ain ’ t I ?”
For the next couple days , I showed them around the area . We visited Fort Davis and attended a Star Party at the McDonald Observatory . We went to Valentine and did the obligatory selfie in front of Prada Marfa . On their last full day , we traveled into Big Bend National Park . We hiked in the Chisos Basin and then motored down Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive to Santa Elena Canyon . After visiting that magnificent space , we drove the Old Maverick Road out of the park and ended up at the general store in Terlingua , sipping beverages and watching the setting sun glint off the Chisos Mountains .
One of my friends said , “ You know , when we got to Austin , it didn ’ t really feel like Texas .” Then she waved at the majestic country in front of her . “ But THIS is Texas .”
Texas , more than any other state , has its own mythos , one embraced both by its natives and by visitors foreign and domestic . And that
My friend Steve and I on top of his Beetle , August 1973 . ( Photos by Steve Cervantes )
mythos has a very specific look , nourished by books , films and TV – and by Texans themselves : wide-open spaces , sunny skies stretching endlessly to the horizon , enormous expanses of desert broken by rugged mountain country and river chasms . An unforgiving land dotted with either cattle or oil wells , or both . Tough , laconic men and equally tough , flinty women . Bears , mountain lions and rattlesnakes to contend with . The forbidding geography and human menace of Giant , The Searchers , and No Country For Old Men .
When you ’ re stuck in traffic on Loop 610 in Houston , visiting the Texas Tech campus in Lubbock , or fishing off Padre Island , it ’ s hard to identify with the wild and primitive Texas of myth . In fact , there ’ s only one part of Texas that still resembles that fabled country , and that ’ s why everyone ought to visit the Trans-Pecos .
The Pecos River originates in the mountains of the Santa Fe National Forest in north-central New Mexico and winds south until it crosses into Texas south of Carlsbad . It then wanders southeast until it empties into the Rio Grande at Amistad Reservoir by Del Rio . The section of Texas west of the river – the Trans-Pecos – is
31,468 square miles ( bigger than 12 states ) with a 2020 population of 910,106 ( bigger than five states and the District of Columbia ), most of whom live in El Paso County .
The Trans-Pecos , with its rugged vistas , expansive skyscapes , and dramatic night skies , is archetypically Texan . But it almost didn ’ t make it into the 28th state .
TRANS-PECOS , NEW MEXICO ?
When Texas joined the Union in 1845 , there was still a dispute over the southern boundary of the state . Texians said it was the Rio Grande . Mexico argued it was the Nueces River some 100 miles to the north . The Mexican-American War settled that question once and for all , establishing the Rio Grande as the southern and eastern boundary of Texas .
Next came the battle over the size of Texas itself . Texas claimed the land north and east of the Rio Grande all the way up to its headwaters in Colorado , plus additional lands all the way up into modern-day Wyoming . You ’ ve probably seen the map :
Meanwhile , the United States had established a provisional government in New Mexico at the beginning of the Mexican- American War in 1846 . Its territory encompassed most of modern-day New Mexico
10 Cenizo Fall 2022