While visiting the towns of Marathon and Alpine we met several people that recommended we eat at Bordo if we were going to be in the vicinity of Marfa. We were fortunate that the eatery was open on Sunday from 11:00AM to 3:00PM as were going to be passing through Marfa that day on our way to drive the Pinto Canyon.
Bordo opened in March. It is an Italian market and retaurant serving house made pasta and sandwiches. They bake all of their bread in a brick oven which sits outside on the patio. We had a delicious meal which prepared us well for the adventure ahead. If you plan on visiting Marfa we highly recommend Bordo be on your food itinerary!
We drove south from Marfa for about thirty miles on a ranch road where the pavement ended. We found ourselves sitting at the top of the spectacular Pinto Canyon.
We have wanted to drive the Pinto Canyon since we read an article entitled The Road to Nowhere which chronicles the experience of the author tackling the canyon road. Finding this article was quite fortuitous — otherwise we would never known about the canyon.
The canyon has an interesting history. The first people arrived here around 13,000 years ago. These hunter-gathers were eventually displaced by the Apache that were dominant in the Big Bend.
Texas authorized settlers to buy as much as 5000 acres of land in the ealy 1900s which brought a number of families into the canyon. The combination of drought, the Spanish Influenza (1918), the Mexican American War, the 1929 market crash and the ensuing depression sealed the fate of the settlers and the canyon. A handful of the settlers persevered but the canyon was all but abandoned.
Today the vast majority of the the 15 square mile canyon is owned by one person — a retired CEO — and the canyon is a working cattle ranch (see photo above). We find the fact that one person can own all of this beauty in the middle of the Chinatti Mountains hard to fathom, but we are glad that you can at least traverse the canyon on the road (which is owned by the county).
After making our way down through the canyon we turned west and followed FM 170 to the end of the pavement in Candelaria. The FM winds through the Chihuahuan Desert along the U.S. side of the Rio Grande. The 50 mile road from Presidio to Candelaria was not paved until 1985.
At one point Candelaria was an agricultural town — growing crops in the wet areas along the Rio Grande. However, after the Mexican American War the army abandoned their encampment in Candelaria and the farmers had no buyers for their crops and no way to get their product to Presidio 50 miles east on a rough dirt road that often flooded.
Subsequently, the population declined from a high of about 300 to the current population estimated at 75 people. The only non-residential structure that we could see in Candelaria is the Catholic church pictured above. This small settlement is literally at the end of the road and looks and feels very much an off the grid enclave.
At Candelaria we had a decision to make — attempt to cross 40 miles of desert to connect with Route 90 or circle back around on the pavement. Based on the time of the day and the amount of rough road we had already covered we opted for the longer mileage but comfort of the pavement.
As we turned north to head for our hotel we unsurprisingly encountered a Border Patrol checkpoint. We have been through dozens of checkpoints in our travels in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.
Some of the checkpoints are permanent while others are mobile. The Border Patrol only stops and inspects vehicles heading north as their only purpose is to stop illegal imigrants entering from Mexico.
We think the checkpoints are a bad use of taxpayer money—regardless of your view on immigration—the investment in technology and people to staff these checkpoints is significant. The payback is small as the vast majority of people attempting to enter the country illegally are not hitching rides in the automobiles of U.S. citizens.
Our journey north took us through the town of Valentine. The town’s origins, like may others in this part of Texas, rests with the railroad. Crews from the Southern Pacific Railroad laying track from the West stopped here on 14 Feb 1882 to rest. Subsequently, the town became a layover point for train crews and a cattle shipping point.
With the building of Ranch-to-Market roads livestock began to be shipped by truck and the town’s fortunes along with the population declined. Many abandoned buildings still stand in testament to the past. As you can see the church (below) has been well maintained despite the hard times. The current population is estimated at 134. Why people stay is a mystery but we were not disposed to ask any of the remaining residents.
Valentine does have one big event that draws folks from many points on the compass. Every year on Valentine’s Day there is a festival in town to celebrate the town’s namesake holiday. And, of course, the Post Office does a booming business postmarking Valentine’s Day cards!
By pure chance we happened on the Prada “Installation” which sits on the side of US Route 90 about 1.4 miles north of Valentine. As you may know, Marfa has become an unlikely art hub in the far west reaches of Texas. We have visited Marfa and it is a fun town to visit. There are a number of excellent restaurants and the Paisano is a great hotel. However, the minimalist art of Donald Judd and others does not resonate with us, although it clearly does with others far more knowledgable than us.
The Prada installation pictured above was placed on the side of Route 90 in 2005. On the first night after completion the installation was vandalized. The shoes and purses were stolen and the building was spray painted with the word “Dumb”. Apparently, not everyone agreed with the artists’ description of the work as “pop architectural land art”. While we do not support the vandalism we do not see any meaningful conceptual or artistic value to building a replica of a Prada store on the side of a rural highway.
After our brief contemplation of the merits of the Prada installation, we completed our day’s journey in Van Horn with a stay at the El Capitain. The hotel is a classic Spanish style western hotel. We really enjoy the feel and look of this style hotel (a future post will showcase several of our hotel stays in Texas).
Our next destination is Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Pictured below is El Capitain—the first mountain you see in the range as you drive to the park from the south.
Be seeing you!