Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Magnificent Marathon

Unlike our previous stop, our 3-day visit to Marathon, Texas proved once again that there's a lot of interesting things to do and see in small, out-of-the-way places. Marathon is just a wide spot in the road while traveling on US 90 in far West Texas; with a population of 473 it doesn't even have a traffic light. We stayed at the Marathon Motel and RV Park, a surprisingly upscale little park with a beautifully landscaped courtyard complete with fireplace. At the motel/park office we enjoyed chatting with the owners, John and Mary, who "rescued" the 1940s-era motel and turned it into a special place to stop. The office is also the location of the town's radio studio, a low-power station which provides the only radio programming in the area. Down the road is the Gage Hotel, the centerpiece of Marathon and the hub of daily activity. Built in 1927 to serve as a hotel and headquarters for the half-million acre ranch of Alfred Gage, the hotel dominates most of the main street, and also has a health club and 26-acre area of gardens and ponds. We were impressed with the lobby and patio areas; it's a beautiful building. The restaurant and Chef Paul Peterson are famous throughout Texas; very upscale with exotic menu items such as "Pepper Crusted South Texas Antelope", and of course, chicken fried steak (which I believe is required by Texas law). There are also a few of the obligatory gift shops and galleries, a 50s-era soda fountain, a bakery, and what quickly became our favorite place to eat, the Famous Burro, one of those places that stands out in an era of cookie-cutter restaurants and menus. The menu changes weekly, and during our visit Brenda tried the "Bodacious Meatloaf" which she described as unique and delicious, while I tried a truly memorable dish, the Southwest Grilled Chicken with Chocolate Ganache and Orange Wedges. I always thought that anything would be good with chocolate - but chicken? It was amazing! Served with Chipotle Sweet Potatoes and a large glass of Shiner Black, it was a combination that I'll remember for a long time. The Famous Burro is a new restaurant, and we wish it the best of luck; it's a special place.
We had heard rumors about Marathon's "secret pond" and decided to visit. Traveling five miles South of town, we came upon a large, tree-shaded park surrounding a small lake. The site was the home of Camp Pena Colorado, an army post built in the 1880s built to provide protection for residents from bandits and hostile Indians. It is an oasis in this desert area, and attracts birds and wildlife along with locals looking to escape the heat of summer. Nearby, we came upon this herd of Pronghorn, a rare sight in this area. We sat and watched them for a while before returning to Marathon for another cool night in the desert. While in Marathon, we visited Big Bend National Park; come back and see what we experienced!

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