• Emily Bond

Delightful and Desolate

Updated: Jun 27

Four hours south of Los Angeles is a museum for Gen. Patton beside a rest-stop. When I was little I remember watching the movie Patton on The History Channel with my dad. Patton yelled, gave inspirational speeches, and would forever remind me of Roman soldiers and hamburgers. My dad made a lot of hamburgers then, and Patton had a thing about reincarnation, believing he fought the Romans in Carthage. And it was at this gas station where my holiday resolve floundered. I had been so focused on making it through work, that the added logistics of a 24 hour road trip with multiple stops had been haphazardly planned. Plus, naturally, the dogs (Jackie O. and Lola) were coming with us. Adding two more furrier companions to be cognizant of for pit stops.

My husband joked we should go to Palm Springs instead. That it’s okay to not make it back every year for Christmas. And as appealing as a Margarita by a pool sounded at that particular chilly moment, the idea of not being home for Christmas dismantled me. We needed to regroup. We needed to add a hotel room in Austin and I needed to break down and cry during a phone call with my dad. But like Patton, we didn’t give up. We would be making it home for the holidays. And our own personal victory would be a night in the tiny West Texas town of Marfa.

Four hours south of Los Angeles is a museum for Gen. Patton beside a rest-stop. When I was little I remember watching the movie Patton on The History Channel with my dad. Patton yelled, gave inspirational speeches, and would forever remind me of Roman soldiers and hamburgers.”


Marfa is evasive. The few businesses in this small desert town seem purposefully nondescript and elusive to tourists. Cafes are hidden behind average looking doors, store fronts that look like video art installations hide bars or juice places, and the few buildings prominent in town almost get lost in the expansiveness of the desert above and beside them.

And there aren’t many places to stay, considering the town has a population of less than 2,000 that’s hardly surprising. What is shocking is a little over ten years ago rumors about Marfa’s transition from a wasteland into a destination for trendsetters seemed almost like a cruel joke. The cruel part being that getting to Marfa is terribly difficult. The closest airport is several hours away, so if you want to get there, be prepared to drive.

And the joke? That in the middle of nowhere trendy folk from places like NYC were setting up camp there. Rumors of art-galleries and glass blowing workshops, of a lone Prada store in the desert, and Cormac McCarthy setting No Country for Old Men near, around, or about this particularly desolate spot of Texas seemed questionable. It isn’t that I don’t like Texas, I’m from Texas – ergo I love Texas, it’s once you’ve been to the middle of nowhere, and that is West Texas, it’s difficult to imagine the appeal.

But not soon after ultimate Texas-chic hotelier, Liz Lambert created her own hotel/campground in Marfa, dubbing it El Cosmico, photos began popping up of yurts, tacos, and trailers better looking than most of the studios I’ve seen in Los Angeles. Marfa became less and less of a rumor, and developed a devoted cult following.

Out of the handful of Marfa hotels, all of them allow pets. We wanted to stay at El Cosmico, but it was booked, save for a safari tent, so we opted for the Thunderbird Hotel. And I’m happy we did, it’s easy to forget it can freeze in the desert.

We only made it for one night. We didn’t have a lot of time, just enough to convince us to come back. But in that short span we had an amazing meal at Cochineal, stocked up on road-trip snacks from The Get Go, stood by an El Cosmico teepee, and let the dogs piss on all the ample dirt they could find. There isn’t a lot of grass in Marfa (it’s a desert after all), but there’s plenty of room to make walks count. And the Thunderbird was the perfect spot to take our favorite fur companions for the night.

The Thunderbird Hotel

The Thunderbird sits on one of the main streets in the city. Reservations, the gift shop and lobby are in a separate white stucco building across the street from the hotel’s lodgings. The hotel mixes minimalist vibes with southwest cool. It’s relaxed cowboy chic with a bevy of hipsters sitting around looking for a spot to Instagram.

And maybe that’s really the joke about Marfa. That at some point someone sipping on an organic Cajeta latte wearing a pair of perfectly distressed Victorian era boots quietly whispered to themselves, “I should be doing this in Marfa.”

The Thunderbird must have caught on quickly. They have the perfect amount of Bolivan blankets to pair with Malin + Goetz Cilantro Conditioner…someone had the foresight for the hipster invasion. And it’s more than that, someone had the foresight of just good design.

A locally run hotel since 1959, Bob Harris of Lake/Flato Architects revamped the Thunderbird’s classic ‘50s horseshoe shape and interior courtyard for its 2005 reopening. The renovation transformed the hotel into a more modern design, with a bit of added lux, while maintaining the original hotel’s bygone feeling of leisure.

It’s a small hotel, but a spot that packs a lot of style without being overtly pretentious. When it gets warmer, I would recommend the pool, which sits in the center of the horseshoe courtyard. Stands of native plants and cacti surround the hotel, and a latticework of salvaged oil-field piping shades the breezeways and poolside lounge with orange honeysuckle vines.

And the rooms? Well, the rooms are great for the dogs, a good amount of space, a low platform bed to jump on and concrete floors (in the event of bathroom confusion). The dogs seemed please, and as far as human comforts? It’s definitely desert chic. Pecan wood furniture, a great amount of natural light, beautiful spacious bathrooms, and comfortable beds. On the walls, select work by internationally known, Marfa-related artists and photographers and artists like Terry Allen and James Evans add sometimes humor, or an added feeling of Marfa authenticity to each room. It was comfortable and peaceful staying at the Thunderbird.

The thing I found most peculiar about Marfa wasn’t necessarily the location, but how closed and quiet it appeared on the outside. How the dirt streets and small adobe style homes looked like a town hoping for a parade, but it never showed up, or left several years earlier. But when got inside to one of the restaurants or hotels, they were bustling. Vibrating with people excited to be in this little secretive city. Like everyone got something about this place that had been purposefully evasive to any average person driving by, unless you were to stop in have a Rosemary cocktail at Cochineal or just stop….and look up at the desert night sky. You can’t help but feeling like even in a space so small, you’d never be able to fully take in everything that is Marfa, TX.

The Thunderbird Hotel: $$

-Licks and Kibble Bits,

Lola, Jackie O. and the human Emily

Photos by E.Bond and via The Thunderbird’s website


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