By: Courtney Dabney
To many, far West Texas is little more than a sprawling desert scattered with ghost towns and tumbleweeds. It’s a harsh landscape where populated settlements are small and infrequent. But there, beneath a sky that still boasts a trillion stars each night, some find beauty and solace. And if you drive far enough, you will discover exactly why in the odd and funky culture of a place called Marfa, where art emerges from the desert, mysterious dancing lights haunt the horizon, and an isolated Prada storefront (Prada Marfa is a permanent sculpture by artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset) casually sits beside the road. You will also discover the beauty and solace of Cibolo Creek Ranch and finally understand why West Texas is perfect just the way it is.
Taking its name from a Dostoyevsky novel, Marfa has a history of appealing to a variety of creative types without having acquired the pretentiousness that often accompanies thriving art scenes. Although Marfa’s roots stretch back to the late 19th century when it was a water stop for the San Antonio Railroad and may be best known as the setting for James Dean’s 1956 epic film Giant, it was the artist Donald Judd who in 1971 brought his minimalist style from the streets of New York City to the Chihuahuan Desert and left a lasting impression that generates much of the town’s atmosphere.
The Davis, Chisos and Chinati Mountains frame Marfa and its world-renowned artwork, galleries and museums. One of the most popular is the internationally famous Chinati Foundation, founded by Judd in 1979. Covering 340 acres of former Fort D. A. Russell, the foundation presents large-scale works that blend art with the natural canvas of the surrounding landscape to form a unique experience. Marfa’s artistic atmosphere even extends to the architectural achievements of Hotel Paisano and the restored Thunderbird Hotel, the culinary ventures of Food Shark and Marfa Burrito, and the exclusive offerings of home designs from Garza Marfa and boot designers Cobra Rock.
Marfa shares its West Texas spread with Big Bend National Park, part of the state’s largest expanse of public land; Fort Davis National Historic Site, an Indian Wars’ frontier military post; and McDonald Observatory, one of the world’s leading centers for astronomical research and public education. But Marfa also neighbors Cibolo Creek Ranch, one of the most luxurious, historic and remote resorts in the state. And with multiple awards for architectural design and achievement, not to mention three different listings in the National Register of Historic Places and five state historical markers on the property, it’s also a work of art in and of itself.
Just 30 miles south of Marfa and 15 miles from the Mexican border, Cibolo Creek Ranch offers guests more than 30,000 acres of wide-open spaces, well-appointed accommodations, gourmet family-style dining throughout the day, and a long list of adventurous activities like hiking and mountain biking along more than 100 miles of trails, bird-watching for more than 500 bird species, and nightly campfires beneath the stars.
Cibolo Creek Ranch started in 1857 as El Fortin del Cibolo when Milton Faver, an early founder of the Texas cattle drives and one of the principal forerunners of the region, needed a defensive stronghold to protect his burgeoning trade enterprise from the Apache and Comanche Indians. As his business prospered into a full-fledged ranching empire, Faver’s defensive structures multiplied.
Starting in 1990 the ranch’s forts were meticulously restored using surviving photographs, archives and input from former ranch residents and now serve as the resort’s luxurious guest accommodations. Inside, modern amenities fuse with historic touches like adobe walls, cottonwood beams and antique furniture. Extensive ranch renovations also included reintroducing indigenous wildlife to the landscape, creating a more authentic experience.
The original fort, El Fortin del Cibolo, is the largest of the three accommodations and sits alongside Cibolo Creek within a massive caldera. El Cibolo contains 22 guest rooms and sleeps up to 44 guests. Within walking distance are a pool and hot tub, multimedia room, recreation facility, conference room and spa. Nearby, guests will enjoy sport fishing in the lake, target-shooting at the range, and perusing regional artifacts at the ranch’s museum.
A 30-minute drive across the ranch is El Fortin de la Cienega, meaning The Fort at the Marsh. Cienega was Faver’s second fortification built to defend his ranching empire, which consisted of 20,000 longhorns by 1880. Between the fort and an adjoining hacienda, Cienega sleeps 20 guests in 10 rooms with an industrial kitchen and sizeable dining room for entertaining.
Faver’s ranching empire supplied U.S. troops at Fort Davis as well as local settlers and miners throughout the region. This sustained business called for construction of another fortification to protect the herds of sheep and goats. El Fortin de la Morita, which means The Fort at the Little Mulberry Tree, is the smallest and most secluded of the three forts. A 45-minute drive from Cibolo Fort brings a pair of adventurous guests to Morita, where oil lamps replace electricity and a cool West Texas breeze provides the air-conditioning.
Beyond the restored forts and the impressive panoramas that abound, Cibolo Creek Ranch delivers adventures that match the landscape. From hunting and fishing to stargazing and wildlife-spotting, guests can always find something to do here. Guided Humvee, ATV and walking tours take guests around the 30,000-acre ranch revealing Native American ruins, hidden historic sites and a healthy dose of buffalo, elk, deer, black bear and mountain lions. The ranch also offers professional seminars in photography, backpacking and shooting throughout the year.
So set a course west and drive until the noise and lights of the big city are a distant memory. When the desert horizon becomes an endless swath of weather-beaten mountains, keep your eyes and mind open for something different. This is the land of Marfa and Cibolo Creek Ranch, and it’s the place where a wild, untamed Texas still thrives.
By: Courtney Dabney