An oasis in the back of beyond


Marathon signMarathon, Texas, calls itself Brewster County’s “Second City” — second fiddle to the county seat at Alpine, 26 miles to the northwest. The U.S. Census Bureau calls it a CDP, or “census designated place” — a concentration of population but with no municipal government.
Fact is, not much population is concentrated at Marathon — about 455 people in the 2000 census. It’s hardly more than a wide spot along Texas 190, just west of an intersection with U.S. 385 that takes travelers 36 miles south to Big Bend National Park.
Gage HotelAnd therein lies the appeal of Marathon, as a jumping-off point to one of America’s most remote national parks. But that’s apparently enough to support a gem of a hotel, the Gage, and its first-class restaurant.
The route of our transcontinental bicycle trip takes us through some very barren country before reaching Marathon, an oasis of fine food, wine and lodging at a crossroads in the back of beyond.
Marathon logoThe Gage is named for Alfred Gage, who came to Texas from Vermont in 1878 and made a fortune as a rancher, banker and businessman. He commissioned construction of the building in 1926-1927 as a hotel and headquarters for his 500,000-acre ranch. In 1978, J.P. Bryan and his wife, Mary Jon, bought the building, restored it and made it must-see stop on the way to the Big Bend.
Marathon acquired its curious name from Capt. Albion E. Shepard, a former sea captain who had worked as a surveyor for the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway as the rail line pushed east from El Paso.
Shepard bought land in the area in 1882, established the Iron Mountain Ranch and applied for a post office, which was established on Feb. 13, 1883. He called the place Marathon because its terrain reminded him of the plains of Marathon, Greece. Brewster County mapThe town became the principal shipping point for most Brewster County ranchers because the relatively flat Marathon basin was more accessible to cattle than Alpine.
Douglas MacArthur, then an Army captain and company commander, was posted to Marathon in 1911 when the town became a center for military operations to counter the threat of raids from across the Rio Grande during the Mexican Revolution.
The Marathon Chamber of Commerce says that Marathon, at an elevation of 4,040 feet, is “blessed with a dry high-desert climate that assures cool evening breezes.” Its nighttime skies, unmarred by urban light pollution, guarantee splendid stargazing. Check out current weather conditions at Marathon on its live Webcam.

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3 Comments

Filed under Americana, Cycling across America, Texana

3 responses to “An oasis in the back of beyond

  1. Kathy and I spent 2 wonderful nights there….great hotel, great food , boring town, but we would do it again.

  2. Pingback: Biking, burgers and beer « Jim’s Bike Blog

  3. Pingback: Biking, burgers and beer | bulgogiburger.com

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