You might say that everything I’ve done has been building up to this. I don’t mean, like, everything I’ve done in my life. I just mean that I’ve been to Marfa before and stuff and I’ve waxed poetically about El Cosmico for another blog that I write for.
Alright, so everything in my life has not been building up to this. But still, finally going to El Cosmico, the finest glampground-that’s “glamorous campground” for you commoners-in Texas has been a dream of mine since practically forever. After years of name dropping it as the most exclusive glampground in West Texas (unconfirmed but probably true), I decided it was time to seize the moment and make it happen. It’s an 8 hour drive from Austin. Honestly, it’s an 8 hour drive from anywhere. But if you’re like me, the words “8 hour drive” are a good thing assuming gas money and a playlist consisting of early 2008 club anthems are available.
El Cosmico, for the uninformed, specializes in refurbished vintage trailers, swanky safari tents and tricked out teepees. It also happens to be in an insanely remote and sparsely populated part of The Lone Star State. The glampground is located in Marfa, an artistic community with a stark, beautiful desert landscape and mysterious lights visible in the distance at night. You can expect to see lots of guns on hips and Dairy Queens (or “Texas Stop Signs” according to a somewhat disturbing television ad) in nearby towns, but Marfa is distinctly different. It’s known for its minimalistic art galleries and installations, like the often photographed Prada Marfa (which, I learned the hard way, is actually in Valentine).
Planning on taking a jaunt out to Marfa yourself? Keep in mind that your expectations and reality might be a little different. Sure, the town has gained a little notoriety in pop culture (I’m going to give all of this credit to the hit show Gossip Girl, much like I do with everything in my life.), but it’s still West Texas, which means that the median income in the area is low, health care isn’t awesome, alcoholism goes untreated, and the nearby Mexican border can be dangerous. I’m not saying that to disrespect West Texas, a place I lived and loved. I’m just putting it out there that if you travel to the Chihuahuan desert expecting Austin or Portland, you’re going to be disappointed. Digression aside, isn’t that kind of the point? To be under some world class stars and see some obscure ass art away from everything? Maybe see a tarantula or meet a stranger at a gas station who’s really, really different than you and get a little freaked out?
I headed out to Marfa in late April. Go later if you like blistering heat. Go earlier if you like blistering cold. I almost didn’t get the trailer of my dreams because the place is often fully booked. I ended up with an orange beauty called The Spartan Manor (they all have adorable names). Upon check in, which is in an ultra-hip lobby with artisanal clothing and souvenirs for sale, I learned that the glampground doesn’t allow cars to park outside of the designated lot and that complementary carts are provided for transporting luggage to and from the awesome trailers. Trust me, this makes for way better Instagram shots.
I chatted with the girl at the front desk, who was intimidatingly cooler than me, about the wood burning hot tubs available for rent at El Cosmico, the hammock grove and the wine available for purchase. They don’t allow outside alcohol in, and though you could easily sneak it, it’s better to not be a jerk. It’s a good idea to stop off in the nearby town of Alpine (or, God forbid, Fort Stockton, the actual worst place in the world) and get groceries because all of the trailers come with basic kitchens and cooking supplies. If you forget, there is a reasonably priced mini bar in each trailer featuring things like Topo Chico (The only mineral water truly cool Texans drink), hand crafted chocolates, travel spice kits and Mexican Coke. Restaurants in Marfa keep pretty weird and sporadic hours, so it was nice to see that the front desk at El Cosmico offered a print out with the necessary information.
After an afternoon on our trailer’s glorious, sunny deck reading and eating peach salsa, we put on some Sam Cooke and left the door to the trailer open so that the desert (and also a stray cat) could get in while we cooked dinner. El Cosmico can of course function as a base camp for all of your Big Bend adventures, but the vibe I was picking up on from Marfa is that it’s the kind of place you go to resist making plans.
You can sit outside of your trailer, teepee, or tent all day and stare at the big, ridiculous clouds that seem to be a trademark of the area and then head inside at night, eat good food and stretch out. Some of the accommodations at El Cosmico are aimed at frugal travelers, like the cheap tent sites and more conservative trailers, but the truly magnificent options offer multiple rooms and tons of space to lounge. There is no cable and wi-fi is only available at the front desk. There is cell service, however, which is kind of cheating if you have a smartphone and data to spare.
Due to how booked up El Cosmico was/is, I only had the pleasure of spending one night. Some people might tell you that one night is enough, while others will encourage you to get on Marfa’s version of Craigslist, find your own Airstream and never leave. In any case, I give El Cosmico five out of five stars. The night sky gives it even more.