Just 40 miles north of the entrance to Big Bend National Park lies Marathon — a quaint community that boasts a delightful climate, beautiful surroundings and friendly people. Situated in what is known as the Magnificent Marathon Basin and centrally located to many of the area’s unique attractions, Marathon hosts a range of folks — from astronomers gazing at the night sky to biking or birding enthusiasts to Big Bend hikers and explorers.
Photos by Danny Self
One feature visitors can't help but notice is the expansive starry sky over Marathon, which attracts astronomers and stargazers. Thanks to its remote geographic location, elevation and small size, the town has earned the rare distinction as an established, functional community under a “Class 1 Dark Sky.” (That's as dark as it gets!) Though increasing light pollution prevents surrounding communities from holding the same distinction, Marathon residents and businesses intentionally protect the breathtaking view and their dark sky status from the intrusion of exterior lights.
Marathon’s historic main street village sits a half-mile west of the Highway 385 turnoff to Big Bend National Park. Anchored by the legendary Gage Hotel, the city center includes shops, restaurants, galleries, groceries and accommodations to suit every taste and need. Railroad and ranching — two industries that founded the town — are still an important part of the local economy, and visitors can learn more with a trip to the Marathon Historical Museum.
Starting at the center of town, Post Road runs south for five miles to Post Park — the site of a former cavalry post known as Camp Peña Colorado in the late 1800s. With very little traffic and fabulous views, this stretch is ideal for running, walking and biking. Wildlife such as deer, javelinas, turkey, jack rabbits, quail and even an occasional fox can be seen in the early morning or around sunset.
The Post Park (Camp Peña Colorado) | Photo by Carol Townsend
Post Park itself boasts a beautiful, secluded pond and county park on the Peña Colorado Creek shaded by cottonwood trees and surrounded by the Caballos Novaculite Mountains. The historic spot is popular in birding circles as one of the few accessible sources of spring water in the Big Bend region. It also hosts the longest running community event in the Big Bend area: the Independence Day dance.
Marathon is surrounded by stunning geologic features, including the bluntness of Iron Mountain to the northwest and the lightness of the northern Glass Mountains, one of the few exposed uplifted coral reefs in Texas. While in Marathon, you’ll stand on some of the oldest rocks from the Paleozoic age (250-600 million years ago). The Marathon Uplift exposes the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas and Oklahoma that were heaved up during the formation of the ancient supercontinent of Pangaea. Roadcuts east of town along Highway 90 and south on Highway 385 expose onlookers to spectacular features such as strike-slip faults, unusual folding and fossil fragments.
Should you decide to make Marathon your destination, or when you’re ready to head down the road, you’re an easy distance from just about anywhere in the area. Alpine is a mere 30 miles, and another 26 miles will get you to either Marfa or Fort Davis. But if you’re like most, you’ll probably head south to Big Bend National Park. Good news: Marathon is closer to the park than any other town in the region at just 42 miles.
Marathon is sitting pretty as the locals’ haven and visitors’ uncovered jewel, just a hop, skip and a jump from all that welcomes visitors to far West Texas and its little corner of heaven.
THANK YOU to Tara Hall of
the 2017 Big Bend and Texas Mountains Travel Guide
for writing this article and so graciously sharing it with us.
Photos by Carol Townsend