Cowhead Ranch… or, Welcome to Big Bend
From Marfa, we headed down Hwy 90 to Alpine. We stopped into the visitor center and poked around the older part of town while trying to figure out the question of lodging for the night. The weather app on Russ’ iPhone was showing a storm with potential snow, so we were debating our various options when we stumbled into Front Street Books. Through a series of funky coincidences best know as serendipity, we ended up chatting with a fellow customer, Annie, who invited us to stay in her guest room, and even offered to cook us dinner!
We gratefully accepted her offer, and enjoyed a wonderful dinner and lots of stories with Annie and her friend Erin (who, four years ago, started the first cycling club in the Big Bend region!). And we woke up in the morning to 3 inches of snow on the ground! Even with all of the storms that we have been through this winter, we didn’t believe that it would actually snow. Weather.com said the temperature “felt like” 18 degrees that day, so we took the opportunity to just hunker down and hide out. Thanks Annie!!
The next morning, we packed up the bikes to head south toward Terlingua. We had arranged to meet up with a reader who lives between Alpine and Terlingua and stay with him that night. But the lows threatened to be in the mid-20s that night, so he suggested we might, instead, look into the Cowhead Ranch, just a few miles up the road. Russ called to see about availability and we set our sights on their location as our destination for the day.
After 55 miles into a strong headwind, we arrived at Cowhead Ranch. We had no idea what to expect, and we certainly would never have considered what we discovered.
About five years ago, Chris started building little structures on this piece of land that he had moved onto. It was all dirt and grass and cactus beforehand. He had no real plan or design in mind. He just started building, and he has ended up creating a mini Western town.
There’s a Social Club (where meals are served), a Saloon (with WiFi), shower, mock cemetery, free-range chickens and dogs. And several bunkhouses, where you can sleep for a mere $15, complete with electric lighting and propane heater.
You could call the buildings, made of plywood and metal sheeting, and decorated with mis-matched found furniture, “ramshackle.” And you’d be right. In fact, one of the men there told us of an Englishman who stayed with them and said “the Ritz-Carlton this is not.”
But look past the dust and the less-than-luxurious decor and you’ll find a warm, inviting, open, and creative home in the middle of the desert. And if you have the chance to roll through this part of the country, we highly recommend stopping here.
Russ and I were the first people ever to show up on bicycle. Yet, while we were an oddity, we were welcomed with open arms. We were invited to join in homemade beans and cornbread for dinner, homemade biscuits and coffee for breakfast the next morning. We wrote our names on the 2x4s holding up the roof, a tradition since the beginning. And we sat outside after dark, around a roaring campfire, chatting and listening to stories and cowboy poetry from Luke (who, we were told, is one of Texas’ great storytellers).
In 4500 miles, we have seen and experienced some interesting characters and odd locales in our quest to find people who are living a life less ordinary. Cowhead Ranch was a completely different model of being outside the status quo, and offered us our first opportunity to rub elbows with true Texas cowboys.
Chris is a quiet man, with a great smile, warm and perfectly happy to provide anything he can. He’s built himself a great little space in the middle of the Texas desert, and is more interested in meeting and providing space for other folks than getting rich as a resort-owner. In his words, all that matters is making enough to pay his bills and buy some gas and groceries. It’s a great illustration that you can build something for yourself and end up finding community and support.
Katherine February 26, 2010 at 1:05 pm
What two lenses did you bring on your trip? You chose well, and I’m curious as I shop for some good, all-rounders for my travels.
Russ February 27, 2010 at 10:46 am
Hey there…I shoot Nikon so I’m packing a D300, Nikon 17-55 2.8, Tokina 11-16 2.8 and 85mm 1.8. I did the first 5 months with the 17-55 and 85, but really missed the wide angle so I had that sent to me a few weeks ago.
Lostcitydenise February 26, 2010 at 4:18 pm
I’ve been trying to read your blog from the beginning forward. It’s difficult though since your updates are so beautifully written and photographed!
Thank you for inspiring us to plan another short tour of our own next fall – oh and love the socks!
Yoshiyahu February 27, 2010 at 11:18 am
When you start getting into “the first people ever to show up on bicycle” territory— that’s pretty nifty stuff. I know, I know, that place hasn’t been around for decades, but still. It’s fitting that the two of you, emblematic of what I think of as “the free-spirited American Dream,” would find its home, the Cowhead Ranch.
Paul February 27, 2010 at 6:53 pm
Chris is our neighbor. That’s us almost across the road from the Cowhead Ranch. You truly captured the essence of a very nice man and his unique accomplishment.
Our West Texas Adventure | The Path Less Pedaled September 27, 2010 at 7:41 am
[…] approximately 54 miles south of Alpine, is Cowhead Ranch. Stop in and say hi to Chris and enjoy the wonderfully quirky mini Western town he has […]
Lucille Robinson siddons February 6, 2011 at 4:48 pm
Did someone at this ranch have a family tree including my great grandfather Walter Leonard Robinson?
Howard Miller November 9, 2016 at 5:15 pm
We visited in 9.2010 and wonder if Chris is still there. Would love to see him again.
Russ November 10, 2016 at 10:00 am
We heard he passed away a few years ago. Not sure what has happened to the property 🙁
Paula Alexander March 29, 2018 at 5:36 pm
Sunny is working on getting it up and running again. I was an unexpected guest this past week, March 26 2018
Howard Miller November 9, 2016 at 5:17 pm
Sorry. I meant we visited in 9.2010.
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Plus there’s a big chili appreciation society deal nearby there. I raced there last year and it was a fun time. I will say this though; I woke up that Feb morning and it was below freezing. An hour later it was 80 and I felt like I was sitting on the sun. Still, good people and a great spot to have a lot of fun.