The following article is the final part of a six-part series of a tour through the Big Bend Country region of west Texas. Previously we visited Monahans Sandhills State Park, Balmorhea State Park, Fort Davis, the McDonald Observatory and Marfa.
There really isn't a whole lot to do in Marathon. There is an old jail, and an old water tower. There's an old railroad depot and some old cattle shipping pens. Oh, and there's an old hotel.
The old hotel is the reason to go. The Gage Hotel, to be specific, was originally built in the late 1920s by Alfred Gage. Gage, who had moved from Vermont to his 500,000 acres spread in Brewster County in the 1870s, died only one year after the completion of the hotel and never really got to enjoy the fruits of his labor.
For a few years following Gage's death the hotel remained open. Eventually though, fewer and fewer heads came to rest on the Gage's pillows and the hotel was shuttered, leaving only ghosts to haunt the halls. Oh yeah, it's reportedly haunted -- but more on that later.
The hotel remained closed until the late 1970s when J.P. Bryan stumbled across it while shopping for homes in the area. Bryan bought the hotel for a song and, over the next couple of decades, would restore the old hotel into a destination with a world class restaurant, a 7.5-acre garden, a gift shop, a spa and fitness center, rooms for weddings and meetings and finally, of course, there is plenty of space to just lie back and relax and enjoy the silence that surrounds Marathon. If that weren't enough, the hotel has exquisite gardens, firepits and a gorgeous pool. Truly an oasis in the desert.
Truth be told, one of the best things about staying in Marathon is its proximity to everything else -- as I said, there isn't a lot to do there. But, when in town one of the places you must stop is Shirley's Burnt Biscuit. Inside you'll find the finest fried fruit pies Texas has to offer -- and some pretty good conversation with the locals. The pies are so good that Shirley's has quite a robust business shipping them nationwide. Grab some for your friends back home as a gift -- after all, who doesn't appreciate a good fried pie? I can personally say that while the pies are darn good, perhaps even better was the breakfast of biscuits and sausage gravy. You definitely need to stop in.
So, about the ghosts. The Gage is said to be haunted by three spirits, one of which might or might not be old man Gage himself. The ghosts are said to walk the halls of the hotel in the original building, or saunter across the porch, as anyone living might also do in such a lazy, old west town. Personally, I witnessed no such thing -- much to the chagrin of my inner ghost hunter. However, I wasn't traveling alone and we didn't leave the hotel without a ghost story. At some point overnight, my travel partner said she woke up to the sound of someone screaming her name outside of the door -- and it wasn't me being funny. She was understandably shaken, but left unsure what to make of it. I just wish I'd heard it. So ... make of that what you will. Room 10 of the main building is said to make a believer out of doubters, but I think Room 39 might also have a few tricks up its sleeve.