Travel Lets Your Brain Breathe

Just breathe. Looking into a Los Portales room at night at the Gage Hotel in Marathon, Texas (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Just breathe. Looking into a Los Portales room at night at the Gage Hotel in Marathon, Texas (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

“Let’s go stand out by the road and listen.”

Not ON the road. BY the road. No one’s trying to get smacked by a car while pleasantly lost in reverie.

Of course, where we were in tiny Marathon, Texas, 40 miles north of the entrance to Big Bend National Park, there is really only one main road and there weren’t any cars on it; not at that time of night.

We hopped out of the moonlit Gage Hotel swimming pool, wrapped up in our hotel bathrobes, walked out to the roadside, looked up at the stars, and simply stood. Breathe in, breathe out. Bathed in the cool, dry air of the Trans-Pecos, we listened to the nighttime sounds whispered to us from the Chihuahuan desert.

I was surprised by my daughter’s request, but heartened as well. Now in her early 20’s, she did not grow up as constantly electronically-connected as her teenage brother, but I think her generation is starting to appreciate the value of down time, of unplugging.

Of letting your surroundings give you some head space.

Bedside window in a Los Portales room at the Gage Hotel in Marathon, TX (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Bedside window in a Los Portales room at the Gage Hotel in Marathon, TX (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

You don’t have to travel to get that – a chance to center myself and mentally prepare for the day is the main reason I try to take a quick fifteen minute walk through my neighborhood each morning – but it helps to be in a new, different environment.

The Gage Hotel is such a place.

Entrance to the historic Gage Hotel in tiny Marathon, Texas (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Entrance to the historic Gage Hotel in tiny Marathon, Texas (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

We were only there one night, but I could have stayed a lot longer, especially if money was no object (our room was about US$200/night.) There was a pretty brochure on a table in the lobby to convince me to stay longer, too….”14 Days at the Gage,” with itineraries and day trip ideas that I can highly recommend, like the spring-fed swimming pool at Balmorhea State Park, or a Star Party at McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis.

I have not been to the enormous Big Bend National Park, or Big Bend Ranch State Park which is next to it, but I know they each take more than a day to fully explore. There are plenty of things to do in the Big Bend region, and the 4,000-foot-high elevation means that you can usually enjoy the outdoors even in summer, without the typical broiling Texas heat.

My daughter and I both said, “Aaaahh” when we opened our car doors after parking at the hotel, and unexpectedly cool air rushed in. “Whoa, can’t believe it feels this good in August!”

The Los Portales section of the Gage Hotel in Marathon, Texas (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

The Los Portales section of the Gage Hotel in Marathon, Texas (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Built across the street from gleaming railroad tracks that run east-west across miles and miles of Texas, the Gage opened in 1927, with multiple expansions since then including a spa, gardens, a game area for bocce ball, chess, volleyball, horseshoes, and more, plus a fitness center.

There’s also a fine hotel restaurant (named the 12 Gage, naturally,) the White Buffalo Bar, and a coffee shop.

Column detail in the lobby of the historic Gage Hotel in Marathon, TX (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Column detail in the lobby of the historic Gage Hotel in Marathon, TX (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

It’s a fairly plush property, but friendly down-home staff and thoughtful regional decor ensure that it never seems pretentious or snooty.

Snooty does not go over well in west Texas.

Western swing: the lobby of the historic Gage Hotel in tiny Marathon, TX (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Western swing: the lobby of the historic Gage Hotel in tiny Marathon, TX (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

I’m seeing lots of advice lately about unplugging and letting your brain breathe. Some of it is rather judge-y and implies that you’re kind of a jerk to allow yourself to be so attached to your electronics, but your brain isn’t dumb.

Your phone and computers are portals to a lot of interesting activity, and your brain knows that.

Family and friends are sharing on Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat. News and sports are available all the time. You need maps. You need weather information. If you don’t wear a watch, you need to know the time.

If you travel, though, you can immerse yourself in places and experiences that, if they’re engaging enough, are more attractive to your brain than your phone. I can almost hear the soft “pop” in my head when the suction pulling my attention to the internet is broken.

To my own amazement, I found myself thinking, “I could live here in Marathon,” and I’m very much a city kid.

Maybe it’s not “I could live here forever,” but more like, “When my brain needs to breathe, I could come here for awhile and let that happen.”

Where do you go to get that much-needed head space? Let us know in the comments.

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