The Magic Bus, the Backroads of Texas, and Me.
The background story… my niece runs a non-profit called schoolboxproject.org. Whenever there is a natural disaster and families are evacuated, or there is a refugee crisis somewhere in the world, her volunteers go in either with an old school bus or shipping container, plus lots of art supplies, and hold art classes for kids. Helps them get through the trauma (plus gives their parents a break). My niece has won all sorts of awards for setting this thing up… and she is cool.
Anyway, after Hurricane Maria in Houston they sent in one of their old school busses and when it was all over, she needed a volunteer to drive it back to San Francisco. I said why not… a road trip sounded like fun, plus I could stay at some nice hotels along the way and write about them.
All good… except the bus was in pretty sad shape, bad tires, bad brakes, cracked windshield… pretty much nothing worked… and on top of that, despite assurances, there was no registration or proof of insurance and the tags had expired. On the other hand, it was brightly painted with animals, rainbows and fluffy white clouds. Reminded me of the good old days. Backroads Texas here I come. :)
It took five nights and six days of driving, max speed of 59mph… and if I wanted to stop I had to plan it pretty well in advance. But all in all… a good time. Here are some of the places I stayed at that I recommend for your group business… with some travel commentary in between.
Drove backroads from Houston to San Antonio… had to stop to have the tires patched and add three quarts of oil… and arrived in downtown San Antonio right in the middle of Saturday night insanity… events and crowds and traffic everywhere… and where exactly can you park an old school bus? But once that was settled…
Omni La Mansion del Rio https://www.omnihotels.com/hotels/san-antonio-la-mansion-del-rio
The 338-room Four Diamond hotel, offering 18,000 square feet of meeting space and a full-service Spa, is right on the historic River Walk and within walking distance of the Alamo, El Mercado, La Villita District, Spanish Governor’s Palace, and the San Antonio Convention Center. And when we were checking in, the comedian Bill Maher was checking in behind us. Just thought I would name drop.
An aside about the Alamo… did you know that the “freedom fighters” at the Alamo were actually fighting for the right to own slaves (which was illegal in Mexico at the time)? When Sam Houston and his colleagues first got permission to settle in Texas they agreed not to own slaves and then broke the agreement. Just saying.
The next day we drove (rattled) on Texas Route 90 West…I highly recommend it… and after a very long day ended up in Marfa, Texas. If you are not familiar with Marfa… either was I, but apparently everyone involved in architecture, design, fashion and art knows about it. Picture this…
The middle of nowhere. About four hours east of El Paso. Did I say the middle of nowhere? Apparently, some famous architect guy named Judd settled here a long time ago and it has since become a mecca for “those kinds of people”. Galleries, museums, public art displays (the famous Cadillacs in the desert), some great restaurants, people dressed in black… and surprise… welcome to…
The Saint George Hotel. http://marfasaintgeorge.com/
This 55-room hotel could be in SoHo or Santa Monica. But it’s not, it’s in Marfa. And it’s great. Well-appointed rooms, great restaurant, friendly service. On Conde Nast’s 2017 Hot List. Really. I asked their DOS what kind of groups come there… she listed quite a few… Chinese Vogue was arriving the next day. Let me just say that if I had a group of people involved in the fashion or design field, and I had the time and money to get the group to Marfa… I would. It’s like no other place. And my hippie bus fit right in… although the battery died and we had to replace it… but if I had to be stuck somewhere, it might as well be Marfa.
After we could get the bus started, we headed west on Texas 90, then north on Texas 54 (great road) and then west on Hwy 62 to El Paso. Saw a herd of antelope out on the range. They seemed to be eating, not playing, but then again, antelope may think that eating is playing. I have no idea… or as my aunts and uncles would have said in their strong, sing-song New York accent… shoulders shrugged, palms upraised… “What do I know from antelope?”
Had to spend the night before heading west the next day to Tucson and…
The El Conquistador Tucson, A Hilton Resort. https://www.hiltonelconquistador.com/
This 428-room AAA Four-Diamond resort is a 500-acre desert oasis, and after bouncing across New Mexico and Arizona for way too long, it definitely felt that way to me. They offer 54,000 square feet of indoor meeting space, 45 holes of golf, 31 tennis courts, horseback riding, and 5 swimming pools. What I remember the most after my long day in the bus… a massage in their spa and an excellent room service dinner. I don’t remember much after that. I highly recommend you add it to your consideration set when considering Tucson (which is a great destination by the way).
Another day of bouncing and being passed by hundreds of semi-trucks, and on to the next oasis…
Colony Palms Hotel, Palm Springs, CA https://www.colonypalmshotel.com/
My kind of place. Originally opened in 1936 as a retreat for mobsters (I guess being a mobster can be stressful), and then re-branded in the 50’s as Howard Manor, a getaway for the Hollywood elite. It was re-branded again in 1979 as The Palms, the first health spa in Palm Springs and then again in 2017 as The Colony Palms.
The facts… This 57-room Spanish colonial style retreat is downtown so walking distance to a lot of cool stuff, and offers two meeting rooms… one seats up to 50, the boardroom seats 16, plus some great outdoor spaces. Picture rich people relaxing around the pool. I wish I could have spent more time pretending to be rich but, no… back on the bus for one more long day and back to the oasis of my family. It was a trip. :)
Please enjoy some photos from my trip - Neil Cramer Photography
You an view more of Neil's photos at http://neilcramerphotography.com