A shop owner with deep Texas roots walks us through a typical day at her tiny cottage in Marathon's rugged high-desert landscape.
Desert Cottage Porch
Carole Carden bought her house on the condition that the vintage glider stay.
| Credit: Roger Davies

7:15 a.m.
I wake up early, especially on days when a touch of warmth creeps in on the morning chill. My front porch faces east, so I take a cup of hot tea and sit on my favorite glider—it's been here longer than I have. When I found this century-old Sears kit house that was built for railroad workers, I bought it on one condition: "The glider stays!" My day begins on that seat watching the sun rise over the miles of high (4,000-foot elevation), sage-covered desert.

Only about 600 people live in Marathon, and my nearest neighbor is more than an acre away. It's very quiet except for the train rattling through town each morning, adding to the Western-frontier feel of this part of Texas we call the Big Bend.

9:30 a.m.
By midmorning, I've put on my jeans and a pair of cowboy boots. I find a tactile satisfaction in hands-on work, especially because my other life in Solana Beach, California, is more urban and revolves around my interiors store, SoLo.

Here, I dig up rocks and limestone slabs and form borders such as the one I'm currently constructing on the way to the outdoor shower.

I go out on my land and uproot cacti to transplant around my yard. Really, there's no secret to it, other than a good shovel and lots of elbow grease. There's no need to buy plants at a nursery if you want simple, arid landscaping.

When you have an old ranch house, you're constantly tinkering. Nothing major—I spend a lot of mornings replacing rotten boards and retouching spots here and there with paint.

My kitchen has that farmhouse openness that makes it an easy place to hang out while getting lunch together. I brought some vintage pieces from my store. The metal chairs, polished wood table, and industrial shelving cart mix with the original wood floors, screened door, and 1920s range for a look I call "cowboy modern."

After lunch on the porch, I head into Marathon to get the mail. The post office is the place to be around lunchtime as many of the residents pass in and out, catching up with one another on the day.

2 p.m.
Things slow down in the afternoon. The glider beckons me again, and I manage to read or nap for hours. I've always loved reading. I owned a bookstore for years before opening SoLo, where I still have a large book selection.

If an afternoon thunderstorm rolls through, the lightning plays on the desert for miles and the rain taps wildly on the home's original tin roof. When the storm passes, a neighbor might wander over, completely unannounced, as is the custom out here.

5 p.m.
This house has become a refuge for me, but it also draws plenty of company—family and friends—and they never want to leave. Everyone loves the "sunset Champagne cruises." We grab a chilled bottle, load up the red convertible, and head west to our favorite scenic spot in the mountains where we toast the sunset. Sometimes we get three or four cars in a little sunset cruise caravan.

6 p.m.
Back at the house, we throw some tunes on and have more Champagne in the living room, where I keep my book and art collections. The cowboy modern theme infuses this room, with the sleek cowhide rug softening the original flooring. I don't have TV or Internet in the house, so we amuse ourselves with great conversation, books, music, and the view.

7 p.m.
Night falls quickly onto the desert. We usually get the fire going in the outdoor pit and start the grill. As the food cooks, we keep an eye out for shooting stars that seem to span the horizon in this dark, clear sky. A train might rumble past, in from one side of the silence and out the other.

The day's final sanctuary is as original as the rest of this kit house. I never painted the old beaded-board ceiling [in the bedroom], opting to stick with the natural look of raw wood, but I did clean and stain the original flooring. I found the Mexican tin mirror at an antiques show.

As my thoughts drift off, I think about how ironic it is that a home built to be cookie-cutter temporary housing for railroad workers could turn out, 100 years later, to be such a unique and permanent place of rejuvenation and personal expression.