The tale of the Cowboy, the Immigrant and the American West are woven into a modern adventure story by the poets and artists who live in the storied town of Marfa, Texas.
Marfa is a cozy town of 1772 people. It lies 50 miles north of the Mexican border and rests in the Chihuahuan Desert. The town square centers around a soaring courthouse. Art studios, curated shops and charming adobe homes radiate from the main square. The population is a mix of Mexican immigrants who have lived in Marfa for generations, ranchers, artists and retirees who find the lure of the desert enchanting. Plus there is now a growing number of tourists. Many admit that just two or three years ago the town had a much more local vibe. While I was there I met people from Manhattan, Chicago, LA, France, Germany and Texas. It’s easy to say, times are a changing.
Beautiful Balmorhea State Park, Fort Davis and the University of Texas’ McDonald’s Observatory are admirable neighbors.
There is no easy way to access Marfa. If a cross-country car ride is not appealing, a person has to fly into either Midland or El Paso and then drive for 3 additional hours before the destination is reached. (Private jet owners do have a direct option).
We came to Marfa for the Marfa Lights Festival. We sat out in the dark for a couple of hours hoping to see the alien lights. They did emerge, to our surprise and relief. They were small and flickering and then grew larger as they came closer to our observation point. At first they looked like car headlights and then grew into something undeniably weird. They lasted for a minute or less. Afterward we discussed the lights and wondered if they were real or some sort of local trick. Many cars drive by the main observation area and it is easy to see how the lights we saw could have been a reflection of some sort. Still, all three of us saw these unusual lights and definitely cannot explain their strange behavior, especially when they split apart.
The food scene in Marfa is trendy, flavorful and creative. Restaurants set their own hours and appear to be opened when convenient to the owner. Definitely check times and days before making plans. Of the many restaurants we tried, I most loved Food Shark for its fresh, mediterranean flavors, The Water Stop for its beverages and mac and cheese, Capri for their garden and creative ice cream combinations and Cochineal for its delicious meat and cheese tray and AMAZING fig pudding.
Marfa has warm days (boiling hot days in summer) and cool evenings. Luckily, there was a sunrise tour of Donald Judd’s concrete boxes while we visited. These concrete boxes rest over 4 acres of land and seeing them at sunrise gave us an appreciation for the enormous Marfa sky. It also allowed us to see the boxes in the cool of the morning before the searing heat returned. If you are planning a summer visit, consider scheduling your Chinati Foundation tour around a sunrise opening, and prepare to encounter wildlife too (snakes).
Contemplating the purpose of these unexplained, untitled concrete squares leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Are they coffins? Abandoned skyscrapers?
Is the theme nature vs. manmade? Temporality of life? Are they frames through which one can better see the landscape?
Is there a rhythm or pattern in play? Why did Judd come all the way from New York to make boxes? The 100 aluminum boxes inside the old military buildings continue the interpretation enigma. Their metallic frame struck me as giant, hollow computers.
The tour of Donald Judd’s home, known as the Block Tour, was less enjoyable and made the claustrophobic in me want to create chaos in the adobe-walled shrine. It revealed a man who wanted to control rather than be controlled. Our guide explained that his favorite music was baroque and bagpipes — sounds that seem consistent with someone aiming for structure and perfection. Judd had the idea that once placed, art should be permanently installed and not moved. When he died, his will specified that nothing in his home be touched or disturbed. We were constantly reminded on the tour to not touch anything. It truly felt like a prison where air and time stood still. I felt much relief when our 2 + hour tour ended. On a positive note, the one thing I enjoyed about the home were the chairs. The design was gorgeously simple and functional.
If you too find the home tour disturbing, shake off the bad ju-ju by shopping in the beautifully curated stores in Marfa. I found bespoke towels and rugs at the Marfa Soap Bar. At Freda I scored a fabulous oil-based perfume. The Rock Shop has two friendly men who work inside and will help you find the right stones for personal jewelry.
Perhaps my favorite part of Marfa was staying in this chic adobe home. It had comfortable beds, fabulous decor and a library worth perusing. It set the tone for our stay and contributed to the fun vibe of our surroundings.
One night while I was showering I looked up and saw a scorpion stuck inside the light over the shower. It kept circling and made me nervous. My husband was a hero and removed the glass from the light fixture and tossed the creature back into the wild.
I would have been happy with him killing that scary insect, but he is too much of an animal (and insect) lover to consider harming it. The next day we discovered a centipede. Again, my nature-loving hubby came to the rescue and tossed this giant 100- legged creature into the back yard. Eeeek!
Marfa was worth the hours-long trek. If you are seeking a romantic American road-trip adventure, if you enjoy art, shopping, hiking, nature, good food and clean air you will probably enjoy Marfa too. We have already returned once since our first visit and hope to go back again soon!