There's been no shortage of press in recent years for the tiny Texas town of Marfa. Still, the town remains slightly mysterious. Tucked away in Presidio County in the Chihuahuan Desert of far west Texas, Marfa is not as readily accessible for most Texans as travel destinations like Luckenbach, Fredericksburg, and Gruene. And really, that only adds to its wonder.
Is it a town of displaced writers and artists from New York City and L.A.? Is it an adobe-filled getaway for Texans looking to resurrect the back-to-the-basics-of-love mentality?
Marfa is both of those things and more. The truth is, Marfa is ever-changing. But it still stays the same in important ways like small towns tend to do. The town (pop. 2,000) is a mix of old and new, classic and modern. There are laid back cafes and modern art exhibits, 100-year-old ranches, and trendy food trucks.
And then there are those breathtaking desert landscapes. Just about three hours from El Paso and an hour from Big Bend National Park, Marfa offers unobstructed views that go on for miles and a West Texas sunset that's the stuff of your Instagram's dreams. It's that horizon that stretches on for miles that draws creative folks from all over the United States and the world.
Deep in the art of Texas
Mara Kapsis, a color and trim designer from Chevrolet who helped design the 2018 Chevy Equinox, says the light, colors, and overall creative spirit of Marfa had a profound impact on her vision.
"It is a completely unique place," Kapsis says. "When we first drove upon it, it was kind of this burst out of nowhere. There were all these contradictions or juxtapositions of the beautiful new architecture and this unique, old architecture and the texture of the landscape. And of course this amazing artwork in the heart of it all. I think there's kind of no place like it that I've ever been."
The thriving art scene has come to define the west Texas town. The Chinati Foundation, created by artist Donald Judd, was opened to the public in 1986. The foundation sits on 340 acres of land on the site of the former Fort D.A. Russell and features two of Judd's most famous works. The foundation also showcases pieces from 11 other artists like Dan Flavin, Carl Andre, and Roni Horn.
"The environment that the installation was in was just as important as the installation itself," Kapsis says.
It was another permanent art exhibit that put the town back into public consciousness. Prada Marfa was created by artists Elmgreen and Dragset and designed to look like, yes, a Prada Store in the middle of the West Texas desert. (Prada Marfa is actually located about 20 minutes outside of Marfa in the town of Valentine.) In nearby Alpine, there's also a small Target facade along the highway.
You'll also find Ballroom Marfa in town, a little gallery dedicated to performing and visual art.
Art is all around in the tiny town, from pops of color on storefronts to messages of joy on reclaimed fuel storage tanks.
Marfa Contemporary offers free exhibitions year-round and features recent works by regional, national, and international artists.
Life with Marfans
Some of the most beautiful views in the west Texas town are found in nature, outside all the tent campsites.
No trip out west is complete without a trip to see one of Presidio County's biggest draws, the mysterious Marfa Lights. The eerie "ghost lights" or orbs appear on the horizon on the shoulder of Highway 290. Adding to the creep factor, the Marfa Lights viewing platform is just North of the old abandoned army airfield. Though the lights have been the subject of heated debate and wild-eyed wonder for decades, no one has been able to definitively prove the origin of the lights.
In the daylight, you're likely to see a herd of pronghorn roaming. The animals are part of a restoration effort to bring pronghorn back to West Texas after the pronghorn population dropped to about 2,000 about a decade ago.
The Hotel Paisano offers its intrepid wanderers an intriguing history as the hotel where James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor stayed while filming the 1956 film Giant.
If you're looking for an outdoorsy vibe, try the El Cosmico Hotel. 21 acres with Airstream-type vintage trailers, safari tents, and Mongolian yurts for all the vagabond campers who love glamping. Don't worry, there are outdoor showers. The hotel also features outdoor communal kitchens and wood-fired Dutch hot tubs, and most accommodations feature full beds, queen beds or king beds. Lounge in your teepees and hammocks and enjoy the low key West Texas lifestyle and vast canopy of stars each night during your road trip.
If classic Americana is more your speed, check out Thunderbird Hotel, a 24-room boutique hotel with a 1950s-style and a touch of a hippie vibe.
For a modern, contemporary feel, check out the newest hotel on the block, Hotel St. George, which rivals any accommodations found in Dallas or Austin.
Shopping and Eats
Marfa also offers plenty of unique shops. Be sure to visit Ranch Candy for one-of-a-kind Marfa souvenirs and delicious snacks.
Need a trinket to take back home? Visit Freda, a small, charming boutique shop filled with handmade jewelry and gifts.
A day of exploring will leave you hankering for some Marfa grub. Grab lunch at Food Shark, a Mediterranean food truck that offers seating in an old bus.
It may be a small town, but even after a weekend of exploring, you'll probably find yourself wanting more of Marfa. Don't be surprised if you're already planning your next visit as you're driving back home through the wide open spaces of west Texas. Don't worry, Marfa will still be there waiting to enchant and inspire.
This post was originally published on October 30, 2017.