shortly after i started dating parker (now my husband), he mentioned wanting to travel to a small town in far west texas, marfa. i had never heared of marfa and, after looking it up on a map, realized it was pretty much in the middle of nowhere (over two hours from the nearest cities of el paso or midland/odessa). parker had read about it in texas monthly, and mentioned it was known for its modern art scene. hmmm…modern art in west texas? i was thinking more like ranchers from edna ferber’s giant (side note: the movie based on the book was filmed in marfa- it was the last movie james dean filmed before his death).
we went for three nights, and it was one of the quirkiest and coolest trips i have ever taken. we ate marfalafal at the food shark food truck (before food trucks were cool), where they gave me change in the form of a two dollar bill, a dollar piece, and a fifty cent piece (so whimsical, as my friend tara would later describe it). we strolled through the tiny downtown, with its art galleries (a warhol exhibit comes to mind), a light-filled library, and hipster bikes leaning against buildings (no locks, no crime). at night we stayed at the thunderbird hotel, a hipster haven where we rented bikes, a typewriter, and a record player.
donald judd’s chinati foundation is located in marfa, and we spent over a day touring the facilities and seeing the many exhibits spread over acres of the flat west texas land. we spoke with interns who had moved to marfa for the summer, and learned how they liked the tiny town (loved it), where they went shopping (online or in nearby alpine for the closest grocery store), and what the neighboring ranchers thought of the neon light installations (amused).
east of town, there is a strange phenomenon called the marfa lights. at a rest stop off the highway, you can park at night and look out over the flat land and see twinkling lights at the horizon. many people have speculated as to what they are, but the lights (and their origin) remain a mystery, with UFOs being the prevailing idea. somewhat spooky (ok, i was entirely freaked out), but seemingly in step with the rest of the town’s eccentric vibe. check it out.
who should go: modern art lovers, hipsters, texans
what to read: giant by edna ferber
what to watch: no country for old men and there will be blood, both partly filmed in marfa
the surrounding area: drive south to the border and head east along the rio grande through big bend national park. stop for a drink at boathouse in terlingua, a ghost town with a high hippie population and home to a texas-sized chili festival. head north from marfa for a night spent watching the stars at the university of texas’ mcdonald observatory, or swim in the natural (and freakishly clear) springs in balmorhea.