Marfa's the kind of place where time moves a little slower. — Photo courtesy of Corinne Whiting
In the far west of Texas, there sits a sun-drenched town nestled high in the Chihuahuan Desert. Not unlike a Hollywood set, Marfa is accented by cacti and a solitary, blinking traffic light. Yet here, real cowboys still exist. Tumbleweed rolls across a sleepy palette of yellows and browns, and a stillness envelopes the never-ending azure expanse (except when the occasional train whizzes through).
Marfa is a town where residents - there are around 2,000 - wave as their trucks rumble past. As a weekend visitor, you'll run into the same folks at the pub who sat next to you at lunch (and catty-corner at breakfast).
A rusty truck in Marfa — Photo courtesy of Corinne Whiting
Businesses post hours in windows, but they only sometimes keep them. At dusk, everyone holds their breath as the setting sun stretches shadows into impossibly long figures splattered across glowing pink buildings. Here, time still remembers to pause.
And yet, Marfa is on the move. The town’s tourism site displays a fitting motto: “Tough to get to. Tougher to explain. But once you get here, you get it.” In recent decades, it seems many more people indeed get it.
Yes, cowboys still exist. — Photo courtesy of Corinne Whiting
Formerly known for its mysterious “ghost lights” and as the film location for James Dean’s final film Giant, the town experienced a pivotal shift when minimalist artist Donald Judd relocated here from New York City in the 1970s. A pack of like-minded creative souls followed in his wake, establishing this eclectic spot as a thriving artists’ hub.
Marfa now draws crowds from near and far to annual festivals that celebrate topics from film and music to unexplained scientific phenomena. In 2006, the Coen brothers and their crew rolled into Marfa, using the region’s ragged terrain as backdrop for No Country for Old Men.
Marfa's served as scenery for several films. — Photo courtesy of Corinne Whiting
So what to do once you’ve landed yourself in this offbeat oasis? Take a two- or four-hour tour of The Chianti Foundation, Judd’s nontraditional, contemporary art museum located on 340 acres of dusty land, a former military base. Nearby activities range from glider plane riding and planet gazing (at McDonald Observatory) to hiking in Big Bend Natural Park and dunking in the Chinati Hot Springs.
And then there are the truly quirky draws. Incredulous passers-by check out peculiar roadside art at Prada Marfa. Don’t be fooled: it’s not a real store. It's a freestanding sculpture (which fashionista Courtney Kerr recently visited for an episode of her reality TV show Courtney Loves Dallas). Every night, a viewing platform fills with spectators gawking at another oddity: the inexplicable show of Marfa's lights dancing in the distance.
"Prada Marfa" resembles a real-life Prada store. — Photo courtesy of Corinne Whiting
“Downtown,” visitors find a cornucopia of galleries in unexpected spaces, a well-stocked bookstore, a weekend farmers market and the local radio station (KRTS) studio. Modern-day businesses occupy historical storefronts. Other notable architecture includes the Presidio County Courthouse; the circa 1931, tiled Brite Building; and El Paisano Hotel, designed by Henry Trost in Spanish Colonial Revival style.
Sunset casts shadows on Marfa's old buildings. — Photo courtesy of Corinne Whiting
Lodging options vary greatly, from quaint B&Bs to no-frills RV parks. At the hip “bunkhouse hotel” El Cosmico, guests stay in trailers, teepees or tents. The historic Paisano features 1930s-era charm mixed with modern amenities (yet rooms remain phone-free). In warmer temps, enjoy the glorious front courtyard and its trickling fountain; on chilly evenings, pull up a chair next to the lounge’s crackling fire.
Inside El Paisano — Photo courtesy of Corinne Whiting
Fine dining options include Cochineal and Maiya’s, a bistro-style venue that boasts “robust Italian food.” But tasty, casual eats abound, too. Begin your day in the delightful courtyard at Squeeze Marfa, a friendly Swiss bakery. Or enjoy the breakfast burritos (served all day) at Buns N’ Roses Café, a café-meets-flower shop housed in a metallic hangar.
Queues form (for a reason) when mobile Food Shark rolls up to dole out plates of “Mediterranean-by-way-of-West-Texas” goodness. At another popular spot - Pizza Foundation - a no-nonsense employee takes orders for slow-to-arrive, housemade pies that are absolutely worth the wait. (Try the white pizza with spinach, washed down with a limeade slushy or Big Bend Hefeweizen, brewed in nearby Alpine.)
Casual dining in Marfa — Photo courtesy of Corinne Whiting
In the evening, enjoy a mellow drink at Jett’s Grill, cozy up next to a pool-playing cowboy at Lost Horse Saloon or pop into Padres, a former funeral home that offers a hard, industrial interior softened by chandeliers that dangle above the bar. (Free concerts rock the venue most evenings.)
Indeed, Marfa offers magic, sometimes in the most unexpected ways. Thanks for the stay, y’all. We can now add ourselves to the list of visitors who truly “get it.”