Marfa is a small town on the edge of west Texas known for it’s mystery lights and art scene. On our way to New Mexico from Big Bend, we passed through there and stayed for a week.
When we arrived in Marfa on Monday, February 6th, we got our RV set up at the quaint Tumble In RV Park just outside of town, and went in search of something for dinner. While there are a lot of restaurants for a town of 2,000 permanent residents, nearly all of them are closed on Mondays. However, Jett’s Grill in the Hotel Paisano was open for business. The service was slow, but the food was good. The hotel itself has an interesting history as it hosted James Dean, Rock Hudson, and Elizabeth Taylor while they filmed the movie Giant just outside Marfa in 1956.
One of Marfa’s biggest claims to fame are the mystery lights. Some have ascribed them to paranormal phenomena or UFOs. Others believe they are simply atmospheric reflections of car headlights and campfires. We figured that we should see them for ourselves.
We drove east of the city on U.S. Route 67 to the Official Marfa Lights Viewing Area around sunset one evening. We were skeptical but we set our sites in the distance and watched and waited. Sure enough, before long we saw red and yellow lights twinkling against the mountains in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere. They are certainly a phenomenon, we just don’t believe that they are paranormal. If you want to know just what it causing them, you might just have to make the trek to Marfa and see for yourself. 😉
Marfa’s other draw is its expanding art scene. A small town 200 miles from the nearest airport is the last place you would expect to find a string of art galleries, but there are over 15 galleries in and around town. You also wouldn’t expect to find a bike share in a town of this size, but Marfa is full of unexpected surprises. On Saturday, we rented bikes and drove around town to check out some art.
The art scene in Marfa all started with one man, a minimalist artist named Donald Judd, who came to Marfa from New York in the 1970’s. He died in the 90’s but his work can be seen at The Chinati Foundation Contemporary Art Museum just outside town, which was the first stop on our bike ride. The property is located on old military barracks with all of the old buildings filled with his art. There is a paid tour that you can take, but we opted to just walk around the free section of outdoor art.
We rode back into town and stopped in many other galleries that day. We also got a chance to check out all the cool old signs and interesting typography that make Marfa so charming.
Once you have seen the mystery lights and art galleries and maybe eaten at restaurant or two, you have pretty much experienced all Marfa has to offer. However, the McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis is only 45 minutes away and worth checking out while in the area.
Every Friday night, they have a “Star Party.” We happened to be there on a night with a full moon, which isn’t great for stargazing, but it was amazing to see it rise up over the mountain, hide behind one of the research telescopes, and peek back out again before continuing it’s journey up in the sky.
The event started an astronomer giving a talk about the stars and pointing out constellations from an outdoor amphitheatre. Then, we got to look through seven different telescopes directed at celestial objects including the Orion Nebula, Venus, and the Moon. The Moon actually ended up being our favorite object to see through the telescope, so we were happy to be there during the full moon even though its light made seeing the stars a little more difficult. The Star Party was definitely worth the drive up there and $12 per person admission fee!
Marfa may not be easy to get to, but that is part of its allure. It’s a town filled with wonder from its starry nights to its unexpected art scene to the desert landscape that surrounds it. The feeling you get in Marfa is a difficult one to describe. So if you ever find yourself in west Texas, you’ll just have to make a stop there and experience it for yourself.
On the way out of town don’t miss the Prada Marfa art installation. And, if you time it right, you can mail a valentine from the post office in Valentine, TX.