Marfa: Intrigue And Art In The Desert Of Southwest Texas

Marfa was a place suggested to me by several people I met along my trip. After reading a little about it and seeing a few pictures, I found there was a certain intrigue and mystery about it, so I made it my next destination after Austin on the way to El Paso. Simply put, it’s a small city in the middle of the desert in southwest Texas, and has been growing as a tourist destination since the late 70s.

1 PANO_20160615_202928One of the things everyone goes to see is the Marfa Lights, which are mysterious light orbs sometimes scene in the distance (looking south toward the Chinati Mtns.) that move & behave strangely- similar to Brown Mtn. lights in NC; they also go for the art scene featuring mostly minimalist styles, the scenery, and, of course the food.

If you like to eat, there’s a great offering. A grilled cheese parlor, a few fine dining spots, a lady that cooks burritos from her house, and a handful of other places in between. The only chains I recall are Dairy Queen and a dollar store. No Starbucks. No Walmart.

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I spent my first night here (although when I arrived, I parked away from the bridge; it wasn’t until I woke up the next morning that I moved into the shade under the bridge.)

When I first arrived it was about midnight so I found a spot by a train bridge to sleep. The very next day I started my scouting. The first local, eclectic attraction I found was El Cosmico, which is a creative modern alternative to a hotel offering teepees, yurts, and vintage campers painted in all kinds of colors for lodging. They also have a gift shop with books, wardrobe, art, and such. You can even buy beer or wine. On top of that is a handful of different communal activities, like cooking or art. I obviously didn’t need to patronize the establishment for a place to stay this time around, but I did have a couple beers while I browsed through the shop. I went outside to kick back and enjoy my last drink and I happened to meet one of the employees and we chatted for a little while. He said it would be cool if I wanted to sleep in the parking lot, which is what I ended up doing for my whole stay.

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Parked by the El Cosmico “sign”

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Some functional art featured in the gift shop

I eventually went to the viewing post hoping to see the lights, but they never showed up. However there was a big thunderstorm over the mountains so I had the chance to see a very impressive lightning display instead, and it lasted several hours. What made it especially cool was that it was so far away you couldn’t hear any thunder, and being in the flat of the desert you could see the whole storm system from end to end, top to bottom. There was actually a good thunderstorm every day during my 5 day visit and one night there was two. After the viewing post I stopped at the Lost Horse Saloon for a drink before heading back to the parking lot at Cosmico. I met a pretty cool local there who I had a good conversation with for a while, and he even bought me a beer.

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The Chinati mountains are out of the photo to the far left. The Viewing post is at the bottom right where all the cars are parked.

One of the other main attractions is the Chinati Foundation which is basically a permanent museum/gallery with various art installations, mostly from Donald Judd. He basically bought up all the buildings in the old military base as well as half of all the property in Marfa (if not most of it). I think his art is genuine and has aesthetic and conceptual value, but it in my opinion it’s overrated; it’s literally a bunch of sculptures of boxes. You can make up your own mind.

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A view of the Chinati Foundation from the road. The concrete boxes in the foreground are one of the installations, while the hanger in the back has many more installations inside.

 

On my way out of Marfa, I stopped to see the last popular sight which is Prada Marfa (however it was a surprise since I didn’t realize I would pass it on my way to El Paso. Prior to, I assumed it was somewhere else and didn’t bother to seek it out). It’s another permanent art installation about 20 or 30 miles going west. Prada Marfa is a fake Prada store. It’s a real building with real Prada merchandise inside, but it’s only an exhibit for viewing. A very “out of place” spectacle but with a subtle, surreal charm.

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“Prada Marfa” A permanent art installation

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I found this on the opposite side of the road near Prada Marfa…

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… and I decided to add to it.

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As you can see, my pictures tell a story and give some insight into the look & feel of the place, but they don’t give everything away either. I think it’s good to spark the curiosity and yet leave a lot for your own discovery should you ever visit. Overall, I liked Marfa quite a lot. I’ll definitely be visiting again on my way back to Maine and will continue to do so long after this road trip is over.

 

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Goodbye for now, Marfa

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El Paso And The Family

 

El Paso; the city in the far corner of west Texas, and, my last stop in the lone star state. It sits directly on the border with Juarez, Mexico. My dad was born there along with 11 (could be 12) other siblings. Most of them and their families still live there, so it definitely was a major destination for the road trip. Did I mention it’s really, really hot?

So I arrived in the evening at my Grandma’s old house where everyone grew up and I was prepared with a couple six packs I picked up just before getting into the neighborhood. Just two of my cousins live there now, David and Isaac. Needless to say, I was really happy to finally be able to hang out with family members that I hadn’t seen in about 15 years. And out of all my relatives there, I’ve been closest to Dave and Isaac since we’re all about the same age.

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Parked at the old house

The next day I went with a few family members, including Dave and Isaac, to a place called Hideaway Lake which is basically a couple man made U shaped ponds that get stocked with cat fish. West Texas is very short on natural bodies of water, and Hideaway Lake is basically one of the closest places to go. We had a fire, did a bit of fishing ( I was only a spectator), had some food, and camped out for the night. I brought my house of course, which really fit the scene.

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For most of the visit, I tried to stay cool and kicked back during the day while my cousins were at work, and once they were home we’d hang out and have a couple beers. Sometimes other friends, family, or neighbors would join us for a while.

 

 

 

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I went downtown one afternoon to set up and do poetry and it went fairly well. I had a small wave of about 4 poems. I had to pack up early though due to really heavy gusts that started suddenly. Sand, dust, and trash was blowing hard everywhere, grit getting in your eyes and mouth… There was no sense in staying.

 

At one point, one of my cousins hosted a big cookout at his house and invited all the family living in the area. There were a lot who didn’t make it, but about a third showed up, which was still quite a few, and we all had a good time just hanging out with tunes and drinks and good food, laughing and sharing stories.

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Just the cousins, aunts, and uncles

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Everyone

I pretty much did what I planned to do, which was mostly just chill out and spend time with family. My cousins and I also went on a few small adventures during my stay, sometimes with a couple other friends or family members. We managed to find a pretty good hookah bar, had some food and beer at a place called the Hoppy Monk, checked out the DJ and the scene at Monarch (a popular and swanky bar for the younger generations), checked out a graffiti park, and made it over to the scenic drive that overlooks all of El Paso and part of Juarez.

 

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On a couple occasions, we cooked up a nice breakfast, and for one of those days, I fixed up mimosas, which Dave and Isaac never had before. The other time it was bloody Marys. There was another cookout on father’s day, and there was a birthday at a pizza place, so all together I had a good fill of family time mixed with good food, like my Tia Bertha’s bacon wrapped jalepeno poppers. And with the exception of the pizza place, there was always oldies playing at the cookouts, just like when I was little.

I stayed for a total of two weeks and it would have been really easy to stay longer, but it was time to make tracks for New Mexico and see my sister and her kids. Every moment of my trip has been filled with anticipation, and leaving Texas was no different; it was just another step closer to the Pacific, another step into the unknown, into something new, a step further from home yet at the same time, a step bringing me closer to where I started.