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West Texas Holiday: a week spent in Marfa

In Life Stories on October 3, 2012 at 5:47 pm

Photo credit: Caitlyn Holroyd

Two weeks ago, my boyfriend and I departed for a week-long adventure in Marfa. The decision to go to this West Texas town was a whimsical one; I’d stumbled upon it within the depths of the Internet and became obsessed. So, I surprised my boyfriend with plane tickets to El Paso—the nearest airport, some three hours away—and we spent the next month waiting impatiently. It’s taken this week of being back home to translate our trip because Marfa isn’t easily translated into words.

Basic facts about Marfa: it’s a small town in the West Texas Chihuahuan Desert with a population of 2,000. Renowned minimalist artist Donald Judd put the town on the map after he moved here in 1971 from New York City and since then, it’s become a destination for artists, ranchers, and people from all over. Still, it’s not for everyone. If the desert heat doesn’t get you by day, the bugs might by night. The town shuts down at midnight and some days, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything open. But if you can survive this, you’ve found yourself something special.

I don’t know what we came here for exactly, but it was the people who touched our hearts the most. I met some of the friendliest, most interesting people ever here. A man from New Zealand traveling across America; a former New Yorker now Marfa retiree who took 30 minutes out of his day to tell us what to check out; a couple who invited us to a local goat (cabrito) roast where we were only strangers for a minute and people genuinely wanted to hear our story. Here, people will pause a phone conversation to say hello and ask you how you are. Here, things may look like a movie set but it’s real and it’s impossible not to fall in love with this town.

These are the places we stayed/ate/went:

Marfa Flyer: Owned and operated by Rachel Barr, the Marfa Flyer (which is really just her Ford Explorer) got us from the airport to Marfa. Rachel knows everything about the area and filled the three-hour drive with the most interesting stories. She’ll pick you up and drop you off at the airport and wherever else you please!

Prada Marfa: Not actually situated in Marfa and not actually a Prada store, Prada Marfa is an art installation surrounded by nothing (which is precisely the humorous point of it). Rachel told us that it wasn’t intended to be a permanent installation but people loved it so much that its creators decided to keep it there. She said they’ve hired an old hippie to maintain it, which includes replacing the glass after break-in attempts (the shoes and accessories are all nailed down).

El Cosmico: A hippie-esque campground thought up by Austin hotel maven Liz Lambert, El Cosmico—much like Marfa—doesn’t feel real. Here, you can sleep in a safari tent (our choice), teepee, or vintage trailer and see every single star in the sky, including the milky way. It features a communal outdoor kitchen, hammock grove, and a bathhouse wherein you shower surrounded by grapevines and the Texas air. The staff told us that people don’t usually stay here as long as we did but I would stay here for a year straight if you let me. (Beyonce also stayed here about a month before we did.)

Hotel Paisano: A national historic landmark, the Paisano is where Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean, and Rock Hudson stayed while filming Giant here in 1955. Naturally, the hotel is covered with Giant memorabilia including a James Dean cutout and photos of the cast. We stayed for one night in room 223 where Dean stayed during filming and though we weren’t visited by his ghost, the dreamy photos of him on the walls did just fine.

Lost Horse Saloon
: Run by a cowboy and covered in Texan paraphernalia, this place is THE definition of a saloon. It’s a real locals’ spot where ranchers bring their dogs to hang out and people share stories around a campfire out back. Here is where you’ll see the true Marfa. The first night we came, we were greeted with dogs play-fighting and Cowboy Ty (the owner) shouting, “Howdy! Did y’all just get into town? Well, knife fight is at 9.” (He was joking, of course.) And then when we left, Ty gave me a hug and kissed me on the top of my head and we got invited to a local goat roast and my love affair with Marfa truly began.

Planet Marfa: Owned by Jon (a former navy pilot) and Aase Johnson—an incredibly sweet couple who met in Aase’s native country of Norway while Jon was stationed there during Vietnam—Planet Marfa is best described as a playground. The beergarden features games like bullring and ping pong, lanterns for nighttime, outdoor fireplaces, and a giant handmade teepee that makes for the most magical place to drink inside of. Definitely try Aase’s homemade pico de gallo and chat with Isabella, the couple’s pet parrot (who apparently freaked Beyonce out with a cheeky whistle when the singer stopped by).

: A former funeral home turned bar, Padres offers cheap beers, a games room, one of the best burgers you’ll ever taste, and a bar cat named Billy Jr. (his namesake is Father Bill, one of the owners). The first night we came here, Modest Mouse’s “World At Large” came on as we walked through the door and I knew this place was alright.

Food Shark: Open Tuesday through Friday for lunch, the Food Shark is a Marfa hotspot (if there is such a thing). Try their Marfalafel and watch their commercial. They also run the Museum of Electronic Wonders & Late Night Grilled Cheese Parlor which we unfortunately didn’t get a chance to check out.

Boyz 2 Men: In Marfa, Sunday brunch means going to a breakfast taco food truck called Boyz 2 Men where you might just hear Boyz II Men.

Fat Lyle’s: The newest truck to the Marfa food scene, Fat Lyle’s was recommended to us by several locals. And for good reason. Their scotch egg is to die for!

Borunda’s: Here, we ate Tex-Mex and marveled at the 90s supermodel cutouts and Americana that covered the place from floor to ceiling.

Marfa Book Company
: This is the kind of bookstore you could spend all day in. They also host cool events like synthesizer workshops, lectures, and musicians.

Cobra Rock Boot Company: Here, Logan Caldbeck and Colt Miller build and sell their South Highland Boots—western-influenced lace-up boots that are cut, hammered, and stitched entirely by the couple. Logan is from B.C. and proof that even when you’re in the middle of the West Texas desert, you’re bound to run into a fellow Canadian.

Ayn Foundation: One of several art galleries in Marfa, here we checked out their current projects: Andy Warhol’s “The Last Supper” and Maria Zerres’ “September Eleven.”

Other places we didn’t get a chance to check out but wanted to: The Chinati Foundation (contemporary art museum), Big Bend National Park, and McDonald Observatory (which hosts a Star Party on Tuesdays).

* Published on October 3, 2012 at She Does the City.