The first few days back following a vacation are always the most brutal. I’m in no way kidding when I say that readjusting my sleep schedule and remembering my log-in passwords at my office have been the most taxing of tasks since I returned home from Texas this past weekend and promptly threw myself back into the mix of working both my full-time office job and my radio gig. I love feeling productive, don’t get me wrong- but needing a “vacation from your vacation” is a very real thing,
When I had last checked in from the road, I was enjoying my brief stay at the historic Hotel Paisano and drinking in the random-but-famous roadside attractions in and around both Marfa and the neighboring Valentine, Texas. I had also talked about how the community is most active and bustling near the end of the week and weekends- when many more of the shops and restaurants open for travelers and tourists alike.
Following that post being published, I had left the comforts of the Paisano for something a little more rustic and tiny- but not too much- to hang my hat in a small and bright pink trailer I’d rented out at El Cosmico, a renowned campground about 5 minutes away from Marfa’s downtown area. I plan on doing a full write-up of El Cosmico next week, since it was such a unique and fun experience that I believe it warrants it’s own post all together. I’m not a very experienced camper by any means- but I was so comfortable and so fascinated by everything they had to offer guests that I easily could have stayed an additional few days.
When I wasn’t exploring El Cosmico’s rows of hammocks, safari tents and teepees- I was back in the center of town photographing the local street art and old, historic buildings- like their former opera house/movie theater, pink firehouse, the sign for their former roadside motel (which still lights up!) water tower and the exterior of their courthouse- which is by far the biggest building I think I saw in the entire town. I caught myself walking and driving/stopping for hours at a time. There was just so much to see- some of it within clear view from the roadway- and others with a little exploring and legwork.
And while Marfa in and of itself is a community filled with artists and innovators whose work can be seen on so many buildings and within the shops around town- they also have a couple of must-visit galleries/museums that are both within a short driving distance from each other.
The first I visited was The Chinati Foundation, right next door to El Cosmico. Founded by Donald Judd- the grounds contain indoor and outdoor exhibits comprised of Judd’s work as well as a handful of other artists who have provided their installations and sculptures. The foundation provides art classes for local students during the Summer and has both guided tours and self-guided walking tours available for visitors. I opted for the self-guided tour, seeing as how I wasn’t particularly eager to be out in the desert sun for long periods of time- although on more than one occasion I got a little lost and think I ended up in a couple of locations/potentially restricted areas I shouldn’t have been in. The signage for the self-guided tour is admittedly not the greatest- but it made for some good photos!
The second gallery I visited was The Ballroom Marfa. Considerably smaller than the Chinati Foundation (it’s only a couple of rooms and an outside courtyard- making it much easier to navigate)– The Ballroom Marfa is free to visit although advanced reservations are required and can be made through their website. From now through January, The Ballroom is displaying the visual work of Donna Huanca.
Prior to my arrival in Marfa, I had done a little research to better prepare myself- not only in regards to things to do and see- but also for safety purposes. What would the weather be like? What kind of animals/insects would I encounter given the vastly different geography than we have here in New England. What was the history of this tiny and dusty little town? I referenced recommendations from travelers who had visited there before and had written about their experiences- and suggestions from the locals themselves
In educating myself about the history of Marfa, I came across a 2015 PBS documentary- “Children of Giant”. While the making of the 1956 movie is the main focal point of this 90 minute production, it also detailed heavily and thoroughly the racial tensions between the Mexican-American and white population in Marfa (and Texas overall) at the time. Cemeteries, segregated by barbed wire to separate deceased Mexican-Americans and whites were shown, as was the Blackwell School- converted into a museum today- where Mexican-American students were encouraged to deny and denounce their heritage and their native language.
Given how small Marfa is, I saw these remnants from a darker but not-so-distant past right away while I was there. The barbed wire still remains, and a plaque outside the Blackwell School/Museum further explained the callousness in which Mexican/American students were treated. The museum is only open on Saturdays, so I unfortunately didn’t get to see the interior and the exhibit(s)- but it’s a must-see for anyone visiting the area.
Of course, I can’t talk about Marfa without mentioning the fantastic shops and places to eat that I was fortunate enough to experience during my stay. There’s so many to list! Apart from my wonderful dining experiences at Hotel Paisano during the first couple of days of my stay, there were freshly prepared breakfasts at Aster, the most incredible lattes and avocado toast at Do Your Thing Coffee, unexpectedly good tostadas at The Lost Horse Saloon, perfect burritos and the best Selena shrine at Marfa Burrito– and huge pancakes and the best name ever at Buns N’ Roses (I absolutely bought one of their t-shirts.)
Everyone that I met and encountered- from staff to other patrons- were so welcoming, friendly, and eager to strike up a conversation. I truly felt like I was just one of the locals throughout my entire stay.
And on my last night in Marfa, I made sure to check out the famed “Marfa Lights” observation area just outside the town. A popular tourist attraction (especially for anyone looking for mysterious signs of extraterrestrial life forms)- I arrived and parked just as the sun was setting over the desert and got out to wait to see if I could catch a glimpse of anything that would help me draw my own conclusions.
And while I did see a couple of suspect looking orbs bounce and then disappear in the distance- my slightly-cynical, more-realistic side told me they were probably just headlights. My curious, “I want to believe” side, however- told me maybe I wasn’t alone in the desert that night.
On Friday morning, I began the long drive back to Austin so that I could catch my flight home on Saturday. I essentially went back the way I’d arrived, save for a couple of detours due to construction and traffic- but I made sure to make one final stop in Bastrop, Texas before I checked into my hotel-by-the-airport for the night- and that was so I could see the gas station from the original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”.
Now a BBQ restaurant and a horror-themed gift shop- the exterior of the gas station is largely unchanged, save for a “Sawyer Family” bench with placards honoring the cast and crew from the movie who have passed away in recent years. The van, complete with slashed/flattened tires- is parked right next door by a series of cabins that can be rented for a night.
I had a fantastic brisket sandwich with beans in-between snapping photos- and the staff are so fun and so enthusiastic about all the horror fans that stop by for food and pictures. It was truly a one-of-a-kind experience (and I’ll be re-watching all the TCM movies- even the bad ones- at some point this week.)
Overall, I had an absolutely amazing time in Texas. The scenery was beautiful, the people I met were so unbelievably friendly, helpful and accommodating- and I got to see and experience so many unique and fun things in such a short span of time. I would- and will- go back for sure, especially to Marfa- because there is still so much I want to see and do!
Until next time!