Last week a friend and I ventured west for a weekend in Marfa, TX. An advertisement for this town in the middle of the desert describes it as, “Tough to get to. Tougher to forget. But once you get here…You get it.” and I think no more truer words have been spoken about a place.
It is, indeed, tough to get to. My friend and I drove 6 1/2 hours through Hill Country and on into west Texas. With every new change in the landscape, and there were so many changes, we would say, “Texas is so beautiful. I mean LOOK at this! Right here! This is the most beautiful” and then the hills would become mountains and the tones would become increasingly rich with browns and we would say it again, “No this. THIS is the most beautiful”
Many asked how we’d come to hear about Marfa or “Why the middle of Texas?” and I could ask the same of the cyclists we met from California or the girls from Boston and New York City who had trecked even further than us to this tiny little oasis. “I don’t really know” we’d all say. “I’ve just sort of heard about it and how incredible it is.” and I think that maybe the Field of Dreams is real, only it’s a small artists town in west Texas rather than a cornfield in Iowa. If you build it, they will come. And so we did.
We stayed at El Cosmico, this quirky glampground that is somehow simultaneously in town, on the edge of town, and in the middle of nowhere. They have vintage trailers and tipis strewn about the property, that paths through which are a map of the sun. We stayed in a safari tent, complete with soft bed and heated blanket for the cool desert nights. It was hands down, my most comfortable camping experience to date. Hammocks are set up everywhere and there is a communal kitchen area where people gather to cook.
I had lofty intentions of relaxing and reading my book, but I was so distracted by the quiet and the beauty of the landscape that my book collected desert dust in my lap while I was content just to be and watch and breath in this place.
On Friday night we drove up into the mountains to the McDonald Observatory. I was glad we’d arrived early to see it in day light and take in the views (“This. Now THIS view is the most beautiful”) before the sun set and the star party began. It is incredible to see so many stars in the sky and an added perk to see them through high powered telescopes. I got to see Jupiter and four of its moons and I felt so infinitely big and infinitely small at the same time. Our evening was cut short by storms that gathered around us, but we arrived back to our tent to quiet weather and a warm blanket.
Marfa is an interesting place. It is this town that sort of accidentally became something special without ever really meaning to be. There are few restaurants, but good options. We walked into town on Saturday morning and had breakfast at Squeeze. The food was delicious, the atmosphere quaint and lovely, and we met three Texas ranchers who were passing through town for the day and shared great conversion with us. They were big Texas men with big voices, big hats and big boots, and each of them had ordered a small acai bowl for breakfast and I couldn’t help but smile and think, Oh Marfa.
There are small galleries strewn about the town and the Paisano hotel is famous for the films that were shot there long ago. We walked and explored and felt ourselves moving with the quiet slowness of this place.
One thing that Marfa is well known for is its Prada store. Only it’s not a real store and it’s not even in Marfa. In fact, it’s 30 miles west of town. I was trying to describe it to my dad so I said, “Imagine a town in the middle of nowhere. Now imagine driving 30 miles further into the middle of nowhere and there on the side of the road is a store front. You can’t actually go inside. It’s not real. But it’s a real building with real products and it’s art.” We were not the only ones who didn’t think twice about a desert highway for this random art and the chance for a great Instagram post. There were several cars stopped and people posing and peering in the windows at the now dust covered products.
The Chinati Center is right behind El Cosmico and our final stop before hammock naps. The grounds are covered in large cement cubes and the old army barracks are galleries. The grounds are free to walk around, so we opted just to explored those.
On Saturday night we met a group of cyclists who had biked hundreds of miles through west Texas and Big Bend and were celebrating the end of their journey at El Cosmico. They invited us to share their stories, their food and their prickly pear margaritas. It was everything I love about traveling; new people, shared stories and laughter and a big desert sky. Two of the fellas loaded up with us after the sun set and we drove out to view the Marfa lights.
If this town is magic, the Marfa Lights are proof of that. They are an unexplained phenomenon, lights that appear on the horizon that no one for centuries has been able to explain. They are spirits, aliens, orbs, gases. No one knows for sure. They are not dramatic, and easily pass off as head lights until you realize that no, they aren’t exactly moving like a car would and there aren’t roads out there. Without any dramatic flair, suddenly there is magic.
Our Sunday was spent on a day trip to Big Bend, an experience that needs its own post. We arrived back in the evening, and I sat in the indoor communal space where guests gather on couches and use wifi, and I thought how fortunate to have desired to travel to this out of the way place. How beautiful desert is with its quiet gentleness despite its harsh, rugged nature. And that is Marfa, a quiet place in a harsh, rugged, infinitely beautiful landscape.
On Monday morning we packed up our things and said good bye. We drove through the desert and the mountains and slowly we watched the landscape get greener and greener. Bluebonnets appeared here and there on the side of the road until suddenly there were fields of them.
My love for this state runs deep in my bones and I can’t help but think that This. THIS beautiful state with its mountains, deserts, wildflowers and rolling hills. All of this is the most beautiful and I am so lucky to live here.