Marfa!  What a quirky little town!  I live near Austin and let me tell you, Marfa could show Austin a thing or two about being weird.

In fact, the majority of people I met in Marfa were from Austin.  So much so that if you were from Austin, you didn’t need any further explanation about what brought you out west.

One of the main attractions in Marfa is art.  Art galleries outnumber restaurants in this little town, and in the past few years Marfa has been known for it’s large, outdoor installments.  The most famous of those is Prada Marfa, a “storefront” situated out of town in the middle of nowhere.

It was my first stop of many on my 24-hour trip, mostly because it was about a half hour out of town.  Take Hwy 90 west from Marfa, through Valentine and it should be about 2 miles out, on your left.  You can’t miss it.  (The drive through the desert is worth it!)


It has real Prada merchandise inside, but the bottoms of purses have been removed and there are only right shoes to make the installment less attractive to theft.  The door isn’t functional either, and if you look closely, there’s a security camera inside.  (Click here for more info on Prada Marfa.)

Among other outdoor installments are Playboy Marfa, which is also on Hwy 90, just west of town.  Commissioned by Playboy, the giant neon Playboy bunny and black 1972 Dodge Charger on a concrete rectangle were completed earlier this year. (Click here for more info on Playboy Marfa.)


Playboy Marfa and Prada Marfa are currently the center of a controversy with the Texas Department of Transportation.  Prada Marfa was erected purely as art, while Playboy Marfa was meant for product promotion.  Both could be removed in the not-too-distant future, so if you want to make sure to see them, you’d better get out to Marfa ASAP!  Click here to read a recent NYT article about the conflict of interest.

Between the two was this:


I have no idea what to make of it, but after seeing those three things in the middle of the desert, I got the sense that Marfa is a place like no other.

My unique experience continued at El Cosmico – my lodging for the night.  It’s a wonderfully upscale hippie place to stay, with a nice lobby, gift shop, wifi and friendly people.


At this “nomadic hotel” you have your choice of lodging – trailer, teepee or safari tent.  When I made my reservation, El Cosmico was gearing up for a music festival, so the only thing available was a safari tent.  (I wanted a teepee, wouldn’t you?)

None of the shelters have AC or heat, and only the trailers have private, indoor bathrooms.  This isn’t exactly camping, though.  Inside my tent was a nice bed with clean linens, a chair, light fixture, alarm clock, electrical outlets, a stool and clean towels.


The restrooms for tent and teepee guests were clean, but outside.



If you’re not much of a hippie or an outdoorsy person, you might want to stick to a trailer or check in to the historic Hotel Paisano.  

Rain poured down as I entered my tent, so I laid on the bed, relaxing and listening to the drops hit the linen until the storm subsided.  Then, with some help from friendly guests, I brought in my stuff from the car and took recommendations for dinner.

Marfa is one of those towns that’s only open a few days a week.  Most restaurants and attractions are closed Sun-Wed (or more), so make sure you research where you want to go ahead of time to make sure they’re open.

I ended up at Mando’s, a local Tex Mex restaurant for dinner.  I ordered chicken enchiladas verde, which were good.  Not spectacular, not bad by any means, just exactly what you’d expect from a small Tex Mex restaurant in Marfa.  (They come with beans and rice, but I’m not much of a bean eater, so I ordered double rice.)



After dinner my night wasn’t over by any means.  No, I still had to explore what brings the majority of people to Marfa – the Marfa lights.

These mystery lights are what really made Marfa famous.  Though many people have tried to explain the phenomenon of balls of light appearing in the vast desert, no one has been able to definitively explain them.

Some say they’re UFOs, some say they’re ghosts, some say headlights, reflections of light or campfires.  In any case, I decided to go out to the viewing area and see what I could see.

The official viewing area is about 20 min. east of Marfa on Hwy 90.  (Click here for a map.)  It looks like a nice rest area with restrooms, short trails and informative plaques.


Honestly, I didn’t expect to see anything.  I thought about what I might shoot beforehand, just so that I could have something to show you.  I set up my tripod behind the building you see in the photo above, then pointed it east to try to get a slow shutter shot of mountains and car headlights on the highway at twilight.


Just as time was running out on that image, I heard someone behind me gasp and say, “is that one?”  Next was, “yep, that’s one.”

I turned to my right (south) and saw exactly what I didn’t expect – a white light in the distance, seemingly floating above the horizon.  My camera shutter closed on my contrived shot to the east and I pointed my lens south.

I left the shutter open for 20 minutes as twilight faded to night.  During that time a steady stream of lights appeared and disappeared in the distance.

I couldn’t believe I had actually seen something!  I don’t know whether it was headlights from roads on far-off mountains (that’s my most logical explanation) or something less of-this-world.  It was difficult to say.

Here’s what my camera captured, you can decide what you think was out there.  (The red light is a tower, the white lights are open for scrutiny.)


After a while I went back to my safari tent for the night.  I don’t know if it was the Marfa lights or the cows mooing in the pasture across the street or the passing trucks on the highway, but I had strange dreams that night.

I dreamed that I was driving through a small town and traffic was stopped due to a broken down 18-wheeler.  The driver was outside trying to figure out how to move the truck from blocking traffic when a cow wandered down the street.  I watched from my car as the cow climbed up in to the truck’s cab and somehow the door closed behind, trapping the cow.  The cab shook more and more as the cow got increasingly frustrated.  I got out of my car thinking I would help, but backed off when I realized a large angry animal is not something to mess with.  To my amazement, the cow sort of Incredible Hulked itself out of the cab, splitting the truck in two with a load “MOO!”

Marfa…what a weird place.

Anyway, the next morning I enjoyed a not-so-private cold shower in the outdoor restrooms at El Cosmico, and did a little shopping in the hotel gift shop before going in search of some breakfast.

I chose to eat at a little french cafe across from the Presidio county courthouse called Squeeze Marfa.  It was lovely!  I ordered a croissant sandwich with egg, ham, swiss and pesto, pain au chocolat (chocolate croissant) and some juice.  Delicious!



After breakfast I checked out of my safari tent (check out is any time before noon), then headed out to see some art.

The Chinati Foundation is the largest and most famous (world-renowned) of the art galleries in Marfa.  It was founded by minimalist artist Donald Judd in 1986 and spans over 340 acres.  Guided tours are available, but they range from 2 to 6 hours.  I had many things left to do before my 24 hours were up, so I opted for the self-guided, outdoor tour of Judd’s work.

This tour features large concrete rectangles, geometrically laid out in small groups on a 1.5 mile stretch of trail.  (Bring closed toed walking shoes, the grounds are a bit rough.)  It’s untitled, and honestly, from the parking lot under my umbrella I thought, “well this doesn’t have much potential.”


When I got closer I realized the charm to this work, and maybe the charm to most minimalist works.  It is what you make of it.

If you go on this tour, I highly recommend you bring a camera or a sketch pad.  As I walked around and saw how the rectangles fit together and framed the landscape, I found myself inspired to make art out of this art.




As I said, there was still much to do and it was only mid-morning.  I drove back down town and walked around, enjoying the small-town scenery and browsing various shops.  I enjoyed Cobra Rock Boot Company, Freda, Tienda M and Marfa Book Co.

The town itself is charming.  Like something out of a movie.  Don’t be fooled by the dark clouds, this was a happy, picturesque place to be.




My last stop before hitting the road was Future Shark, the storefront version of the popular food trailer, Food Shark.  It’s a quirky, hip place to eat.  Their menu features a wide variety of vegetarian options, sandwiches and salads.

Future Shark has long, cafeteria-style tables in the main seating area, making it easy to get to know your neighbor.  I did exactly that and had a great conversation with a small group of people in town preparing for a music festival.  We shared photos and stories of our travels and had a wonderful lunch together.

After lunch I filled up my gas tank and went on my way.  I was a little sad to leave Marfa, but my 24 hours had run out and it was time to move on to the next adventure!

Here are some links to help you plan your trip to Marfa:
El Cosmico
Hotel Paisano
Chinati Foundation
Visit Marfa
Marfa Chamber of CommerceMarfa on 60 Minutes

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  1. […] looked at the map, studying small towns along I-10 on the way to Marfa.  I saw Fort Davis and Fort Stockton and a few others on my wish list, but then I saw Balmorhea […]

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