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Discovering Marfa, Texas: The remote, high-desert oasis of art and culture full of surprises

Austin Photo Set: News_Caitlin_Marfa_Jan 2012_el cosmico
El Cosmico's tee pee and yurt Courtesy of El Cosmico
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Cochineal Marfa Courtesy of Cochineal
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Ballroom Marfa Gallery Courtesy of Ballroom Marfa
Austin Photo Set: News_Caitlin_Marfa_thunderbird
Thunderbird Hotel Courtesy of Thunderbird
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They mysterious Marfa lights. Photo by Jessica Pages
Prada Marfa
Austin Photo Set: News_Caitlin_Marfa_Jan 2012_el cosmico
Austin Photo Set: News_Caitlin_Marfa_Jan 2012_cochineal
Austin Photo Set: News_Caitlin_Marfa_Jan 2012_ballroom gallery
Austin Photo Set: News_Caitlin_Marfa_Jan 2012_food shark
Austin Photo Set: News_Caitlin_Marfa_thunderbird
Austin Photo Set: News_Caitlin_Marfa_Jan 2012_marfa lights

There's a magic hour in Marfa: The sun sets, a stillness sets in and a cloak of pinks, purples and oranges levitates above the horizon. The shops close, the handful of restaurants open and people collectively catch their breath for yet another night under exceptionally brilliant stars.

Visitors to Marfa could see it one of two ways. The unenlightened might overlook it as a one stoplight town with not enough to do, while the savvy quickly recognize the artistic aura that hangs heavy over the sleepy West Texas community.

Don't let that quietude fool you. Start peeling back the layers of this high-desert oasis, and you'll find heaps of inspiration — be it in the landscape, the pace of life or the world-renowned art.

It can be argued that minimalist artist Donald Judd “founded” a great portion of Marfa once he took up residence in 1971 — the portion that’s steeped in art. But what's most interesting is how the generations-old ranching culture and the decades-old art culture coexist — interact, even. Ranchers in town can just as easily recommend a visit to The Chinati Foundation as they can the best grass fed beef from the area. It's a striking modus operandi.

From Austin, it’s approximately a six hour drive through terrain so desolate and beautiful it’s heartbreaking. To make this trip, carve out a bare minimum of four days, head west and feel the stress of your hyper-connected life diminish while Texas pride grows with each passing mile.
With ample opportunity for so many diversions, a trip through expansive West Texas is a case of choose-your-own-adventure. Try your best to let the idea of strict ETAs and ETDs go. Once in Marfa, take a cue from the following recommendations of how and where to spend your long days and cool nights.


Over the past few years, Marfa has been recognized for a booming — albeit small — foodie scene that could stand tall and proud next to that of New York City. Call ahead to make sure the following restaurants are open; schedules can be unpredictable as the amount of tourists in the remote town fluctuates greatly from month to month.
Marfa Burrito $ 


Minimalist modern design wins out as most popular type of design (Thunderbird), but you also have the option of staying in a tent or trailer (El Cosmico) or a 1930’s cattleman’s hotel (El Paisano). Another popular option is to rent a home or apartment (Stay Marfa).
El Cosmico $$


Spend a day hiking, biking or exploring the vast terrain that surrounds the 2,000 person town, but save ample time to satisfy any cultural curiosities. Tourists and artists alike travel across the world to see the small but esteemed galleries, not to mention The Chinati Foundation — a contemporary art museum based upon the ideas of its founder, Judd.

Marfa Lights
Ballroom Marfa
Marfa Book Company
Marfa Public Radio
Prada Marfa
The Chinati Foundation (reservations required)
Good to know

The Terlingua Ghostown, Big Bend National Park, McDonald Observatory, Balmorhea spring-fed pool and Chinati Hot Springs are all a hop, skip and a jump away and can easily be worked into the same trip. Allot yourself two days in Marfa and several more to explore the hidden (and not so hidden) treasures that surround.
Once you’ve surrendered to the slow pace of life, it’ll be time to leave before you know it. Make the precious days spent outside of network reception count... and be sure to catch lots of those sunsets.
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