Monday, January 16, 2012

Marfa Marfa Marfa

Thursday morning we drove from Marathon to Marfa, 50 miles to the west.  Driving to the main square (Marfa has a population of about 2000), we encountered this fantastic vehicle parked outside a store called Stuff.

At Stuff, I purchased a set of Pyrex apple-shaped bowls (the apple is my power fruit) and we waited for Pizza Foundation to open, a lunch place recommended by the barista in Alpine. 

Spinach, roasted garlic and jalapeno

Thus fortified, we drove around Marfa to find... not much of anything.  I had signed us up for a tour of Donald Judd's home at 4:30 so with some hours to kill we drove to Fort Davis and the McDonald Observatory (one of the largest telescopes in the world, the Hobby-Eberly). Fort Davis is the highest town in Texas; Marfa is the second.  This will become important later.

Inside the telescope.

View from the observatory

Dagger yucca

Back in Marfa, we checked into our TEEPEE!

During my research I found a campground called El Cosmico, equipped with yurts, teepees, refurbished trailers and tent camping and thought we have to stay there!!!  I made the reservation on October 26th in San Antonio (temperature that day in SA, 85 degrees).  When the nice folks at El Cosmico said to bring a space heater, I said ok.  We did bring a space heater.  But having experienced unremitting heat for months on end, I truly did not process that it might be chilly in Marfa.  Because it is a desert town at high altitude.  Did not take any of that seriously.

El Cosmico:

Our teepee!

one double and two twin futons, cow hides and a sandy pit, formerly a fire pit

Luke brings the luggage to the teepee:

Now we are inside the teepee.  AND IT IS 3:30 IN THE AFTERNOON AND FREEZING.

Ah, the space heater.

Suddenly doubting my trip-planning and foresight skills, we left for our tour of Donald Judd's home and studio in town.  He is responsible for Marfa's entrance onto the art-map, was an important modern artist and his foundation continues to bring artists, collectors, historians, etc to Marfa (which is why, as Hope our tour guide explained to us, Marfa is more well known in New York, Los Angeles and Europe than it is in Texas).  [I didn't know any of this, or even his name, before reading about Marfa.  No photography was allowed on the tour, and I didn't take many photos of the town, but you can get an idea with this slideshow and video from Southern Living (neither of which I watched until now.)

Taking Hope's advice, we dined that night at Miniature Rooster, after a drink at Hotel Paisano, where we met Robert, a retired state investigator for suspected homicide-by-neglect cases.  As if that career weren't interesting enough, Robert himself was enough of a character to warrant several extra cups of tea to hear his stories about that field and law enforcement.

Miniature Rooster

Spice-rubbed chicken and waffles: before
And then it was time to return to the teepee...

And go to bed with all of our clothes and parkas on.  Luke donned my angora beret.

The space heater and piles of blankets made for toasty (read: hot and sweaty) sleeping.  We awoke in the morning and immediately decamped for the opulence of a Hampton Inn in Alpine, where we arrived, bedraggled, at 10 am.  The morning was quite beautiful, though:

But oh I forgot these pics of El Cosmico:

The shower is a spigot in the middle of the campground:

I don't mind being immodest but immodest when it's 38 degrees is another matter.

The restroom facilities cease having running water at 10 pm, because that's when the pipes freeze:

After enduring crushing hipster hardship, we luxuriated at the Hampton, drove around Alpine, had lunch, went to the Museum of the Big Bend at Sul Ross University and met a museum volunteer from St Louis who grew up on the same street and graduated from the same high school as my mom.


Mastiff looking bored on flatbed truck pulling a horse trailer

Lunch spot

Jalapeno mac and cheese

Chili relleno.  This concludes our Tour de Fried of West Texas.

After a nap in the climate-controlled cocoon of our room in a permanent dwelling, we drove back to Marfa for dinner and a concert Hope told us about.

Sunset from the car between Alpine and Marfa.

Outside the Lost Horse Saloon, Marfa

Customer's dog at the Lost Horse

Back in Marfa we had dinner at Maiya's - delicious- and were amazed by the number of people there as the town seems fairly vacant to drive around.  Before dinner we played pool at the Lost Horse Saloon and chatted with the owner, a man named Ty.  Ty on owning the bar:
'I kept driving by and knew some sonofabitch was gonna open that bastard, and it may as well be me.' 
'We're the only place that allows teenagers in here, otherwise they don't have anywhere to go.  These ranchhands come in here with their girlfriends and they buy 'em a sodey pop for $1.50 and play pool for three hours and that's fine by me, they're not out there sellin' dope or vandalizin' or gettin' into trouble.'

'I was in the service and fought in Beirut and Libya and I don't care if you come in this place with a turban on your head.  As long as you behave yourself anybody can come in here and feel welcome.'
He works a ranch so remote and rocky it is accessible only on horseback.  He took off his hat to shake my hand hello and goodbye.  He rolled a cigarette while talking to us.  Real live cowboy!  Luke asked him questions about running a small business, and he talked about working with the local Marfa bank, who treats him like an individual and a valuable part of the community (advancing him money for beer for New Year's) instead of an anonymous account.  He also looks the part: tall and incredibly thin, with a craggy weathered face and enormous mustache.  I wanted to take his photo so badly but thought the better of it, and we wished him goodbye and went to dinner, and then to the concert.  And here's the weird thing about Marfa: the town is junky and poor and run-down, and yet the Maiya's was full of affluent, polished people; the concert at Padre's was full of 18-25 year old cool kids straight out of Austin or Chicago.

But I do have a picture of Ty!
Upon returning to Alpine to wait for the train back to San Antonio, I popped into the coffee shop where the same barista was working and told her all of her recommendations were completely accurate and that we met the coolest cowboy at the Lost Horse.  She said, oh, Ty?  He is great.  He is like that to everyone, no matter who you are.  You know, he was in that movie, that remake, with Jeff Bridges...

TRUE GRIT?!  I squealed.

Yes, she said.  He is the guy at the river when when the girl goes across.  He has a few lines.


And, indeed, after returning to San Antonio we immediately streamed True Grit on Netflix, and there he is: Ty Mitchell, the ferryman who Mattie escapes to ford the river.  (If you haven't seen the movie, you really should- it's terrific).

We spent a few more hours in Alpine waiting for the train, having lunch at Cow Dog (mine had smoked gouda and chutney), walking around a bit.  The train ride back was long but enjoyable: Luke read Christopher Hitchens' Arguably and I started Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities.  And, as an added bonus, it's MLK weekend, so our relaxing trip ended with two more days off for me.

Carpe dog-em.

The print on this tablecloth is so great.

A spectacular trip full of fascinating people and gorgeous scenery!


  1. That trip sounds so so fun! Would have been Aless's dream to sleep in a teepee (but w/ no space heater or layers) since he LOVES being cold at night. Love your pics of scenery, but especially of the people. And, tell Luke to show his pearly whites in a photo or two!

  2. Why thank you MDB! I will tell him to grin a little more... though he has that tough musician facade to protect :)

  3. I recommend staying at thunderbird next time. Love that place. Did you go to ballroom Marfa?