I'm actively fighting the temptation to write this entire entry as a history of the town of Marfa, TX. It's a fascinating place and I enjoyed it there so much that when it came time to leave, I was sad. I didn't want to go (and might not have if not for a service appointment I'd booked for the van in Lubbock).
Like a lot of what I've seen on this trip, I have wanted to visit Marfa since I was a little girl. For me, Marfa was married to James Dean and the movie Giant. I saw it first when I was about 12 or 13 and knew I had to see that place. All that big open land and sky. In West Virginia, I'd never seen such a place.
Over the years, I've learned more about Marfa beyond the fact that Giant was partially filmed there. Since the 1980s, it's been a kind of artists' colony since the minimalist Donald Judd set up shop there. Mystery seekers love it for the Marfa Lights, a
phenomenon of orbs of light seen hovering above the horizon near the town. Despite attempts to explain them, they remain mysterious. A few years ago, Beyonce gave the town a bit of cache when she visited with her entourage to pose in front of Prada Marfa (a large piece of installation art that sits next to the road just 30 miles east of Marfa).
I spent my first three nights in Marfa at the Tumble In campground. It was perfectly hip and spare (the vibe I got from most everything in town). I was parked next to a 1960s canned ham camper, across from a large Class C with a motorcycle in its garage, and diagonal from an Airstream. All kinds at the Tumble In. I loved it there because at night it was so dark, the stars were practically exploding overhead and because the sunrises and sunsets were absolutely perfect. I drove out to the official Marfa Lights Viewing Spot on my second night but hadn't any luck seeing them. Something about an endless landscape and a cool breeze blowing makes me so happy. I don't think I knew that about myself until I went to Marfa. I sat for a long time just staring at the sky, the horizon, the cars on the road, and that dark, dark darkness out at the Marfa Lights Viewing Spot.
My fourth night in town, I switched to the Hotel Paisano. The Paisano is famous for
being the place where Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and George Stevens stayed while filming for Giant. The hotel makes great hay of this by displaying large, black-and-white stills of the cast behind-the-scenes all over the lobby and hallways. The courtyard there is super dreamy, though, and I sat for a while listening to the drizzle of the fountain, sipping a Moscow Mule. Again, I felt peaceful and relaxed there.
Beyond Prada Marfa, I also visited Judd's Chianti Foundation where his concrete outdoor installation pieces are displayed among the scrub. My favorite part of that was the evidence of desert animals using the art as cover from the elements (little holes dug under the concrete). I'd recognize the signs anywhere after fighting with groundhogs in my own backyard for the last four years.
I don't think I could stay in Marfa permanently. The isolation would get to me eventually, but I do love it there. I hope to go back some day and maybe really get to see those mysterious Lights. I enjoyed the sense of peace and silence that comes from such isolation, though. According to a few sources I read, the population of Marfa is between 1700 and about 1900 people. Valentine, just down the road where Prada Marfa sits, displays a population of 258 on the sign at the town limit. Just like in Giant, for miles and miles, there is just land. Sometimes cows, sometimes windmills, but mostly just land.
Marfa started as a train water stop. The tracks still run directly through town and they're plenty active. Lying in my bed at the Paisano, in the James Dean room, I heard it rumble past at about 1:30 am and smiled. Marfa may be a center of hipness and spare beauty, but it's also still just a small desert town on the train line.