I always love when the New York Times’ “Places to Go” list comes out. While some of the choices (like last year’s selection of Tulsa?!) are head scratchers, they give us a lot to daydream about. This year, editors included Marfa, Texas on the list at number 48, citing a new installation at the Chinati Foundation, music and film festivals, and the reopening of the Hotel St. George as reasons why it made the cut.
Last year for spring break, my crew joined two other families for a fabulous West Texas adventure that included Marfa, Big Bend National Park and Davis Mountains State Park. While Marfa is a “quick” six-hour drive up a wide open highway from my home in Austin, there are enough unique diversions to make it a worthwhile destination even if you’re coming in from the big city of New York.
Here are a few snaps from our trip to help you imagine yours…
We stayed two nights in the gorgeous and gorgeously-situated Indian Lodge in Davis Mountains State Park. It is a true triumph of the Civilian Conservation Corps and worth a look if you’re into architecture, even if you don’t plan to stay there. There are beautiful views of the lodge from a hike that starts just behind the building. It’s one of only a handful of hikes in the park, all of which could be managed by hardy kids of almost any age.
Also worth noting is that the park is very close to the McDonald Observatory, where you can sign up to attend star parties, stand in the darkest dark you can imagine and look through powerful telescopes. We were lucky to get to see Jupiter, along with the Orion Nebula and gazillions of stars. It is worth braving the cold as well as the crowds, if you go during spring break.
We had a blast learning how to geocache from a ranger in the park…
A skill we utilized throughout the rest of our trip. Not that I’ll tell you where to find the cache near the Limpia Hotel, especially if you’re a muggle (ProTip: If you don’t know if you are a muggle, then you are, alas, a muggle). Also, you can stay at the Limpia Hotel. It’s awesome, as perfectly explained here by Shinyribs’ Kevin Russell. It’s a fun story and gorgeous song.
One of the best parts of our trip was going with our old friends. We met up in Alpine at the Big Bend Brewing Company because there was fun for grown-ups, and…
…fun for kids. Win-win!
The kids spent the better part of a morning running around Fort Davis National Historic Site, learning about the Indian wars and frontier posts. They had a blast wandering into the numerous fort buildings and answering questions that would earn them a coveted junior ranger patch.
We decided to add a road trip into the middle of our road trip by driving a loop from Marfa to Big Bend and back. This photo was taken along the way in the middle of Big Bend State Park, which we all swore to come back and visit another day.
We pitstopped for lunch in Terlingua, a strange and storied place where you can…have a better-than-just-decent lunch,
…hula hoop in the parking lot,
…stand inside a mine elevator and look way, way down into a mercury mine shaft,
…buy kitschy souvenirs (guilty!), and
…have some brunch and catch live music at the Starlight Cafe. I actually ate dinner here a few years back, and had a very memorable evening on the porch chatting with philosophizing locals and stoned park visitors.
From Terlingua, we made our way to Big Bend National Park and did the most accessible hike from the west side of the park, Santa Elena Canyon. It is lovely, and even small kids can handle it. About 30 seconds after I snapped this photo, a ranger came and warned us to call the kids back before they stepped onto Mexican soil, lest they spark an international incident.
More Big Bend fun. Do not underestimate the size of this park. It is HUGE, and you would need at least three days to experience it in a meaningful way.
We spent our last few nights at El Cosmico, a trailer park and campground a block or two out from “downtown” Marfa. While it may seem odd to shell out good money to stay in a rusty old trailer, they are trailers brought to you by the same folks who gave Austin the Hotel San Jose and Hotel St. Cecilia, and San Antonio the Hotel Havana. It’s a hip experience for sure, but we all had a blast. (True confession: That fluorescent orange on the kids’ plates is not Annie’s organic mac and cheese.)
More trailer park fun.
A major highlight of a Marfa visit is a trip to the Chinati Foundation, the museum established by artist Donald Judd. It’s where all the Marfa cool began. I’m no expert, so it’s really hard to explain how and why the landscape, buildings and huge artworks mesh to make something so beautiful, but it is all very awesome and unlike anything I’ve ever seen. We did the guided tour, and a five-year-old and two eight-year-olds were all impressed enough to behave and admire it all, including row after row of these super-cool neon light installations by Dan Flavin.
One thing to note about Marfa is that it does not operate according to a traditional clock. Businesses open and close with no apparent rhyme or reason…at least to interlopers like us. Be prepared to sit on a bench and read a book while you wait to get into a gallery, book store, ballroom or shop. If you are flexible, maybe visit on a weekend, rather than a Monday or Tuesday. It’s all part of the Marfalandia mystique, I guess. And why it’s worthy of that New York Times list.