Marfa, Texas


It’s hard to tell what’s new, and what’s old, what’s Texas and what’s Hollywood in Marfa, Texas.  This city in the middle of the desert is a most unlikely place for a thriving arts community, but thanks to the number of movies shot nearby, there’s a big LA influence here.

If you’re interested in such things, you could easily devote a day to checking out Marfa’s galleries, trendy restaurants, and retro motels.  But even if you’re just passing through, you can still gain an appreciation for this out-of-the-ordinary town.

As I entered Marfa on US 90, headed east, the first photo-worthy subject I found was this old sign for the Stardust Motel at the side of the highway.  It appeared to be genuine…

… but further into town, the old Hernandez Auto Repair looked a little too perfect.  Was it designed as a movie set?

The old Holiday Inn sign looks real enough.

I also thought “The Get Go” looked interesting.  Even though it’s located on an empty side-street, it appears that it’s still open.  Its website promises the “best beer and wine selection for hundreds of miles (no jokin’)”

Downtown Marfa

The Presidio County Courthouse is unquestionably the center of attention in downtown Marfa.  The 1885 building was restored just a decade ago.  I didn’t go inside, but I should have, since I’ve heard that visitors can climb up to the 5th floor, just below the cupola, for an excellent view of the city and surrounding desert.

The courthouse sits at the end of Marfa’s wide main street, North Highland Avenue.  Along the way…

… you’ll spot the Palace Theater…

… and across the street, the Texas Theater.  According to Big Bend Quarterly and Cinema Treasures, neither one is now used to show movies.  The Palace is a private residence, used as a studio for a local artist.  The Texas is used for office space.   Isn’t it strange that a town that’s so popular with Hollywood doesn’t have a theater of its own?

Also on the downtown stretch is Marfa’s classiest place to stay, the Hotel Paisano.  It opened in 1930, and was mostly a stopping place for local ranchers for the first few decades.  That all changed in 1955, when James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, and Rock Hudson came to town, for the filming of the Warner Brothers movie Giant.  Smaller rooms start around $100, but if you want to stay in Liz Taylor’s suite, you’ll pay a little bit more. (Hotel Paisano’s Website)

The Presidio County Jail is made to match the courthouse.  It’s right next-door, and though I’m not certain, I believe it is still used as a jail.

You don’t need a gallery to have your art displayed in Marfa.  All you need is a parking space.  If you’re lucky, this intricately painted “art car” will still be parked on Highland Avenue when you get here.

If you appreciate modern art, you’ll want to stop at the Chinati Foundation on US 67, just south of downtown Marfa.  A guided tour of the full collection is $25, and there are no self-guided tours.  Check out the Chinati Foundation website for details.

Not everything in Marfa is devoted to the movie industry.  The old Godbold Feed Mill is still a local landmark, owned and operated by long-time Marfa resident “Happy” Godbold, who passed away in 2003.

Any travel page about Marfa would be incomplete without mentioning the “Marfa Lights”, the mysterious orbs that appear in the desert darkness. An old episode of Unsolved Mysteries did a good job documenting the phenomenon, which looks like a flashing or glowing basketball, hovering a few feet off the ground, a few miles away. If you’re in Marfa after dark, head out to the viewing center on US 90, a few miles east of town, and maybe you’ll spot one.

Drivelapse Video

Here’s the time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive around Marfa, then south on US 67 through Shafter to Presidio, Texas:

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