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Postcard from Marfa

Please join us in welcoming guest author Joel Frey, one of the Travelocity Roaming Gnome’s most trusted publicists.

Call me a sucker for good PR.  Over  the years, I’ve read a handful of glowing travel stories on Marfa, Texas, a town of a 2,121 people about 200 miles southeast of my home in El Paso. Most of these reviews first focused on the “Mystery Lights,” followed by a summation of the artist Donald Judd’s ties to the area and wrapped up with a few paragraphs on a revival which has seen an influx of galleries, restaurants and renovations spring life into an otherwise a dusty ranching town. Inspired by The New York Times, my wife and I recently spent a weekend there.

From El Paso, it’s an easy and enjoyable drive to Marfa, with plenty of classic Texas landscapes to soak in: rickety windmills, mountains, hills, tarantulas, trees, desert shrubs and high clouds. At first, we were creeped out by Marfa. Our initial views along Highway 90 were of overgrown lots, deserted homes and businesses and an old hotel sign with a big hole in it. But once we drove further down W. San Antonio Street, the signs of progress began to take hold and activity around downtown reassured us.

The “Mystery Lights” lived up to their name. We drove to the viewing area ten minutes outside of town on Friday night where about 20 other hopeful visitors stood in the dark. A few minutes later, we started to see them pop – one, two, three, even four at a time. They’re small in the distance, but easy to spot. No one has ever figured out their origins, but E.T. could be phoning home from Marfa.

Arts & Entertainment

We didn’t tour the Chinati Foundation, which is dedicated to Judd’s legacy, but we did pop in to the Ayn Foundation where we were surprised to see one of Andy Warhol’s last commissioned pieces, “Last Supper.” In Ayn’s gallery next door is “September 11″ a collection of paintings by the German artist Maria Zerres. It was just enough art for us, but there are plenty of options for aficionados.

We later found a table in the Hotel Paisano courtyard, ordered a couple of drinks and enjoyed some live music. The sun doesn’t set in Marfa until 9:00 p.m. in the summer so it was easy to lose track of time.


We stayed at the Thunderbird Hotel, a roadside establishment renovated in 2005. It borrows from Judd’s minimalistic style, but takes it a little too far. Our room felt like a dormitory – all white with gray concrete floors and sparse furnishings. While lacking warmth, it was clean, the bed was comfortable and the hot water worked. Breakfast was included and was good, featuring muffins, bagels, yogurt, oatmeal, granola, juice and coffee. The Thunderbird also offers quirky services, like bicycles, which we rented for a couple of hours. They also sell Mo’s Bacon Bar at the front desk, a gourmet chocolate bar that we had always wanted to try. The Thunderbird staff was casual and friendly during our stay.

Another lodging option is the aforementioned Hotel Paisano, a National Historic Landmark built in 1930. If you can’t get a room at either place, look into a B&B or a vacation rental.

Food & Drink

  • We had dinner at Maiya’s and Jett’s, the restaurant at the Hotel Paisano. Both were good and compare favorably to big-city restaurants.
  • Cochineal, which we heard flies in fresh fish from Hawaii, seems to be the “it” place, but we didn’t get a chance to eat there.
  • For lunch, we had a sandwich at the Q Cafe and Wine Bar, located in one of the towns B&B’s. The proprietor seated and served us, reminding us of Grandma warming up lunch in the kitchen.
  • For ice cream or a latte, forgo the local Dairy Queen and instead check out Frama.
  • Pistachios are the nut of Marfa. They were on the menu in some form everywhere we went and were even mixed into the tasty bran muffins on our hotel’s breakfast bar.

Final Thoughts

Go to Marfa if you’re aching for a getaway road trip with a small town/funky vibe. Don’t go if your idea of a rockin’ night out is a valet, cover charge, table service and VIP seating.

Joel is also the author of Two Sides of a Cypress Wall, a coming-of-age tale about transitioning from college life to the real world. You can download it on your Kindle for less than a buck.


From time to time, the Window Seat publishes articles and blog posts written by guest authors to give you a fresh perspective on the world of travel.


Jenn Gaines

The first time I ever heard of Marfa was years ago when the Dandy Warhols – one of the best bands EVER — announced an impromptu concert there. It was totally last minute, and the 10 hour drive from Dallas seemed hardly worth it at the time. Call it a mini-regret — I’ve always wished I had just gone!


Marfa sounds awesome–thanks for the tip! Often the best places are the most creepy at first, right?

Nathan Rodriguez Netbook

Welcome Joel Frey !
By your description Marfa looks like a very nice and welcoming city. Some pictures in the article could cause a greater impact.

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