Fort Davis Area

Fort Davis lies about 45 minutes north of Marfa. It’s a cute town with shops, restaurants, and small inns.

The National Historic Ft. Davis site is an interesting mix of restored buildings and ruins that give you an idea of what this outpost was like. “From 1854 until 1891, troops stationed at the post protected emigrants, freighters, mail coaches, and travelers on the San Antonio-El Paso Road hoping to reach the gold fields of California. Today, Fort Davis is considered one of the best remaining examples of a frontier military post in the American Southwest.” It seems like it’s a pretty exposed spot for attacks from above. The weather is often freezing cold or horribly hot. Not a garden spot assignment!

We decided to hike the trails up to the ridge. Although the distance isn’t much, the elevation change is substantial and we had the bad luck to be hiking in 90+ degree weather. But we were rewarded with a great view over the fort grounds/town and over to the Davis Mountains. Next visit, I’d like to explore the Davis Mountains State Park.

  

We went to the star party at the McDonald Observatory on Saturday night. Make sure you make reservations if you’re going on a weekend! We sat in a circle around the speaker, who used a powerful laser pointer to trace the constellations that were in the sky that night. After his presentation, we circulated between eight or so telescopes trained on different items, including Jupiter (saw its bands and four moons), the “Whirlpool” galaxy, star clusters, etc. Because this is a “Dark Night #1” location, you can see amazing numbers of stars even with the naked eye. Although the evening was cold and windy, we loved it! I hope to return and take the daytime tour of the research facility.

I didn’t have the proper camera equipment for capturing the scene, but this one from the observatory’s website is representative:

Visitors enjoying a star party at the Frank N. Bash Visitors Center at McDonald

Don’t miss this opportunity if you find yourself in West Texas!

Marfa? Yes, Marfa!

Though I’m a native Texan, I’ve never explored the western half of the state. When dear friends invited my book club to their place in Marfa, I was excited to check the area out. Their place is lovely and is available via Airbnb. The five of us were very comfortable and the house is within easy walking distance of everything in Marfa.

       

If you’re more into a camping experience, El Cosmico was made for you! You can choose from tents, tepees, yurts, or vintage trailers. Even if you don’t stay there, you must check out this latter-day hippie heaven.

  

  

I first heard of Marfa as the filming location for the uber-Texan movie Giant. That is probably the single biggest thing that has happened in Marfa since railroad days. The cast stayed at the National Historic Landmark Paisano Hotel, which is decorated with fabulous photos from the filming. We had a wonderful time relaxing in the bar and taking in the surroundings.

  

Marfa is much like Taos must have been in the day: a sleepy town that was first discovered by artists and, now, tourists and hipsters. Art is the center of the culture, fueled originally by Donald Judd, who founded the Chinati Foundation to acquire land to display his huge installation artworks.

From Wikipedia: “In 1979, Judd purchased a 340 acre tract of desert land near Marfa, Texas which included the abandoned buildings of the former U.S. Army Fort D. A. Russell. The Chinati Foundation opened on the site in 1986 as a non-profit art foundation, dedicated to Judd and his contemporaries…Judd’s work in Marfa includes 15 outdoor works in concrete and 100 aluminum pieces housed in two painstakingly renovated artillery sheds.”

There are several striking buildings all over Marfa that are part of the Chinati, but they are not all open to the public and even the ones that are have strange hours. I think I will take a guided tour next time to learn more.

    

In typical Marfa style, an old service station has been converted to the Marfa Contemporary. The current exhibit was Naomi Safran-Hon‘s Fragments of Place series. She printed large-scale photos of an abandoned Palestinian neighborhood, then painted and added concrete protrusions and lace textures to produce a haunting, but hopeful, look at that conflict-ridden area.

I enjoyed the delightful buildings and quirky artwork throughout the town.

  

   

Of course, we had to check out the (in)famous Marfa Lights! The weather was cool and clear–perfect for viewing this mysterious phenomenon. And we got lucky! We saw several lights and were amazed at how they brightened and dimmed and moved around. These lights were first mentioned by Native Americans and have been studied since the 1880s, but no concrete explanation has been proven by scientists–though I gravitate to the “mirage produced by sharp temperature gradients of warm and cold air” explanation. Whatever they are, it’s fun to spot them and speculate!

There are some fabulous restaurants in Marfa, many of them open only on weekends. We enjoyed:

Stellina  Fresh, delicious Tuscan specialties. Don’t miss the cauliflower cakes and the house-made burrata–if they are on that day’s menu and IF they haven’t sold out!

Squeeze Marfa  Luscious juices, awesome smoothies, and fresh salads and sandwiches. This is the perfect lunchtime spot, especially when it’s patio weather. The owner’s father founded Vollenweider Chocolate in Switzerland and her brother continues to run it, so make sure you pick some up while you are here!

Marfa Burrito  This little dive reminded me of Voodoo Doughnuts in Portland, including the long line. Order (in Spanish) at the door to the kitchen and watch them roll out your fresh tortillas and fill them with delicious goodies. Water and (sometimes) coffee are provided as a courtesy. Best burritos EVER!

Though the drive is long, the last couple of hours are through rugged “really Texas-like” landscape. I found the length of the trip worth it, though, for a look at a unique town.

Upcoming post: Fort Davis area