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So You’re Coming to Marfa Myths: Day Trips, Side Trips, Things of Note (Part Three in a Series)

Ballroom Marfa and Mexican Summer are presenting the Marfa Myths festival over March 13-15, 2015, and we hope you’re coming out for it. If you are, our Marfa guide can help. Check out parts one and two, and read on for tips on what to do during your visit.

Marfa Myths, design by Rob Carmichael

IN TOWN
Obviously there are loads of things to do in Marfa (chilling, appreciating the landscape, shopping, eating, gallery cruising), which can fill your time most agreeably. But if you’re the more ambitious sort, here are a few around-town or near-town journeys:

Larry Bell, 6 X 6 AN IMPROVISATION.  Photo by Alex Marks
Larry Bell, 6 x 6 An Improvisation. Photo by Alex Marks.

Chinati Foundation
We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the Chinati Foundation, the contemporary art museum based upon the ideas of its founder, artist Donald Judd. If you have any interest in contemporary art, or Minimalism, you really shouldn’t miss it. They offer various tours, but if you take the full collection tour, you can see a temporary exhibition by artist Larry Bell, which focuses on Bell’s large freestanding glass sculptures, which are quite something (see photo above).

Judd Foundation
Judd Foundation holds and maintains artist Donald Judd’s private living and working spaces in Marfa, Texas. Comprised of a total of 15 spaces, these properties include studios installed with artwork by Judd and others, living quarters, ranch and architecture offices, and libraries, many of which are available to tour. The more time we spend at the Judd Foundation, the more we admire Donald Judd and the scope of his work.

McDonald Observatory
The night skies in our area are some of the darkest in the United States, making for excellent star gazing. Head to the world-renowned McDonald Observatory for a Star Party (hosted every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday nights), and enjoy a tour of the constellations and view the moon, planets, stars and galaxies through telescopes. We waited four years to go to a Star Party and felt the serious fool afterwards. Just the sheer number of stars will blow you away. (Though if it’s cloudy, or rainy, save it for another time.)

Marfa Lights
What are the Marfa Lights? Have we seen them? Is it worth it? WHO KNOWS? To do your own investigating, wait till dark, then drive out to the Marfa Lights Viewing Station (nine miles east of Marfa on Hwy 90 — be on the lookout for the sign directing you to the observing area), or, if you’re feeling adventurous, drive down Pinto Canyon Road/2810, pull over, and look east, south, and southeast. Mysticism abounds.

Prada Marfa. Photo by Lizette Kabre
The legendary Boyd Elder at Prada Marfa. Photo by Lizette Kabré.

Prada Marfa
Maybe you’ve heard of Prada Marfa? Or seen the sign on Gossip Girl? The permanent land art project by artists Elmgreen & Dragset was produced in 2005 by Ballroom Marfa and Art Production Fund and has seen no end to visitors, scandal, and graffiti. The installation is about 40 miles from Marfa, right outside of Valentine, on the south side of highway. Blink and you’ll miss it. Best viewed at sunset or in the early morning stillness, when its out-of-placeness feels the most extreme.

Scenic Loop Drive
Just want to take a leisurely car ramble? Head up to Fort Davis, the starting point for one of the most scenic drives in Texas. Seventy-five miles long, the drive leaves Fort Davis, proceeds up Limpia Canyon, past the McDonald Observatory, then into Madera Canyon and a quiet, pine-shaded picnic area (you can pick up picnic fare at Stone Village Market in Fort Davis, or load up on french fries and chocolate malts pre-drive at the Fort Davis Drugstore).

OUT-OF-TOWN TRIPS
If you really want to really explore the area, or love to hike, or have time to burn, check out these longer excursions:

Balmorhea, Courtesy of Texas Parks & Wildlife
Balmorhea State Park. Photo courtesy of Texas Parks & Wildlife.

Balmorhea State Park
Dive into the cool waters of the world’s largest spring-fed swimming pool, which covers 1.75 acres and stays at 72–76 degrees year round. The pool is open daily, 8am to 8pm. The park is about 1.5 hours from Marfa, and some Marfans go there every chance they get. Muy relaxation.

Big Bend National Park
Let’s get real: Big Bend National Park is incredible. If you have enough time, make the journey (overnight is ideal; if you go one day, you’ll wish you’d gone two). Trails are relatively well documented in the various guide books available, and in the park literature. A few popular favorites:

– Lost Mine Trail: Lovely day hike in the high country of the Chisos Mountains. Scrub, some forest, big views.
– Window Trail: Easy afternoon walk across the Chisos Basin to a rock window formation looking over the desert lowlands.
– South Rim Trail/Boot Spring: Lots of high country trails, easily customizable from day hikes to Boot Spring to an overnight backpack (or STRENUOUS day hike) to the South Rim and the most amazing views available in Texas. Though most parts of this trail are closed until the end of peregrine falcon nesting season in May
– Hot Springs Trail: Chill 1 mile walk to Rio Grande-adjacent springs.
– Santa Elena Canyon: Another easy hike into one of the grandest canyons of Far West Texas.
– Boquillas: If you have your passport, a mellow trip across the border into the tiny Mexican town of Boquillas for tacos, sand dunes and frosty post-hike brews.

Also of interest: Terlingua is the weird and wonderful town just outside the park boundary. A world unto its own, full of rebels and off-the-gridders. (Our own Daniel Chamberlin wrote an excellent profile of Terlingua and its inhabitants a few years back for Arthur Magazine.)

The river road
The River Road from Terlingua to Presidio. (Note: This is just a lousy picture taken by us, with our IPHONE — that’s how beautiful it is!)

Big Bend Ranch State Park
A bit more obscure than Big Bend National Park, Big Bend Ranch State Park is a bit closer and offers more lowland delights. Plus, the ride along the River Road from Terlingua to Presidio is well worth it. Closed Canyon is on the road, too, another easy one hour (more or less) hike down a lovely slot canyon.

Chinati Hot Springs
An oasis nestled in the Chinati Mountains of West Texas, Chinati Hot Springs has provided healing waters to the people of the area for thousands of years. From Marfa, the journey is about 2.5 hours. We recommend a high-clearance vehicle to get there. Hippie attitude also a plus.

Chinati Hot Springs, photo by Alberto Tomas Halpern
Chinati Hot Springs. Photo by Alberto Tomas Halpern, courtesy of Texas Co-Op Power.

NEXT UP
Check back later this week for our penultimate installment, where we discuss all the eating options in Marfa. Again, for general info, check out visitmarfa.com and marfalist.org, where you can find event listings, housing suggestions, ride shares, and more.