Weird, Mysterious Marfa

An unforgettable side trip in West Texas.

Morey & Ruth Edelman Morey & Ruth Edelman  |  01.28.2019

We’ve often viewed the western part of Texas as land to be driven through on the way to someplace else. This time it was getting from El Paso to Austin. On an earlier RV journey, we were headed to Big Bend National Park and passed within 25 miles of Marfa, but didn’t detour. This time, since we had a few extra days, we decided to slow down and check out the area. That mentality often leads to buried treasure. We’d heard of Marfa—recalling a write up in the New York Times. Marfa in the New York Times?!? So, this time, we took a closer look.

Top Stops in Marfa

The “Marfa Lights” are the major reason for this town’s claim to fame. Arrive at dusk and park at the officially designated viewing platform to see the mysterious orbs. Unfortunately, we weren’t planning on spending an overnight, so we did miss our chance to see this phenomenon. We did, however, discover many other wonders that, well, really made for an unforgettable side trip.

Driving toward Marfa on Texas route 17, we saw the first sign that this was going to be no ordinary small western town. About 30 miles out, on the west side of the road surrounded by Texas scrub desert, was a Prada store! Smaller (by far) than the Atlanta or Las Vegas stores – after all, this is a small town. It featured Prada shoes in the window displays, along with handbags visible on the inside. We parked our Winnebago on the shoulder of the road (no lot needed) to check out this oddity. Not a real store, just one of many art forms, and an introduction to the personality of this town.

marfa texas prada store

While we always have lunch supplies with us, we wondered what kind of surprises this town would have on the food scene. We didn’t have to go far to find a food truck– the ‘Food Shark,’ featuring freshly prepared Mediterranean food. Great food, and judging from the line that formed, maybe the best and only place to eat in Marfa for lunch.

Next, we drove on to the Chinati Foundation, which was founded by artist Donald Judd. His work has added fame to this small town. In addition to a number of galleries in this former military base, he has scattered his concrete cube art around the landscape on the Foundation property. Concrete cubes as art, we wondered?

marfa texas

But like the whole town experience, we were in for a treat. We had fun climbing through the cubes, checking out the views from the insides, exploring the different cube configurations, and most of all, enjoying how the light played on the cubes in the late afternoon. There are also two hangars filled with sculptures. A surprise to us!

marfa texas

RV Park Options

With so much to do, it made us think we should have allowed for an overnight in Marfa. So, before continuing our journey, we had to check out two of the RV campgrounds – we’re bound to be back here someday.

Very near to the Chinati Foundation is Apache Pines RV Park. At this park, there are a number of vintage trailers that occupy a site and can be rented for those who aren’t fortunate enough to have their Winnebago with them. It was fun to see these retro RVs mixed in with the newer motorhomes and trailers there for a night or more.

marfa texas

Also, on the east side of town, there is the Tumble In Trailer Park, another RV park with vintage trailers to rent. Next time, we will plan to stay the night, check out the ‘lights’, and camp in one of the vintage trailer parks.

Bonus Stop at Nearby Balmorhea State Park

And for other lovers of unusual places, we must also mention another stop in this part of west Texas. A great overnight option on Texas route 17 is Balmorhea State Park, just 54 miles from Marfa. This is a 46-acre state park located on the San Solomon Springs. In addition to a 34-site campground (most with electric and water hookups), there is the amazing 1.3-acre pool as well.

With over 15 million gallons of water flowing through this pool daily, this is a great place to take a dip in the year-round water temperatures of 72-76 degrees. The CCC, which built the pool and a nearby motel style retro lodge, left the sand and vegetation on the bottom. So, when you jump into the cool clean spring water, you can swim with the local fish, and if your timing is good, have some ducks fly in for a rest on their route.

west texas

There’s more in the scrub land of west Texas than you may think. Check this area out!

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  1. Charles A Gregory Posted on 02.10.2019

    Thank you for the FYI, heading to Big Bend so my wife to see a roadrunner. Remembered a dig swimming hole in the middle of nowhere, definitely wanted to slow down and enjoy. Glad to know closed for this year before traveling at 6.5 mpg for a construction site.

  2. Landon Cox Posted on 02.09.2019

    Although I think it has fallen into disrepair (or may be gone) the big house featured in the movie “Giant” (starring Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, and James Dean) was near Marfa!

  3. Tami K. Posted on 02.09.2019

    I have to correct the directions in this article. The highway from Van Horn (I-10) to Marfa, where the shoe store is (long time Marfa locals don’t call it the Prada store…and it is, quite frankly, a joke to them) is Hwy 90, not Hwy 17. Hwy 17 runs north from Marfa through Fort Davis (well worth a day trip alone) to Balmorhea. Also, there are no guarantees you’ll see the Marfa Lights (they are quite temperamental!), and many folks mistake the headlights of cars on Hwy 67 coming up from Ojinaga as the Marfa Lights. You’ll know you’ve seen them if they change color (I have seen greens and reds and blues), flit across the distant horizon like they’re dancing, and suddenly disappear and reappear at a location that looks to be miles and miles and miles from the original location! My great grandfather was one of the great ranchers of West Texas, and was considered one of the founders of Marfa, so Marfa and its history run deep in my veins!!!

  4. Cameron Hintzen Posted on 02.09.2019

    We stopped at Barmorhea state park in early January, the campground and spring are closed for major renovation til next fall at the earliest.