Archive for June, 2017

To Marfa and beyond

The 60 Minutes segment made Marfa, Texas, sound like a peaceful coexistence of cowboys and artists. Lions and lambs lying down in blissful harmony under the million stars of Big Bend range country.

Marfa’s artistic vibes and geographic remoteness landed the west Texas town on our Memorial Day getaway plan.

“I wouldn’t fool with those hippies,” a young ranch hand said after leading us on a horseback trail ride through his family’s ranch in the Davis Mountains.

“If you like baseball, you should check out the minor league team in Alpine,” he suggested. “The stadium is really cool.”

Note taken, but Marfa is where I had booked two nights at the Thunderbird Hotel, the minimalist cousin of the hipster Hotel San Jose on South Congress in Austin.

When you pull into Marfa, you feel like you’re driving a teal 1960 Chevrolet going seventeen miles per hour. You don’t see much activity, but you sense there’s action in the woodworks.

The lavender-scented Thunderbird is a few blocks from the strip containing the historic El Paisano Hotel and the hap’nin’ Hotel Saint George. The stretch, shooting south from the Presidio County courthouse, also includes Stellina, our first night’s dinner destination.

A seven-minute cruiser bike ride past funky artist studios and auto repair shops put us at Stellina, self-described as Mediterranean home cooking. Yes, Mediterranean in Marfa.

“We’re having a food shortage in Marfa,” our server informed us before relating the menu dishes no longer available. Memorial Day tourists had taken their toll, but we still found sufficient fine sustenance for the next day’s art walk through Chinati Institute.

“Will you be coming back for the afternoon session?” our docent inquired after the morning tour. I was noncommittal. I wanted the Marfa arts experience but not at the expense of an afternoon nap.

Chinati is the brainchild of Donald Judd, a modern artist who in the late 1970s assembled funds to acquire a retired World War I-era Army installation in Marfa. The Missouri native spent time in Manhattan but found the west Texas landscape inspiringly unscathed.

Judd added a mile of concrete boxes to that landscape. To the untrained eye, they appear to be drainage culverts. To the trained eye, they appear to be drainage culverts.

He also filled two former artillery warehouses with a hundred precisely-finished aluminum boxes. Each box was four feet by four feet by eight feet. No two were the same. Angled, three-eighths of an inch slices of shiny metal differentiated the pieces.

While many iPhone-carrying, Airstream-sleeping, trust-funded artists have made their way to Marfa to express themselves, Judd gets credit for pioneering the movement.

For those needing a break from navel-gazing, fifty-five miles east of Marfa sits the historic Gage Hotel in Marathon, Texas. Refined Big Benders often overnight there before or after trips to the national park. We went for the hotel’s 12 Gage Restaurant.

From the ranch water cocktail to the elk and bison meatloaf, the meal was exquisite, meaning “really good.” On the drive back to Marfa, we stopped in Alpine for a few innings of the Cowboys’ game against the Roswell Invaders.

At Kokernot Field, built in 1948 as a bit of a Wrigley replica, fans pass the hat each time one of their boys knocks a home run. It was classic. Incentive compensation as pure as the west Texas air.

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