Travel

The Magic of Marfa

This small West Texas town is the perfect place to escape.

Roadside ‘Giant’ murals (Photos by Zach McKenzie)

Tucked away in the vast West Texas landscape is a little place called Marfa. The unassuming small town with a population of 1,750 is recognized for its impressively iconic art scene, the elusive “mystery lights” that have inspired folklore over the years, and as the backdrop for commercials, music videos, and films such as the film epic Giant starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean. Today, Marfa is a destination for city slickers seeking a slower pace, as well as an oasis for the LGBTQ community in the deeply red part of the state.

One gay couple, Adam Walton and husband Clark Childers, a fifth-generation Texan, planted stakes in the West Texas desert and opened The Lincoln Marfa, a boutique hotel and lodging community that honors the history of the town and offers comfortable accommodations for travelers far and wide.

The Lincoln Marfa owners Adam Walton and Clark Childers

The pair were working in the entertainment industry and living in Los Angeles when they met. A trip Childers took to Marfa ultimately led to their acquisition of the hotel building.

“I had been living in LA for 15 years, living paycheck to paycheck. I love Marfa, and when I saw this place was on the market, I put in an offer because it was a hell of a deal,” he recalls.

When the original buyer’s offer fell through, the couple made the leap from Hollywood to West Texas. “We decided to move to Marfa together to get started on creating this housing community,” Childers explains. Walton jokingly interjects, “People would tell us that they wouldn’t touch this building with a ten foot pole!”

The couple shared a vision for their hotel project, one the two deemed a major labor of love. The steady income they see from their long-term tenants and short-term guests has afforded them financial stability and breathed new life into their film careers.

“We’re still filmmakers and actors. We haven’t given that up yet,” Childers remarks, “[and the hotel] has certainly allowed us to continue to expand that part of our lives.”

To the couple’s delight, Marfa is an incredibly LGBTQ-friendly town. In fact, thanks in part to sponsorships from businesses like The Lincoln, it has hosted an annual Pride event for two consecutive years.

“There’s a sizable queer community out here,” Walton says. “There are trans kids, gay men and women. We knew we needed to get all these people together, because Marfa is a place where people come to disconnect. We had drag queens come in from El Paso and Austin. People made the pilgrimage to Marfa, brought the energy, and made it happen.”

Situated between Valentine and Alpine, Marfa is a quiet desert town with a lot of heart.

“We feel very safe here,” Childers explains. “We’re a blue county that has stayed blue through thick and thin. I was a Democratic county chair for three years and worked to keep it blue through COVID. I think that’s what makes it appealing. You’ve got allies and advocates, and there’s a mix of every flavor.”

Walton emphasizes the beauty of Marfa’s diversity and explains that “the town has a wide array of political perspectives, but the intimacy of small town life demands that we all know each other and participate in the community together, so there’s a necessity to set aside any differences and lean on one another.”Tourists flock to Marfa year round to visit the Prada Marfa roadside attraction, catch a glimpse of the rumored UFOs floating around in the night sky, visit The Chinati Foundation contemporary art museum, and live like the locals—if only for a little while.

“We constantly have this global population of people coming here,” Walton says. “It’s an international crowd and it’s really special. It allows this small town to constantly be infused with the global infrastructure of the world.”

“There’s a balance here that doesn’t seem to exist in many places,” Childers adds.

Before you hit the dusty trail and head west, here’s what to know about visiting Marfa, Texas.

Where to Stay in Marfa

The dynamic gay duo behind The Lincoln Marfa have created a cozy, unique hotel that is centrally located and perfect for short- or long-term visits. Their courtyard rentals include a koi pond, fire pit, exteriors and interiors that make the space feel like home away from home, and even an option for guests who are looking for extra privacy to stay in an actual remodeled nuclear fallout shelter. The outdoor cowboy soak tank is perfect for relaxing after a long day of walking around and exploring, while the pink-and-yellow exteriors make for perfect photo backdrops.

Queen suite at the Lincoln Marfa.

The Lincoln Marfa is only one of the LGBTQ-owned hotels in town. Liz Lambert is the out hotelier behind El Cosmico. The campground, equipped with yurts, Airstreams, safari tents and more, is the perfect option for those who are inclined to glamp during their West Texas adventure. The outdoor showers and restrooms are all part of the chill vibes and communal atmosphere at this Marfa landmark.

Looking for a ghost encounter? The Hotel Paisano, once deemed “the jewel of the West Texas desert,” is a historic building that has attracted Hollywood folk, tourists, and even ghost hunters. In addition to its supernatural lore, the hotel features a bevy of gift shops, a luxurious pool, an elegant restaurant named Jett’s Grill, and more.

Hotel Saint George is a trendy hotel that features sleek, contemporary design and a spacious pool, gym, bar, and restaurant. For visitors who are seeking the finer things in life, Hotel Saint George is the option for you.

There are a few other great hotels available in town, along with Airbnb accommodations worth exploring. Do your research and pick what makes sense for the needs and comfort of you and your guests.

Best Things to Do in Marfa

Marfa has an impressive shopping scene, with most shops being within walking distance of one another. Visit the gift shops at the Hotel Paisano, buy some quirky postcards at Love, Marfa or browse the eclectic retail at Wrong Marfa. You can also find souvenirs aplenty at Marfa Mood Mercantile, snag some Western wear at Communitie Marfa, and support local journalism by purchasing merch from Marfa Public Radio.

You’ll find art at every turn in the tiny town. Whether it’s The Chinati Foundation, the picturesque Ballroom Marfa, the Judd Foundation—which houses artist Donald Judd’s art gallery, as well as living and working spaces in downtown Marfa—or other options, you definitely won’t be disappointed! Nearly every shop acts as some sort of art gallery, so be on the lookout.

Escape into the mountains with a hike and history lesson at Fort Davis National Historic Site, while soaking in the fresh air and gorgeous mountain views. If you don’t mind the 30-minute drive, you will undoubtedly want to get a picture at the Prada Marfa roadside attraction. It’s not the most exciting attraction, but it was good enough for Beyoncé.

Prada Marfa is a world-famous roadside attraction.

Once the sun goes down, you can stargaze at the McDonald Observatory in the pitch-dark desert. Bring a jacket—it gets cold at night! You’ll also want to at least say you attempted to see the Marfa Lights, which are rumored to be everything from aliens visiting Earth to apparitions of fallen conquistadors who have returned in search of their gold. The best place to try to catch a glimpse of the lights is the Marfa Lights Viewing Area.

Enjoying a nice cocktail and getting lost in conversation with the bartenders at Marfa Spirit Co., or exploring every nook and cranny at the whimsical Planet Marfa, is a perfect bookend to a stellar day. Stock up on booze at Cactus Liquors, or if beer is more your speed, The Pony is the dive bar for you!

Where to Eat

If you’re looking for upscale dining, you’ll want to visit either Cochineal or LaVenture. (Pro tip: ask to sit at LaVenture’s back bar for good conversation and discounted menu items.) Luckily, the rest of Marfa is casual dining, including The Water Stop and Para Llevar.

A sleeper hit is Angel’s Restaurant, which offers delicious Tex-Mex. The space is small and has only one waitress, but the service is choice and the food is satisfyingly delicious. Also in the realm of Tex-Mex is the iconic Marfa Burrito (cash only). Breakfast and lunch are served at The Sentinel—a coffee shop, restaurant, and bar that supports local independent journalism in Marfa. You can also get your coffee fix at Big Sandy Coffee, which offers delicious brews and great vibes. 

Angel’s Mexican Restaurant offers delicious Tex-Mex.

Houstonians will absolutely enjoy the delicious Italian sandwich, pasta, and salad menu at Bordo, helmed by Michael Serva, who made his mark at Tiny Champions in Houston’s East End. Pair your meal with a glass of wine—you won’t regret it.

The Best Time to Visit

Marfa is a proper desert town, meaning hot summers and cold, windy winters. Spring and fall may seem like the most attractive options, but depending on your weather preferences, Marfa can serve as a year-round destination.

“We’re a high-desert plateau, closer to Denver in altitude, and with that comes a more mild overall summer,” Walton says. “When Texas cities were experiencing that bad heat dome this past year, we had consistently cooler temperatures and near-zero humidity. It may still get very hot here, but in the summer we almost always have the coolest temperature in the state.”

Visiting during Pride Month or the Trans-Pecos Music Festival would certainly offer prime entertainment. Also, keep in mind that most businesses aren’t open at the beginning of the work week, so plan your trip for the latter part of the week.

Getting There

The drive from Houston is about 10 hours, give-or-take, depending on pit stops. Staying overnight in San Antonio is a great way to break up the trip. If flying is more your speed, consider El Paso—Marfa is a 3-hour drive from the El Paso International Airport.

Marfa is a town like no other. One local business owner described it as a place “where the word neighbor is a verb.” You’ll likely wind up sitting at a bar or wandering into a shop, striking up a conversation with a local, chatting about the multiple jobs they have (they call it “The Marfa Hustle’’), and losing track of time. The best part of your trip will undoubtedly be your connections with the people you encounter. Marfa is a place to talk to strangers and escape from the hectic pace of big-city life. Plan a trip out west and find out for yourself what makes this quirky little town out in the middle of nowhere so special.

For more info, follow @thelincolnmarfa and visitmarfa.com/visit

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Zach McKenzie

Zachary McKenzie is a marketing professional and freelance writer in Houston, TX. He received his bachelor's degree from The University of Texas at Austin in 2014 and has lived in Houston since. Zachary is a volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters and enjoys spending his free time with friends, exploring the richness and diversity of Houston.
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