As we travel across the country, we sometimes happen upon unusual places. Small towns which cause me to wonder what do people do here…who do they date? Thus was the case when we visited Big Bend National Park.
Small Town #1: Marfa
We stopped at Balmorhea State Park again this year as we traveled through west Texas. A former co-worker posted a comment on Facebook in response to our photo, “Make sure you visit Marfa”. Frankly, high winds were expected in west Texas the next day and we were anxious to get on our way. But we made a mental note to stop at Marfa on route to Big Bend National Park during our return trip in March.
Preparing for the visit I read about the Marfa Lights on the internet. However, we were passing through at mid-day and from what we read it seemed that “minimalist” art would be the focus of our visit. What we found was a town founded in the late 1800’s as a railroad water stop. Today it is the home to just under 2,000 full-time residents and hundreds of weekend travelers. We started at the Marfa Visitor’s Center where a long-time resident provided a map and recommended a fabulous Mexican restaurant just a block away. We shared a huge rice and bean burrito under photos of prior diners, Kevin Bacon and Brad Pitt.
After lunch, we walked to the Hotel Paisano famous for the movie Giant and walked through a few galleries. We met mostly young people who all seemed to be fledgling artists who had relocated from New York City.
We then drove a short way to the Chianti Foundation. Founded by Donald Clarence Judd, the Chianti Foundation houses and fosters minimalist art. Once a painter, Judd became an art critic and suggested that painting was an outmoded European aesthetic. He moved from critic to sculptor, focusing on color, surface, and volume. As someone without any formal art training, I frankly have a hard time relating to the large concrete and aluminum boxes we found strewn about the property. But we did smile when we passed a small cube/Prado store front in a deserted field that we passed on route to the town.
Unusual Small Town #2: Terlingua
From out campsite at the Rio Grande Campground, we traveled nearly 90 minutes to get to Terlingua, a ghost town. Started as a cinnabar mining town (from which mercury is extracted) in the 1880’s, Terlingua had a reported census of 267 in 2000. We spoke for a bit with one of the residents at a coffee shop and learned that the most recent census was close to 600. “However,” the retiree suggested, “A lot more people live here. You see most of the folks that live here aren’t too fond of the government…so they kind of hide when outsiders come around.” What an unusual place to retire.
Again, we didn’t find art we cared to collect…but of course, to each their own. What we did find was a small town with lots of RV parks, great free wi-fi, some interesting ruins, a free walking guide, an old but still used cemetery, a great coffee shop and the Starlight Theatre Restuarant. We learned from other visitors that this is the one (and seemingly only) place to be at night. To their credit, the lack of competition has not effected the quality of their food or entertainment. If you are in the area, hang around on the porch in the afternoon for some impromptu concerts and stay for one of the better dinners you will have in west Texas.
Unusual Small Town #3: Lajitas
Heading west out of Terlingua we found ourselves in Lajitas about 15 minutes later. The Texas Almanac lists the population of Lajitas at 75. Again we found a number of RV parks. We also passed an “international airport”….more on that later. Then we came upon a good size hotel, with attached shops, restaurant, and golf course. Black Jack Crossing, often ranked the #1 golf course in Texas, was the purpose of our visit. I had read about the course designed by PGA Championship winner Lanny Wadkins.
We had lunch at the restaurant before our round, sitting under a life-size painting of a naked woman. (It turns out the only other option was back in Terlingua.) We learned that an eccentric billionaire built the facility for $115 million. However, his original design placed the golf course in the Rio Grande’s flood plain. That along with the rather remote location, caused the property to go into receivership. It seems another Texas billionaire then acquired the property for only $15 million and had the golf course relocated to its current location.
In talking to the golf professional we met that day, the course’s popularity is growing…but today averages only about 20 rounds a day. This is a beautiful, challenging course built into the mountains and canyons which border the Rio Grande. It seems that groups of well-heeled golfers are provided private jets from Dallas and Houston on most weekends, keeping the facility afloat.
We spent some time talking to the local golf professional before we left. He was not from the area but enjoyed small town living. He did admit, however, that he hadn’t found anyone to date.