But Marfa need not be defined only by what’s inside the city limits. We had two amazing trips to nearby destinations. The first was to a Star Party at McDonald Observatory. We were lucky to book this in advance because we learned this is quite the popular attraction. Built atop a mountain in southwest Texas, McDonald Observatory hosts these events weekly that attract over 300 people. The evening begins with a presentation in their ampitheater where a guide points out satellites, stars, and gives you information about the observatory and what’s going on in the sky that night. Afterwards, you can enjoy a night sky constellation tour and views of celestial objects through a number of giant professional telescopes. We really loved all the history and background on the different constellations and a chance to get a look at Jupiter and its moons. Spending the week in the heat of Marfa, we opted not to dress warm and ended up each getting a nice McDonald Observatory sweatshirt! It got chilly!
While waiting in line at a telescope, one of the astronomers was talking about adolescent and adult stars in the stellar life cycle. At one point half-jokingly Jonathan asked when an adolescent star becomes an adult. Very matter-of-factly the woman answered that scientists classify stars as in their adult stage at the point when they are no longer surrounded by their sibling stars, or or the stars that they are created with. Well that just blew Jonathan’s mind. What a wild metaphor for life to ponder. The scientist didn’t understand why. Turns out, that’s why she’s a scientist!
Our final adventure in the region was a trip to Big Bend National Park. Not only would this be our first National Park since hitting the road, but it would be our first off-road excursion in the Jeep! All week, we prepared by getting the necessary offroad gear and supplies for our remote 26 mile trek along the sweltering Chisos Mountains. We packed up the cooler, strapped the grill to the back of the Jeep and headed towards the park! As we headed toward Big Bend, we passed by ranches, farms, and US Customs & Border Patrol checkpoints as the park runs along the Mexican border.
Big Bend is one of the most diverse of the National Parks. The scenery ranges from barren desert, to jagged peaks, and lush green riverbanks. Our trip down Old Ore Road, an old mining road, had all of these features. Not only did we get to take in the vast beautiful views along the way, but we really enjoyed climbing up and down the mountains in the Jeep. We instantly knew that this was now going to be a favorite activity of ours.
About half way through our trip, we pulled over near a cliff and broke out the grill for lunch. It was an amazing feeling just being in the middle of nowhere, no sounds, not another soul except our own, and maybe the bears and mountain lions who we just know were nearby!
We started Old Ore Road at the northern end of the park and completed it at the southern end near the Rio Grande. So after a long hot day on the trail (the AC kept up the best it could in the 100 degree weather!) we rested for a bit on the banks of the Rio Grande. We exchanged waves with the Mexicans on the other side of the river who were horseback and assumedly responsible for the table with little craft dolls for sale on the American side. It was then time to head home and get ready for our upcoming journey to Santa Fe.
Marfa is a place that really does have an interesting character and personality all to it’s own. The town has a sleepy feeling and decor reminiscent of a golden age America with modern flair peppered in here and there. The city hall smack-dab in the center of town is a beautiful tall victorian style building on immaculately landscaped grass, looking like it was plucked from a Wes Anderson film. The strong presence of art and old-school easy-going charm make this place what it is. They even have their own local radio station serving basically just that area, which every other person we spoke to seemed to work at. It’s the kind of place where you can get a gluten-free gyro if farmer joe decides he wants to open the stand that day.
Marfa and the Big Bend area remain one of the highlights of our trip to date. In town, while excitingly interesting, we oftentimes found ourselves scratching our heads wondering if we “got it.” The restaurants and establishments have a “we open when we want” mentality, each shop is filled with a very minimalistic collection of wares with high price points, and most of the people we met weren’t actually even from Marfa. Once we stopped trying to understand the quirky little town filled with art exhibits, free screenings, and “secret” eateries, we were able to really just sit back and enjoy the quiet, eccentric vibe. The observatory was an amazing addition to the trip, and our first introduction to the beauty and awe of the National Parks, and the fun of off-roading really rounded out this segment of our trip nicely. Let’s just say we wouldn’t not go back!
Check out the full 3-part Marfa series here!