Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Around Big Bend... Marfa, Valentine, Shafter and Big Bend National Park

On Thursday at about noon I received an email from my friend Daniel which said, "I'm thinking about taking a road trip to West Texas, want to go?"

I responded, "I'm Interested."

Later that evening we talked on the phone and we decided to meet the next day, Friday at 7am and drive west... a somewhat spontaneous adventure.

Since, we were heading to the wild wild west I thought that it would be appropriate to document this adventure with a vintage photo filter.
The bad news was that Daniel's car was in the repair shop. The good news was that he had a rental car that we were taking on the trip... a Fiat 500. It's a small car akin to a golf cart, but I must admit that the car gets great gas mileage and I liked the compact size and style. 
Daniel picked me up at my house and we set off down the road.
The road to West Texas is long and strait. It would be about 500 miles (805 km) and 6 - 7 hours of driving.
During the 500 miles we would pass hill country, farm land, flat plains, desert and as we neared our first destination we encountered mountains.
Our first stop was Marfa.  Marfa is a town in the high desert of far West Texas and the county seat of Presidio County. Located between the Davis Mountains and Big Bend National Park, the population was 1,981 as of the 2010 United States Census. The town was founded in the early 1880s as a railroad stop; the population increased during World War II, but the growth stalled and reversed somewhat during the late 20th century. Today, Marfa is a tourist destination. Attractions include, historic German POW murals, artisan shops, historical architecture, a classic Texas town square, modern art at the Chinati Foundation, art galleries, and the Marfa lights.
The town of Marfa is at the intersection of highway 90 and 67. Although some might say that the town of Marfa is actually at the intersection of vintage and eclectic... we'll see.
The town definitely appears to have some classic elements to its architecture.
We checked out the town court house.
Inside the court house the space was filled with these beautiful wood and leather chairs.
We climbed to the top floor of the building and looked around. From the windows, we could gauge the wind by an old weather vane and see almost the entire layout of the town. 
Around the corner there was the office of the town newspaper... The Big Bend Sentinel. Who needs wifi?
The feature story of the day was... Artist with Marfa roots creates massive public installation.
A barber shop where they "treat you right".
Around the town there were some prairie style houses.
There were some adobe style houses.
We came across a number of dilapidated buildings that we found interesting to explore.
Urban decay or urban installation art?
The afternoon sun created geometric shadows... accidental or intentional?
Marfa was founded in the early 1880s as a railroad water stop. Although some historians have hypothesized that the name came from a character in Fyodor Dostoevsky novel The Brothers Karamazov, etymologist Barry Popik found that Marfa was actually named after Marfa Strogoff, a character in the Jules Verne novel Michael Strogoff. The town grew quickly during the 1920s. The Marfa Army Airfield served as a training facility for several thousand pilots during World War II, including the American actor Robert Sterling, before closing in 1945. The base was also used as the training ground for many of the US Army's mortar battalions.
We stopped by the Paisano Hotel to seek shade from the intense desert sun.
It was like stepping back in time. El Paisano Hotel is a restored historic hotel. The hotel may be best known as the location headquarters for the cast and crew of the film Giant (1956). The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places on August 1, 1978. The El Paisano Hotel was designed by Henry C. Trost of Trost & Trost of El Paso, Texas in a Spanish Revival style. The hotel is a "U" shape plan with a fifty by fifty foot courtyard with a large fountain in the center. The main customers of the El Paisano during the 1930s and 1940s were area cattle ranchers who came to Marfa to buy and sell their herds, and tourists who came to West Texas for the benefits of the dry desert air.
Okay, this was all very normal West Texas stuff. If I had a crystal ball to look into the future, what might I see in Marfa?
We came across this very modern block style house with an overhang.
I saw a number of hipsters riding around town on fixie bikes.
I had lunch at a food truck called Food Shark.
The meal was mediterranean style cuisine consisting of falafel balls with yogurt, tahini and harissa sauces, greek salad, hummus and flatbread.
We dropped in for a cold drink at the Planet Marfa... a joint oozing with Americana.
We drove to the outskirts of town to check out the Chinati Foundation. The Chinati Foundation is a contemporary art museum and based upon the ideas of its founder, artist Donald Judd. 
Donald Judd first visited Marfa, Texas, in 1971, and moved himself from New York to Marfa as a full-time resident in 1977. Construction and installation at the site began in 1979 with initial assistance from the Dia Art Foundation in New York. The Chinati Foundation opened to the public in 1986 as an independent, non-profit, publicly funded institution.  It was Judd’s goal at Chinati to bring art, architecture, and nature together in order to form a coherent whole.
Chinati was originally conceived to exhibit the work of Donald Judd, John Chamberlain and Dan Flavin. However, the idea of the foundation developed further and its collection was enriched over years, and now the collection has expanded to include Carl Andre, Ingólfur Arnarsson, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Roni Horn, Ilya Kabakov, Richard Long, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, David Rabinowitch, and John Wesley. Each artist's work is installed in a separate building on the museum's grounds. Temporary exhibitions feature modern and contemporary art of diverse media. 
We returned to the town center and checked out an art gallery called Ballroom Marfa.
And the Marfa Studio of Art.
There was a well stocked little grocery store selling wines, teas and organic foods called The Get Go.
And a design studio with unique items like these little tops.
We ventured outside of town and checked out the installation called Prada Marfa.
Prada Marfa is a permanently installed sculpture by artists Elmgreen and Dragset, situated 2.3 km (1.4 mi) northwest of Valentine, Texas, just off U.S. Route 90, and about 60 km (37 mi) northwest of the city of Marfa. The installation was inaugurated on October 1, 2005. The artists called the work a "pop architectural land art project." The sculpture, realized with the assistance of American architects Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello, cost US $80,000 and was intended to never be repaired, so it might slowly degrade back into the natural landscape. This plan was deviated from when, three days after the sculpture was completed, vandals graffitied the exterior, and broke into the building stealing handbags and shoes.
Designed to resemble a Prada store, the building is made of "adobe bricks, plaster, paint, glass pane, aluminum frame, MDF, and carpet." The installation's door is nonfunctional. On the front of the structure there are two large windows displaying actual Prada wares, shoes and handbags, picked out and provided by Miuccia Prada herself from the fall/winter 2005 collection.
Prada allowed Elmgreen and Dragset to use the Prada trademark for this work.
The minimalism of Prada's usual displays were mimicked in this work and fit in quite well with the surrounding desert. The sculpture was financed by the Art Production Fund (APF) and Ballroom Marfa, a center of contemporary art and culture.
As we returned to Marfa we passed by the small town of Valentine with a population of 212. I liked the simplistic and symmetrical design of the structure of this gas station.
This rustic building had seen better days.
An iconic image for West Texas.
Out in the middle of nowhere there was this US Air Force site called the Tethered Aerostate Radar Site.
Looks like a giant remote controlled blimp to me.
As evening came upon us, we came across this trailer park screening a movie outdoors. They were showing Pulp Fiction.
The next day we got up early and hit the road. When we were filling up the car with gasoline we asked a lady for directions to Big Bend. She pointed us in the right direction. She also said that we would pass by the town of Shafter which we might want to check out... because it is a ghost town.
We drove down the road and eventually found Shafter... the self proclaimed silver capital of Texas.
What we found was a scattering of houses and ruins. In the early 1900s six silver mines were in operation near Shafter. When the mines closed, the town died. Today Shafter is home to only a few families and, over the past several decades, has registered a population ranging from eleven to 30 persons.
Some of the old houses appeared to be quite welcoming.
And some of the old houses appeared to be not very welcoming.
Dirt roads, cobblestone fences and cacti seemed to be the main features of this town.
For quite a while we did not see anyone around... it did appear to be a ghost town.
We stumbled upon the town cemetery. For such a small town there seemed to be quite a few graves. All of the burial sites appeared to be very shallow graves... dug shallow with rocks piled on top. I could see why this town might be a ghost town.
 This little inhabitant did come out to say hello.
But he was pretty shy and stayed close to his papa.
We traveled on toward the Chisos mountains.
The road we followed paralleled the river known as the Rio Bravo or Rio Grande.
To the south, Mexico... to the north, United States.
To the south, Chihuahua... to the north, Texas.
We continued on... and eventually arrived into Big Bend National Park.
After checking into the ranger station and securing a camp site we went for a hike on the Lost Mine Trail
The hike was about 2.3 miles up and 2.3 miles down. 3 hours up and 1.5 hours down.
We were rewarded with a spectacular view at the top of the mountain.

After the hike we visited the hot springs to relax and bathe.
As the sun set, we settled into our campsite.
The next morning I arose at about 7am and was greeted with this scene... mountains to the one side, a vulture in the middle and the moon to the other side.
Turkey vultures... not a pretty bird, but nature's little maid service.
We set off through the desert.
We decided to hike the South Rim Trail.
Flowering cacti.
View through the tree branches. 
Pinnacle trail.
An agave plant on a mountain wall.
Peeling bark tree.
Peeling bark tree branch.
As the sun set, we packed up the car and headed home.
Mountains, valleys, plateaus, sand, gravel, cacti, flowers, critters, art, architecture, food, good times... Big Bend.


  1. The Prada store is located where the Gas Station in Dancer, TX Pop 81 was located. The gas station was built for the movie and lasted until 2003/04 when it was torn down to put up the Prada store. Good family movie.

    Thanks for sharing...

  2. Great stuff, thanks. Was is hot?

    1. In the middle of the day it was perhaps 95, not too bad.


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