Stole the title from my brother after telling him about our experience. You’ll see why.
We recently visited the big city of Marfa, Tx. For years we had heard about these mysterious lights that appear out in the desert near the town of Marfa and were curious about them. So, finally, we got a trip planned and went there. In case you don’t know where Marfa is located, it is in the Southwest region of Texas, about 100 miles South of El Paso at the foot of the Davis Mountains. Now, I am not a big fan of the desert, but I must admit that this area was really pretty. It is not as hot as other desert regions due to its elevation. I liked the dry air and cool nights.
So how did Marfa get on the map, you may ask? Well, it seems some artist from New York had been there back in the 70’s and fell in love with the place and moved there to pursue his art. More artists followed. And even some restaurateurs joined in the fun. Some Californians discovered it too and liked the minimalist lifestyle and also moved there. But the town’s biggest claim to fame is that the movie “Giant” starring Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson was filmed out there. The stars all stayed at the famed Paisano Hotel, which is still there. Their other claim to fame are the mysterious lights in the desert. These lights were first reported by a cowboy back in the late 1800’s before there were cars and electricity. He described them as looking like distant campfires or torches being carried by the natives.
So the town of Marfa decided to capitalize on the draw of the lights and they built a lookout center on Hwy 67. It is a nice spot, complete with bathrooms and historical factoids. No one has ever been able to figure out what these lights are or why they appear. They appear during all types of weather conditions and are not on a schedule. Some nights you may see them, other nights not. So it’s kind of hit and miss. Keep in mind these lights are about 13 miles away from the observation area. You can’t get any closer because the property is the privately owned Mitchell Ranch.
As we wound our way there, we passed through the lovely town of Alpine, population just over 5,000. They even had their own, very beautifully designed community college. Apparently some Europeans who settled the area were reminded of their homeland back in the lowlands of the Alps, hence the name Alpine. It really is a lovely little town. It’s about 25 miles from Marfa.
Now, back to the town of Marfa. We did our homework before we left. We read lots of travelers reviews about the town; most of them glowing remarks. “The restaurants are wonderful,” “The art galleries are fantastic,” “I love it there!” were all comments we took to heart and felt the town would be a fun place to visit. Well…..not so much. The town has a population of roughly 2,000 people. So we thought it would be a piece of cake to navigate around town. It would have been if the streets had been consistently marked. Only about half the streets had signs. Part of the town in on a grid, the other part is not, and never the twain shall meet. We rented a house through the VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner) website. I love this website. I discovered VRBO properties a couple years ago and now when I travel, I use them exclusively. This is way better and cheaper than renting hotels. You actually rent a house and can settle in and feel at home. But, after driving around and around looking at our hopeless map, we found our house.
Our rental was very nice for the most part. But expensive. Every place to stay in that town was expensive, from hotels to houses. Nothing like paying East/West Coast prices, huh? The furnishings are rather minimalist in most houses there. That seems to be the preferred style.
We arrived at evening time and got settled into our house and then ventured out for dinner. We wanted to experience these great restaurants we read about. If we could find them. Not only are the streets poorly marked, but so are the businesses. We finally found one place, an East Coast style pizza joint. We walk in and it’s packed to the gills. It is in an old converted gas station. People are sitting at a bar and there are only 3 tables – all packed. There is no place for us to sit, or stand, really. So we wander up to the bar area to see if we can find someone in charge. There are no signs to indicate where you order, where you pick up, where you pay, etc. No menus posted either. So we finally see a blue piece of paper laying on the bar. A menu! Handwritten. And this is the only one menu for the whole place. We look at it and try to make heads or tails out of what was written. Very limited choices, very expensive pizza, was what we saw. The guy who seemed to be in charge of taking orders tells another patron there is a 90 minute wait on all orders. We had just driven for 8 hours and were hungry. There we were pressed like sardines into this disorganized place with nowhere to sit. We were not going to wait in misery for 90 minutes for our food, which we weren’t even sure we knew how to order. So we walked out.
We drive around town looking for another place to eat. There’s got to be more of these “great” restaurants, right? We think we see a place off of a side road that is supposed to have great burgers. We look closer and there are old cars and abandoned smaller buildings on this dirt lot surrounding what looks like a tin shack and outdoor patio; we could see the patio lights. Was this it? We drove around the corner and there was a small sign, about 8″x10″ hanging above a solid wood door stating the name of the business. Hey, a sign! Yeah, that was it. From what we could tell it was also a disorganized mess of a place. So we drove on. We drove up and down the main drag looking for a place to eat. There wasn’t much to choose from. So we finally end up eating at this really great place….ready for it? A Subway Sandwich shop inside of a convenience store. We got our sandwiches and went back to our rental to eat them. Sigh. But what about that 4 star restaurant we heard about? On the town square? Well, it was closed. It was closed the entire time we were there.
And what about these great art galleries we heard about? Where is the arts district? There isn’t one. The galleries are merely studios where the artists work and they aren’t open. At all. You have to call and set up a time to see them. Reservations recommended, you see. But I really want to see the glass blower! Good luck. We drove around and these art studios are just scattered here and there in various stages of disrepair or remodeling, and you guessed it, no or few signs! No posted hours, no phone number to call so you can make “reservations.”
Basically, this town had no one in charge of the place. They certainly did not cater to the tourists. You know, you normally expect a touristy town to have a touristy area with regular hours and signage and, I don’t know, something to offer! I got the distinct impression that they think they are too cool for rules.
Bleh! So, things aren’t off to a great start. Since viewing the lights was a night time activity, that left the remains of the day to entertain ourselves. So we headed toward Fort Davis on our way up to see the McDonald Observatory, which is at the top of the highest peak and highest road in Texas; just a little over 6,000 feet in elevation.
Due to cloud cover we were not able to take advantage of the programs the observatory offered at night (star gazing party) and some during the day (sun gazing party). But we were able to wander around the grounds and go inside the buildings housing the larger telescopes. And we got to watch some videos about how its all done and what they do there. Plus, we got to enjoy the mountains. They were pretty. Not your Rocky Mountains type of pretty, but they were green and covered with foliage and trees native to the area. There were many interesting rock formations too. This area was, at one time, under the ocean. I think it was during the Cretaceous Period, but don’t quote me on that. So that made for some really neat viewing. Some of the rocks looked almost like ancient lava flows. Maybe they were. But we enjoyed our drive up and down the mountain. We stopped for lunch in Fort Davis.
The town of Fort Davis was nicer and more quaint than Marfa. There were actual restaurants and we even stopped to tour the old fort. Fort Davis was a real working fort in the mid 1800’s and travelers would stop there on the road between San Antonio and El Paso and the soldiers helped protect the caravans from being attacked by the Apaches. Many of the original structures were still in place and had been restored, complete with period furnishings. Pretty cool. We found a pizza place there that looked like it might be good. There were signs, menus, and a clear cut way to order and get your food in a reasonable amount of time. Yeah! This was also East Coast style pizza and we were excited. The pizza arrives and my husband and I noticed an odd smell to the pizza. They said they used a mixture of about 5 different cheeses, Romano being one of them. And we all know that some cheese smells like old, dirty gym socks. But we didn’t think the ingredients had gone bad or anything. So we ate. Food tasted fine. Then we left. Back to Marfa.
We went out to view the lights. Saw some, we are pretty sure. They stayed “lit” for a long time. Yes, they do look like torches. Some moved, some didn’t. Through binoculars the lights even seem to change colors. We believe these lights are probably a mirage. At the very least, they are an unexplained natural phenomenon. No aliens here, move along, please. We also saw the lights the first night we were there. They were almost in the same area, but further to the right and didn’t last as long. They faded out pretty quickly. It was kind of cool, but considering we could not verify whether they were the lights or simply a security light on an out building of the ranch, we weren’t terribly excited. Although there were some locals there who said those were them. These guys come out and watch for the lights nearly every night, so I guess they know what they are seeing.
After standing out in the freezing wind at the observation center, we came back to our rental and settled in for the night. The next morning, my mother-in-law wakes me up at 8:00 am to inform me that my husband is sick, sleeping on the couch, and he was wondering if I brought the Pepto Bismol. I didn’t even know he was out of bed! So I fly out of bed to go see about him. Poor thing had been up since about 1:00 am worshiping the porcelain throne. He blamed the pizza that smelled like a wet dog. I throw on some clothes and high tail it down to Dollar General. Yes, Dollar General was open! That was the best store in Marfa!! We bought all our supplies there the night we arrived. It was big and had a great selection of products. So I find the drug section and load up, I find some saltines and 7Up too. I fly back to the house and my husband is still very green around the gills, but he takes a dose of Pepto. Instant relief. In awhile he wants some 7Up too. I pour some over ice and give it to him. “Ah, he says, the cold feels good on my throat, which feels like I have been drinking acid.” Well….not drinking it, but, well, you know…..An hour passes and he nibbles on some crackers and is starting to feel human again. He thinks he’ll live and the worst is past him.
We still have one night left in Marfa. We are not having the time of our lives at this point. The town was a major disappointment and now my husband is sicker than a dog. We decide to forego another night in Marfa and just sacrifice the cost; we had already paid up front for three nights and had only stayed two. With my husband stabilized we decide to head home. It’s around 11:30 am by now. His mother and I pack the car in record time, check the house, lock up and leave. We made a nice nest for him in the back seat, complete with barf bags, just in case, and start the long drive home.
Those are some of the longest miles out there in the middle of nowhere. But we made it home without incident. We dropped off my mother-in-law at her house and then we got home around 8:30 pm and poured my husband into his own bed after he had a splendidly wonderful shower. You know how it is when you’re sick and how good a shower feels! He slept 10 hours straight for the next three nights in a row. Poor guy.
We still aren’t sure if the pizza was the culprit or if he just caught or brought a bug with him. But neither me nor his mother got sick. So you kinda have to wonder if it was the food after all. What a trip!