Welcome to the Far West
There’s West Texas and then there’s Far West Texas. Extending west of the Pecos River, “Far West Texas” or the “Trans-Pecos,” a term introduced in 1887 by geologist Robert T. Hill, includes towns like Alpine, Fort Davis, and the internationally-beloved Marfa. From icons of the region to experiences you can’t miss, here’s what you need to know about Far West Texas.
The name is a misnomer. Prada Marfa, a permanent sculptural installation by Scandinavian artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset in collaboration with Ballroom Marfa, is actually located along the U.S. Route 90 closer to Valentine. In fact, it was originally intended to be Prada Nevada, though we think Prada Marfa has an equally compelling ring to it.
Featuring wares selected by Miucci Prada herself from the fall/winter 2005 collection, Elmgreen and Dragset planned for the installation to degrade over time. That plan, however, was revised after vandals graffitied the exterior and stole its contents the night the sculpture was completed. Quickly restored, Prada Marfa evolved into a cultural attraction beyond the artists’ expectations or intentions thanks to visits by celebrities (hey, Beyonce) and artists to its lonely locale.
Without Donald Judd, there would be no Marfa – at least as the world knows it today. Founded in the 1880s as a railroad water stop, Marfa experienced an economic downturn after the post-WWII decommissioning of The Marfa Air Field and water shortages that damaged agricultural output. Then, the renowned artist Donald Judd arrived. Drawn to Marfa’s desert landscape for its distinct lack of titles, artist statements, or curators’ notes, Judd began purchasing and renovating properties to suit his large-scale, permanent installations. By 1977, Judd established the ideas of Judd Foundation, founding the Chinati Foundation in 1986. Artists, sometimes commissioned by the larger-than-life figure to contribute to his extensive indoor/outdoor exhibitions, followed Judd to Marfa. And so began a new era of Marfa: one led by Judd who envisioned a place where art could be seen by everyone for free.
Even in Far West Texas, The University of Texas’s reach can be felt. And, out of the Davis Mountains emerges McDonald Observatory, which benefits from the mountain range’s high and dry peaks.
Housing one of the largest optical telescopes in the world, the McDonald Observatory is one of the world’s leading centers for astronomical research, teaching, public education, and outreach. Currently, research includes the search for and understanding of planetary systems, stars and stellar spectroscopy, the interstellar medium, extragalactic astronomy, and theoretical astronomy.
And while McDonald Observatory’s focus may be out of this world, it welcomes West Texas inside, hosting Star Parties that offer a celestial view from our favorite place on Earth.
Named after a – you guessed it – big bend in the Rio Grande/Río Bravo river, Big Bend National Park in the Chihuahuan Desert boasts archeological sites dating back 10,000 years, the Chisos Mountains, and exceptional diversity in flora and fauna.
High in the mountains of West Texas, you’ll find a beautiful, historic park with miles of trails fit for hiking, horseback exploration, or mountain biking. One of the earliest Civilian Conservation Corps projects, the park boasts a rock overlook, adobe buildings, overnight lodging, and more.
With crystal clear, spring-fed waters, Balmorhea is quite literally an oasis in West Texas’s desert landscape. More than 15 million gallons of water flow through the natural pool daily, making it one of the world’s largest spring-fed swimming pools and perfect for swimming, scuba, and, of course, cooling off.
1210 W. San Antonio Street, Marfa | Bordo is a culinary oasis in the middle of the desert, boasting imported fine Italian goods (e.g. oils, herbs, spices, charcuterie, and specialty cheeses) and housemade deli favorites like sandwiches, pasta, and gelato.
107 West San Antonio Street, Marfa | Helmed by James Beard Semi-Finalist, Executive Chef Alexandra Gates, Cochineal is a must-visit for its seasonally-inspired, locally sourced multi-course menu.
105 South Highland Ave, Marfa | The Marfa favorite delivers a creative, ingredient-driven seasonal menu with regional influences all from Hotel Saint George. Enjoy delicious oven-fired pizzas, small and large places, and salads – plus a perfectly paired wine from their extensive list.
103 Highland Street, Marfa | Inspired by Nana Margaret, Margaret’s serves up comfort food for dinner, including highlights like cheese toast, spaghetti bolognese and key lime pie.
105 South Highland Ave, Marfa | A 55 room hotel, Hotel Saint George offers an intimate, thoughtfully designed experience that captures the essence of Marfa’s iconic artistry and natural beauty.
535 Independence Creek Road, Dryden | Family-owned for over a century, The Chandler Ranch is a Far West boasting crystal cool waters and outdoor activities fit for the whole family.
122 N Highland Ave, Marfa | A trip to Far West Texas requires certain accessories, all of which can be found at Communitie. Our pick? A straw hat to keep the desert sun at bay.
211 S Dean St, Marfa | Shop in-house designed and handcrafted leather shoes and boots alongside a thoughtful selection of goods from independent artisans.
212 E. San Antonio Street, Marfa | Shop made-in-Marfa goods, vintage and new clothing, accessories, home goods, and lifestyle needs all exude the quintessential high-desert lifestyle.
205 E El Paso St, Marfa | Cool off on a hot desert day at The Pool, local’s favorite spot for a swim and drink. Complimentary for guests of Hotel Saint George, day passes available.
1 Cavalry Row, Marfa | A world-famous destination for large-scale, permanent art installations founded by Donald Judd. Reservations for tours are required in advance and space is limited.
US-90, Marfa | The first recorded sightings were in 1883, but they still haven’t figured out the origin of the infamous phenomenon. Head out past dark to decide for yourself.
320 W. El Paso Street, Marfa | Marfa’s first and only distillery has been a smashing success for its unique spirits and fabulous tasting room. Order a Ranch Water and enjoy Chef Seth Siegel-Gardner’s outstanding menu.