Marfa: West Texas Steps It Up

Once little more than a whistle-stop, the high-desert town has become a mandatory pilgrimage site for art, design, and fashion types. But a go-with-the-flow attitude is a must.

Courtesy Hotel Saint George
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Stories about Marfa, Texas, always read similarly: it’s tough to get to (fly to El Paso, drive for three hours), you go for the art (Donald Judd, Prada Marfa), there are no modern luxury hotels  (the closest they get to luxury is Cibolo Creek Ranch, about 40 miles outside town, where Anton Scalia died), and you never know if a restaurant or shop that everyone’s been talking about will be open.  I’ve owned land in Marfa for over a decade and can confirm that all the aforementioned is spot on (except, finally, the hotel part, see below). What’s drastically changed is the number of people making pilgrimages to this high desert town.  Last year, over 26,000 people visited The Chinati Foundation, founded by Donald Judd—that’s a 200% increase since 2013. Which means that Marfa, with a population of under 2,000 and one stoplight, is forced to finally step up its game to accommodate the influx of visitors. It’s a tricky task. Finding and keeping quality staff is a problem, which explains those closed shops (nobody showed up to work). And yet there’s never been a better time to visit. The town now boasts the types of businesses unheard of 20 years ago—a modern hotel with a lobby bar, a wellness center offering yoga and massage, and surprisingly good retail. The visitor’s center website sums it up: “Marfa—tough to get to. Tougher to explain. But once you get here, you get it.”