Marfa is the unlikeliest town in Texas. It is as if you took the Williamsburg part of Brooklyn and threw it in a blender with Portland’s Hawthorne neighborhood and a big helping of country. Sitting in Pizza Foundation, the town’s only pizza place (you only need one when the pizza is that good!), we watch everyone from hipsters to ranchers and the art elite grab a slice of pie. There is a bit of cognitive dissonance that goes on when you’re eating pizza in a small town in the middle of nowhere and someone walks in with skinny jeans and a fashionably vintage shirt and gets in line behind someone with 501s, cowboy boots and a camo jacket.
We stayed at two wonderful places in Marfa that represent this odd marriage of cultures. The first place was El Cosmico, a “lodging concept” where you can rent a refurbished vintage trailer, yurt, teepee or pitch a tent. Since the nights threatened to be in the mid 20s, we opted to get a trailer. While on their site, you should read their manifesto that gives a great feel of the place.
Our trailer had a small den-like area, working sink and electric stove (which came complete with a percolator and a bag of coffee from the local roaster) and bedroom with a small closet like space with a toilet. It was not unlike being in a sailboat. The cabinets had spring catches that would lock them in place so things wouldn’t fly out if the trailer was moving. The toilet was a two step process that you worked with a foot pedal. First you half fill it with water by slightly depressing the pedal, you do your business and you send it into space by pushing the pedal all the way in.
The showers were in an open-air outdoor structure. While probably absolutely refreshing in the summer, it was a bit cold on a blustery winter day. It felt rustic and outdoorsy and hip all at once.
Sarah, the manager at El Cosmico was great to talk to and very friendly. As we were checking out, I brought up the idea of marketing their place as cyclist friendly by having a floor pump on hand and a variety of tubes (there is no bike shop in Marfa). Something as simple as that would go a long way to make it inviting to other touring cyclists as well as provide a good service in such a small town.
The second place we stayed in was the historic Hotel Paisano. Designed by the architect Henry Trost (who also designed the Hotel El Capitan in Van Horn), it was a luxurious space with a central fountain in the courtyard. Built originally as lodging for cattlemen to make business deals, it maintains a very rich historical feel. In the 50s, the film Giant was filmed around Marfa and many celebrities like James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor stayed at the Paisano.
The Paisano, like it’s sister property in Van Horn, felt like being in the lap of luxury. Our room had a great airy balcony that overlooked the fountain. The staff was friendly and didn’t bat an eye when we rolled in on bicycles.
Beth, with TexasMountainTrail, is making it her mission to encourage businesses and hotels in West Texas to be more cycling friendly. It is beautiful riding here with smooth paved roads and low traffic volumes. The toughest challenge for the bike tourist is services and accommodations in these parts. But, with more places open to cyclists, it could easily become a great cycling destination. The Pacific Coast route is beautiful with lots of camping and lodging, but in terms of pure relaxing riding without cars or semis growling behind you, this area of Texas has it beat.
Our first night in Marfa, we ordered a pizza and then rolled around the corner to the Get Go (the local gourmet market), in search of some beer. And, lo and behold, with mouths agape, we discovered microbrews! We picked up a 6-pack of a Portland-brewed IPA, and then also grabbed some Belgian chocolate cookies, kettle chips, organic orange juice… we felt like we had landed in a funny little oasis, and we were happy (indoor) campers!
One of the other places we had to check out while in Marfa was the laundromat. People on our Facebook page had been suggesting we check it out and we couldn’t quite figure out why the laundromat would be of any particular interest. We pulled into Tumblweed and found that it was more than just a place to leave your laundry, because it also had an adjacent coffee and ice cream shop. What a concept!
Between Tumbleweed, Pizza Foundation, the Marfa Book Company (great little indie bookstore!) and the Austin Street Cafe (awesome Sunday brunch), we discovered Marfa’s very own moveable feast. There is a growing contingent of young, hip art-lovers in Marfa, and it could be quite easy to not feel like one of the “cool” kids. One girl that we met at Tumbleweed described Marfa as similar to a small liberal arts college. Laura went to just such a school and instantly saw the similarities. Lucky for us, most folks were also super nice and interested in chatting up a couple of crazy bike tourists, so we thoroughly enjoyed our Marfa experience.
On our way out of Marfa, we had the opportunity to stop into Marfa Public Radio, meet the crew of three who run the station, and sit down to an interview with Rachel. Our first radio interview! The station is beautiful, everyone is extremely friendly and we enjoyed our interview experience. We hear that it’s supposed to air on March 1, as part of their Talk at Ten program, so mark your calendars! In case you don’t happen to be in the area, you can listen online (and we hope to post info here as well).
Marfa is as enigmatic as it is eclectic. A strange young art town (perhaps what Bisbee was like in the early 70s?) where you can find hipsters rubbing elbows with ranchers. There is beautiful riding around Marfa and West Texas in general and has great potential to be a prime winter cycle touring destination (the southern Southern Tier).