Valentines day this year reminded me of a speeding ticket I got in a small town in West Texas called Valentine founded in 1882 (a year before Marfa- touche). The town was named after the Southern Pacific Railroad completion of the track in this stretch of West Texan desert on Saint Valentines day - I know this now.
We were gunning for our next road trip lodgings check-in and the officer was peeved that I thanked officer Jeff Davis the name on the Texas Department of Public safety violator ticket, he looked like a Jeff.
The guidebook stated we were in Presidio County, but we were in fact in Jeff Davis county, right on the cusp.
Confused we pointed at the Prada Marfa shop 'installation' we were just meters from in the pounding August heat. Officer 'X' rolled his eyes "no boy you are in Valentine" I got the impression the officer did this quite often with the Marfa bound set.
So the next time you think of the Prada Marfa 'shop' its actually in Valentine and if you are bombing down the U.S 90 road to catch it in good daylight, I recommend you slow down and enjoy the air con of your rental car.
To get an insight into the magical Marfa and its hidden gems we asked a Presidio County native Sterry Butcher at Texas Monthly a few questions on his town:
Are you a desert native or have you become a desert rat later in life?
I grew up in Fort Worth, Texas, which is not the desert. My family had a tradition of spending Thanksgiving week each year in the Big Bend country of far West Texas, so I have loved it always. When I was looking to shake things up, Marfa was the destination. I moved when I was 25. I’ve now spent more than half my life here. It’s home.
There is no quick way of getting to Marfa, which I think is part of the otherworldliness appeal, can you recommend any shortcuts from: Austin/San Antonio/El Paso though? for us Europeans it’s a tad long.
Barring the use of a private or chartered plane, there are no shortcuts getting to Marfa. It takes the time it takes.
Do you have a sense of being in the middle of nowhere? Not to be negative in anyway to your region but it is gloriously isolated, more so than the Socal and Arizona deserts. With remoteness comes a level of freedom too I guess?
I initially moved to Marfa in 1993. The internet did not yet really exist here then. No Instagram. No email. No cell phones. In those days, Marfa and Presidio County could feel like you were on the edge of the known universe – just a few people surrounded by an ocean of grass and sky. It is impossible to ignore the sky and the ground, and amid that vastness, a sense of humility and vulnerability tend to surface. When you’re aware of your own smallness, a lot of questions come up. I’d say there’s freedom in that.
Donald Judd’s freestanding works in concrete out in the eastern side of the Chinati foundation grass were a highlight for me. The fact that you can walk around them and see wild Proghorn doing the same. I heard on the ‘Desert Oracle’ podcast that since lock down there have been more wild animals getting closer to town?
I think it’s a lack of rain, rather than a Covid lockdown, that is responsible for wildlife venturing into town. It’s easy to forget that we’re living in an ecosystem that has existed for tens of thousands of years. Animals have always lived here; Marfa, however, was only established in 1883. We’ve seen very little rain in the last 18 months or more. There are times, like now, when periods of prolonged drouth does draw wildlife into neighborhoods, where resources are more plentiful. Deer forage on someone’s neglected garden. Javelinas feast on acorns that fall from burr oaks. Coyotes steal a backyard chicken. They’ve got to make a living somehow. The pronghorn, however, are commonly found in the pasture with the untitled works in concrete, regardless of the rainfall or time of year. They’ve got good taste.
The proximity to Mexico also makes for a great feel to West Texas. I headed over to Cidad Juarez from El Paso & waded across the Rio Grande at Big Bend to touch the river bank. Do Texans still pop over the border on day trips
There’s quite a bit of traffic to and from Mexico, so much so that the vehicular lines to cross the international bridge at Presidio, Texas/Ojinaga, Chihuahua can get quite long. I think folks who live in Presidio certainly visit their Mexican relatives and go to the pharmacy and so forth with some frequency, though this has likely been hampered by Covid precautions. The borderlands are utterly entwined culturally and historically, which is not always understood by folks who live elsewhere in the United States.
Do you get many bands passing through Marfa?
In the Before Times, in a normal year, a number of bands roll through Marfa. We’re about halfway between El Paso and Austin, which helps make it an attractive stop for a band on tour.
What is in the pipeline for Marfa/Presidio County in the near future?
We are in the midst of figuring out better affordable housing in Marfa. Many of our houses are now second homes or vacation homes that are monetized as short-term rentals. This has resulted in a shortage of long-term rentals and the few that are available are often quite expensive. We cannot and should not price the working class out of their own town. It’s a sticky problem.
When you head to the city and get home to the desert what is the first thing spells home other than sand.
The sky means home. Roadrunners. Mountains. Stars.