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Marfa, TX : Downtown // Summer 2017

Downtown Marfa Texas // Summer 2017 Travel

When we finally reached downtown Marfa, I knew little would be open – not a ghost town, but not much open.  It was a Tuesday, and 5 oclock-ish, in August.  I’ve been told that even on weekends the stores are fickle in how they keep hours.

downtown marfa

marfa wine shop

On any day, it appears the hotels are the only businesses reliably open in the downtown area.  We passed through the lobby, shops, and bar of the El Paisano, which is an old-school, quintessentially West Texas hotel.  We perused the downstairs bookstore, lobby and bar area of the Saint George, which is a modern, overtly pretentious experience.  I recognized fewer than 5 titles in the bookstore of the Saint George, but I expect the cocktails would have been delicious, and I would have stopped at the bar, had my 7-year-old not been in tow and hyper-focused on exploration.

el paisano marfa

el paisano marfa

saint george hotel marfa

saint george hotel marfa

After 6 hours in the car that day, it felt good to walk downtown, even with most of it shuttered.  We knew there were galleries, and obscurely placed exhibits, and such, in and around Marfa, but at least in our limited experience, the town had not rallied behind any effort to easily guide visitors to these spaces.  Instead, we meandered, and I took pictures.

There was a moment early on in our meandering when I thought of a quote we keep on the wall in our kitchen, from Old Man and the Sea, of “Now is no time to think of what you do not have.  Think of what you can do with what there is“.  While Marfa is not anything close to resembling a “life in peril” situation ala Old Man and the Sea, the lens of perspective offered by the quote was one that was helpful for me that day.

I also began to notice, a few minutes into our walk, that I frequently saw my own reflection, along with my son’s and husband’s.  The angle of the sun and the weather that day turned most of the windows into mirrors, which were transparent in the spaces where our reflective images created portals into the other worlds inside.

As we walked and I saw more and more reflections, I was reminded of a spiritual practice I recently learned from listening to Professor Christena Cleveland speak on a podcast.  Cleveland described that one of the ways she engages students, and in particular those who may have very different views from her, is to consider approaching these students with an internal greeting of “the image of God in me greets the image of God in you.”  I view this as an active acknowledgement of the spirit and soul that are engaged when we converse with another person – valuing the humanity of the other.  I’ve tried to adapt this practice in many spaces, and in particular, when thinking about or talking with people who have opinions that I ardently disagree with.  It is a beautiful practice that focuses me on applying belief to action, and in particular, applying my belief, from teachings in the book of Genesis in the Bible, that I and all other human beings are God’s image bearers, connected to one another, and here to reflect God’s character throughout the earth.

The reflections in the windows visually reminded me of something I have learned since starting this spiritual practice – that when I greet others as bearing the image of God, whether we are in accord or not, I am simultaneously more aware of myself and the other person, at a soul level .  I am more aware of how much energy I am bringing into the conversation and I often times get to see into a piece of the other person’s world that was previously hidden.  I am more aware of God’s presence reflected by others.

In the stillness and quiet of Marfa, and the lack of anything that we needed to see, anywhere we needed to be, or anyone we needed to meet with, I found very needed, long moments to pray and to breath.  I reflected on what I would pass along to the next generation and what I hoped the next generation would be freed from.

As we walked along, we peered into windows of nondescript, unmarked buildings, only to find incredible works of art sitting in giant, open spaces.  In many ways, this is what I expected Marfa would be, though having traveled to many a West Texas town, I was still surprised by each discovery.

My son’s attention span started to wane after 30 minutes or so of walking.  Fortunately, we happened upon a laundromat on a side street, which seems to be open most of the time, and has a coffee/ice cream spot connected.  We stopped for a quick treat and then continued to walk.

Somewhere thereafter, my husband made up a game with my son called “look it’s art!”.  The game consisted of pointing to seemingly ordinary things, which were then magically transformed into art when viewed within the context of Marfa, and its acquired reputation as one giant curated exhibit.  We laughed a lot.

We walked past buildings that cut against the sky.  The clouds that day were surreal.  The architecture in Marfa is beautiful, and intentional.

I stopped and noticed the unique aesthetic of each of the churches we passed by – creating quiet, tranquil spaces.  I felt invited to step closer and take deeper breaths.

I stopped and took about 200 pictures of the Marfa Public Radio building, and the band waiting to perform live on air.  I reminisced about a season in life when my husband and I owned a record label.  None of the pictures I took turned out to show everything I wanted to capture about that moment, and I eventually acknowledged it not possible that a photograph alone could remember all the memories that had rushed to the surface.

Eventually, we all felt we’d seen the town.  We drove the short distance back to El Cosmico, and our teepee, for a picnic dinner, some star-gazing, and a good night’s sleep. (for more about our stay at El Cosmico: http://www.hotspicedtea.com/marfa-tx-el-cosmico-summer-2017/)

El Cosmico

El Cosmico Teepees at Sunset

Travel

Marfa, TX : El Cosmico // Summer 2017

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO:

  • Unique camping/glamping experience
  • The teepees are not sealed – if it rains, water may drizzle in from the top, but there is a tarp provided that covers the bed
  • The bathhouse area is shared between the teepees, tents, and self-camping & the showers are communal/semi-private; trailers have private bath/shower
  • If traveling with children, consider the time of week/time of year/what happenings are scheduled, when booking
  • No restaurant on-site; restaurants and galleries in Marfa keep irregular hours

Our Experience:

My family and I recently loaded up for an end-of-summer road trip.  We started out from Austin, TX around 10 am and ended up in Marfa, TX around 4:30 pm.  As we approached Marfa, we passed through a series of late afternoon thunderstorms and wondered aloud whether we would arrive to a wet teepee at El Cosmico.  This was our first adventure to Marfa, and to El Cosmico, and I had read online that during rainstorms the interior of the teepees could be a little wet because there is not a way to close up the tops.

Upon arrival to our teepee, we were pleasantly surprised to find that a tarp placed over the queen bed had caught the light trickle from the afternoon showers. The rest of the interior was dry and quite inviting, with a stack of fresh towels, a colorful day bed, a worn-in leather love seat, and floor coverings.  Once the threat of showers passed, we removed the tarp and slept in a dry, comfortable bed.  My son slept on the day bed, which was well outside the area where rain might trickle in.  The temperature inside was cool in the evening, but not so cool that we needed to light the fire pit.

El Cosmico teepee interior
For my son, on his first camping adventure, El Cosmico provided a nice entry point to sleeping closer to the outdoors (including the occasional ant), and sleeping inside a teepee was the stuff of dreams.  The ivy-covered, shared bathhouse was also a new experience for him – we didn’t end up showering, but used the sink and toilets, which were a short walk from our teepee.  We brought along a friend’s Yeti Cooler, packed full of snacks and meals for our trip, having read online of the possibility of few or no restaurant options on a Tuesday evening in Marfa.  After exploring in town (with very few stores open), we returned to camp and spread out a meal from our cooler on the picnic table outside.  We all enjoyed sitting on the porch of our teepee to take in the sunset, moon, stars, and sunrise.  The design and pace of the grounds helped us all slowly transition into a camping mode for the week.  The moon was almost full the night of our stay, and as the moon rose between the teepees, the grounds lit up as if under a giant spotlight.

El Cosmico grounds at sunset
My son loved exploring the grounds and the freedom to run a bit.  I had some apprehensions when we booked our stay about whether the environment would be suitable for kids, knowing many friends who have visited El Cosmico for more adult-oriented getaways.  I was glad to find other families with kids on summer vacation staying at El Cosmico and a friendly attitude among all the guests and staff.  For most, it seemed like a one-night, unique experience while passing through West Texas.  For future bookings with our family, I’ll continue to check what other happenings may be booked at the same time – to consider the intended audience and consider whether to bring kids.  The grounds felt like a happy medium between a hotel and a campground; there were guests who checked-in to their teepees well after dark, which would be more difficult to do at a traditional campground, but we all slept through the night without issue, and tried to keep our noise levels low in the morning, knowing there were some around us who had arrived in the wee hours.

El Cosmico sink
The front office/gift shop includes a well-stocked, refrigerated cooler with canned and bottled drinks available for purchase.  We picked up a couple of cans of Austin Eastciders to add to our picnic dinner.  The gift shop is also filled with a selection of custom jewelry, ponchos, hats, incense, and such, along with El Cosmico branded items, and accessories geared towards camping.  My son selected an El Cosmico frisbee, a bandana with a star chart, and a solar powered lantern, all of which we used multiple times over the next week of travel.  A few friends made recommendations of “not to be missed” coffee places in Marfa proper, however we needed to get a move on in the morning, and the complimentary coffee served in the front office/commons area was more than satisfactory.

Overall, we all gave our stay at El Cosmico a thumbs up and hope to return at some point when passing through on another adventure.  The staff and grounds have a vibe and aesthetic that is in line with what we’ve experienced at other Bunkhouse Group properties, but unique in focus on a camping experience.  The guest occupancy seemed light the night we stayed, and mostly filled with families traveling during the summer, and I wonder what the shared community spaces feel like when there are more people around and on the weekends.

El Cosmico common room with flags