Marfa: The Miracle Town In The Chihuahua Desert

Originally Published April 25, 2017 on

On my journeys I tend to seek out destinations that are unique, open minded and have an inclusive attitude. Standing somewhere and thinking to myself: “How could this place have ever happened?” is one of the things I enjoy most about travelling.  It’s the randomness of things that become memorable and only seem to happen when we travel outside the usual or familiar spots.  And what could be more random than a town of in the middle of the high desert of far West Texas, filled with minimalist art? The tiny town of Marfa is exactly that.

Marfa, Texas is as off the beaten path as you can get.  It’s in the middle of the high plains of the Chihuahua Desert, two and a half hours from the nearest airport.  If you’ve ever seen the movie Giant (shot in Marfa, by the way), you’ll remember the scene where Elizabeth Taylor’s character finally arrives in Texas and opens the curtain in her train car to see…nothing but endless sky. That’s West Texas.  Or more recently, Jill Soloway’s pilot on Amazon Prime, I Love Dickstarring Kevin Bacon was shot in Marfa. Marfa is a place rich with texture, a true picture of the American dream (cowboy boots and jeans), tumbleweeds rolling by the scruffy desert, dreamy early morning light, jaw dropping sunsets.

Modern day Marfa is like nowhere else on Earth – with incredible art installations, an open and accepting culture, the unexplained phenomena called The Marfa Lights, eclectic lodgings, historic architecture, and delicious food.

Marfa was founded in the end of the 1800’s as a waterstop, where steam trains would take on water to continue their journey. For most of its history, it was an insular society consisting of Hispanics and Anglo Cattle Ranchers who had co-existed for generations. It was all very small, rural and closed off from the rest of the world. By the mid 20th Century, most of the cattle industry had bottomed out and many of the buildings in downtown were sitting open and vacant.  It looked like Marfa’s fate would be the same as many other towns in that area.  

Then, in the 1970’s something miraculous occurred: the leading international exponent of minimalism, Donald Judd, arrived in town. He moved to Marfa from New York City and bought up many of the vacant buildings in town. As Marfa resident and Executive Director of the Marfa Chamber of Commerce,Kaki Scott describes it, “Here was this man, an Anglo like we’d never seen before in his black turtleneck, arriving in town with an entourage consisting mostly of beautiful women.  It was certainly a culture clash.”

Donald Judd may have seemed a fish out of water, but he was actually a visionary.  He saw the big open buildings as an opportunity to house a permanent collection of large-scale minimalist sculptures.  Judd bought what has become known as the Block, right in the center of Marfa.  The complex had originally been two large armament buildings left over from a military base.  It became his living space, his studio, and his workspace.  He also bought an old adobe-style motor court in the middle of town and used the materials to build a huge wall around the Block, where he had frequent bonfires.

Of course, the Block happens to be right across the highway from the Catholic Church, so (as you might guess) some of the people at the church became convinced that he was a devil worshipper.  “When he came out from NYC, he really bore the brunt of changes,“ Scott explains, “When he moved out here, Marfa was pretty desolate.”  He was given a hard time in the community because he was so different.  Eventually, the new wore off of him and he became a member of the community.  Judd lived In Marfa for the next 20 years, until his death in 1994.

After he passed away, lots of people started to flood into town, filling the empty spaces with galleries, restaurants, theaters and cafes. Since the culture clash had already occurred, Marfa developed a reputation as open and accommodating to all types of people. “If a guy who is worshipping Satan can call this home, then anyone can be accepted,” Scott adds jokingly. 

Kaki Scott remembers when the first openly gay couple came to town in the 1990’s and bought her parents home. One of them was a painter, who gifted a painting to her father after they bought the house.  “At first the painting looks like it may be a landscape, but the more you look at it, you realize it’s a horse’s ass,” she laughs. “My dad thought that was so clever and so charming that it’s still sitting on his desk.”  Even as a child, she remembers Marfa as a place to come and be part of the community, no matter who you were. “Marfa had a gradual introduction to lifestyles other than what they were accustomed to and it made for a softer landing,” she adds.  Today, “the artsy fartsies” are just as much a part of the community as everyone else. 

In a sea of small towns in West Texas, Marfa is unique. “Marfa is more well-known in New York City, than it is two hours away,” says Scott.  Thanks to Donald Judd’s foresight, Marfa is now a pilgrimage center for art lovers all over the world. “I could not have imagined when I was growing up that on any given Saturday, you can sit in a café and hear someone speaking German and someone else speaking Japanese and know that they all came from the far corners of the Earth to see what’s going on in our town.”   

“The best thing about living in Marfa,” says Scott, “you don’t need to leave this tiny town of 2000 people to see cultures from all around the world.”

What To Do:


  • As a center for minimalist art, Marfa’s downtown is dotted with galleries, artisan shops and modern art installments
  • Since Donald Judd’s death in 1994, two foundations have worked to maintain his legacy: 
  • The Chinati Foundation is a museum system that occupies more than 10 buildings at the site and has on permanent exhibit work by artists such as Ingólfur Arnarson, Dan Flavin, and Claes Oldenburg.  Every year the Chinati Foundation holds an open house event where artists, collectors, and enthusiasts from around the world come to visit Marfa’s art.
  • The Judd Foundation offers two different guided visits of properties in downtown Marfa, The Block (La Mansana de Chinati), and The Studios. “What you see when you tour this facility are his slippers where he left them on the day he died, you see the dishes that he used, it’s a very personal look at his life,” says Scott.

Other Art and Cultural Destinations:

  • Building 98 at Fort D.A. Russell is a former Officer’s Club that has been converted to the headquarters for the International Woman’s Foundation. The building contains two rooms of oil-on-plaster murals painted by German prisoners of war, who were interned at the camp between 1943 and 1945.
  • Prada Marfa, a pop culture landmark designed by artists Elmgreen and Dragset to look like a Prada retail store. It’s 36 miles northwest of Marfa.
  • Ballroom Marfa is a multi-use space that shows art films, hosts musical performances, and exhibits art installations.
  • Crowley Theatre is a local theatre that holds cultural events, musical performances and live theatre, including the annual One-Act Plays where the community comes together with teams of writers, set designers and actors and over a 24-hour period creates, designs and performs short plays.

Outdoor Activities:

  • The Big Bend National Park, located about 120 miles from Marfa.  Sites include a desert wildlife reserve, the Santa Elena Canyon, carved by the Rio Grande and Langford Hot Springs with pictographs and the remains of an old bathhouse.
  • Davis Mountain State Park located about 20 miles from Marfa offers miles of trails and beautiful views of the desert sky at night.
  • Marfa Lights: Bizarre and mysterious phenomena have been recorded just outside of Marfa since the 19th century.  Witnesses claim to see random lights dancing on the horizon southeast of town, in an unpopulated and rugged region. The official Marfa Lights Viewing Area is located 9 miles east of town on Highway 90, towards Alpine.  

Where to Eat:

  • Marfa Burritos serves authentic and delicious Mexican fare.  Don’t be shocked to see stars like Matthew McConaughey waiting in line for their renowned food.
  • Mando’s Restaurant serves regional Tex-Mex.  In fact, it claims to have invented Tex Mex cuisine.
  • Jett’s Grille: In the beautiful Paisano Hotel (see below), serves local flair, including mainstays like the pistachio-crusted sirloin steak and the Black Angus Giant Burger.  Lighter far is always available

Where to Stay:

  • El Paisano Hotel is an historic hotel that opened in 1930.  For film lovers, it was the lodging for the cast and crew of the film Giant.  It is on the National Register of Historic Places. The Hotel was recently renovated and features 33 rooms and suites for guests.
  • El Cosmico: This is a hotel that’s a destination onto itself. You can just go there and never go anywhere else. This 21-acre hotel and campground features renovated vintage trailers, safari and scout tents, tepees, yurts and tent campsites.  They have a communal kitchen for use. It also hosts music festivals, free movie nights, and cultural events throughout the year.  As their website notes:  El Cosmico provides temporary liberation from the built world.

How To Get There: 

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Hintergays, Part Two: Creating Community…One Relationship at a Time

Originally Published March 16, 2017 on

Vermont’s population has the highest percentage of LGBT citizens in the United States.  Since legalizing marriage and adopting strong laws to protect our community, the steady shift toward inclusion in the larger population has taken place.  Sure, in places like Burlington, there’s a strong queer population, but as a general rule we are living our lives in small towns as educators, politicians, shopkeepers and real-estate agents. 

After moving to Vermont, it seemed as though there were very few gay people in our vicinity.  My husband and I came to accept that this meant it would take time and patience to find our community.

“Follow Your Bliss.”  

This was our mantra when we packed our bags and moved from a studio apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to the first floor of our duplex house in Montpelier, Vermont, in July 2010.  

We had a good plan. We were going to rent half the duplex, and use the rent to pay our mortgage. This way, we were financially free and could take time to find careers we loved, rather than jumping into jobs we didn’t necessarily want.  Some thought we were insane, but as Erica Jong warned, “If you don’t risk anything, you risk even more.”

Within a month, my husband got a job at a large ski resort in guest services.  His hours were terrible, and the commute was long, but he skied every day. His journey toward bliss began in earnest just two months later when he was offered a job in the resort’s real-estate office. 

My struggle to make a living as a full-time writer took a little longer.  I got work through a temp agency at a local microlender, which lasted a few months. Freedom from the pressure of finding a high-paying position allowed me to get a “fun” job to pay my share of the bills. I found work at a local organic bakery.  I continued to pursue my writing career, but my day job was working with people in the community.  

Hintergay life was an adjustment; don’t be fooled.  Growing up in suburban New Jersey and then living in large urban centers for 20 years could never have prepared me for life in a rural community.   In many ways, moving to Vermont, 400 miles away, was far more disconcerting than my previous move to California, 3,000 miles away.   

The real difficult adjustments came down to one word: accessibility.

When you live in New York City, everything is only a phone call or text away.  Have a headache?  Call the deli and get medicine delivered.  Want to be around other gay people?  Walk up the block to the nearest bar, coffee shop or gym.  Everything is easy to find and close.

In Vermont…not so much.  People, places and things are all a little tougher to access. Aside from a major appliance, you aren’t going to find much in the way of delivery.  Not that you can’t find your favorite foods, or the right pair of jeans or even a gay community…it just takes a little longer and a little more exploring.  The solution is both simple and difficult: You have to change the way you do things.  

Truth be told, as progressive and liberal as Vermont is, it took us time to chip away at the locals’ reserved nature, and, gradually, have people open up to us. When people found out we were new arrivals, the questions on most of their lips were, “Do you have a good pair of winter boots?” or “Do you have winter tires?”

s a couple of gay, married guys, we were a bit of a mystery to some. Others viewed us as just another pair of “flatlanders”—people who move from other areas to the mountains. Vermonters do things a certain way, and no one is going to change that.  If you understand that, then you’ll do just fine here.  

Case in point: coffee.  In New York, I used to stop by Starbucks every morning on the way to work.  In Vermont, the closest Starbucks to us is 40 minutes away.  When I relayed this fact to my best friend who happens to live in Los Angeles, there was dead silence on the other end of the line.  Yet, it was not the end of the world. Honest! When I got out of my own way, I discovered that Vermont has its own amazing, locally roasted coffee. With this glorious revelation, I haven’t had the desire to set foot in another Starbucks again, and, quite frankly, couldn’t care less how far or near one is. 

As soon as we started to consider ourselves locals and stopped focusing on the major differences between “here” and “there,” an amazing thing happened. We created our own community.  We met our neighbors, a lesbian couple who had moved in together just a few months before we moved to Vermont.  A customer at the bakery and his husband became close friends, as did the owners of a local B and B and their group of friends.  Now, many years later, we have an entire community of LGBT friends from all walks of life.

Are you a Hintergay? Do you live outside a major urban area, in a small town, or in a rural community anywhere in North America? If so, I would love to hear your story. Email me at

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