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Courtesy of the Chinati Foundation Donald Judd Art © 1980-1984 Judd Foundation : Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
The McDonald Observatory | Photo by Tim Jones
Teepee Interior at El Cosmico | Photo by Nick Simonite
El Cosmico Imperial Mansion Trailer and Teepee | Photo by Nick Simonite
Fort Davis | Courtesy of National Parks Service
Travel Guide: 8 Family-Fun Activities In West Texas
See the famed Marfa lights and peruse larger-than-life telescopes
Words Lisa Salinas
Published April 2019 DallasChild, CollinChild, FortWorthChild, NorthTexasChild
Updated April 2, 2019
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Marfa is a fascinating mélange, bringing together the art world with that western, rustic image of Texas we’re idolized for. Hollywood producers caught on to this early on, as the small dessert city–about eight hours west of Dallas-Fort Worth–is the onsite location for hit films such as the 1956 classic Giant, starring movie star legends James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor, and 2007’s No Country For Old Men. Get a taste of the wild west, retracing Dean and Taylor’s steps, while feasting your eyes upon the famed Marfa lights, perusing artworks at the Chinati Foundation or exploring the wonders of the night sky at the McDonald Observatory. While you’re in town, stop by the over 15 restaurants in the area, with food options such as good ole’ fashioned barbecue to famed burritos (seriously! Matthew McConaughey has been spotted at Marfa Burrito).

FOR MINI EXPLORERS 

Sleep under the stars and experience West Texas living in style at EL COSMICO, a airstream-trailer-slash-tepee lodging area located near the edge of Marfa. Founded by native Texan and famed hotelier Liz Lambert, the 21-acre campground is a getaway from the hustle and bustle of city life, with tents, trailers, tepees and yurts available for your stay. The restored vintage trailers are fashionably designed with unique, vibrant-colored furnishings and décor with hammocks adorning the shared outdoor space. An outdoor kitchen (feel free to bring your own food), dining area and bathhouses are onsite. Rates from $85 per night. Self-camping is also an option, beginning at $20 per person and free for age 13 and under.

The MARFA LIGHTS tale dates back to the late 19th century, when a young cowhand first saw random, flickering lights in the sky between Marfa and Paisano Pass. Many have studied the lights, but there is still no formal explanation for their nightly appearance, with speculations ranging from UFO’s to falling stars. The lights are said to range in colors and movements, seeming welcoming to some while invasive to others. The official viewing of the Marfa lights is at Highway 90 between Marfa and Alpine.

FOR NATURE LOVERS 

Retrace the footsteps of troops and emigrants who lived during the Civil War era at FORT DAVISabout 20 minutes north of Marfa. At the visitor center, kids receive a booklet filled with scavenger hunt challenges, from finding a sewing machine in one of the historical buildings to drawing what they spot on the ground. After they’ve completed the game, kids receive an official Junior Ranger Badge. The tour of the 500-acre national site is about two hours. Entry fee is $10 per adult or $20 per carload of visitors; free for age 16 and younger.

For a detailed gaze at the glorious wonders of the sky, visit the MCDONALD OBSERVATORY, about 30 minutes north of Fort Davis. Peruse the site’s five larger-than-life telescopes and watch real-time images of the sun on the daytime guided tour.  If you’re in a time crunch or the kiddos are restless, buy passes for the solar viewing only and take a free, self-guided tour of the largest telescope, the 362-inch Hobby-Eberly. For tours of the night sky, stick around for the evening star parties on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday. Tickets begin at $4 for ages 6–12 and $5 for adults; free for age 5 and younger. Book online.

FOR HISTORY BUFFS

Learn about those mysterious Marfa lights at the MARFA AND PRESIDIO COUNTY MUSEUM. The museum, housed in a home dating back to 1883, features exhibits on the town’s history in the ranching, mining and railroad industries, in addition to the temporary Marfa lights exhibit, Dark Skies, Mystery Lights (open through May). Peruse artifacts from early residents, too, including children’s toys circa the 1900s, WWI and WWII gear, typewriters (here’s a chance to show your kids that typing buttons did exist before we transitioned to touch screens). Explore the museum on your own or call to request a guided tour. Admission is free; donations are accepted.

The rare collection of ships modeled after those used in Aliyah Bet, the Hebrew term coined for the clandestine immigration of Jews, many of whom were survivors of the Holocaust, to Palestine is unique to the MARFA HOLOCAUST MUSEUM. Model ships adorn the museum’s shelves (most of which are one of a kind), in addition to rare artifacts from this time period, including books written by travelers on the Aliyah Bet journey. Tour reservations are not required, but calling before your arrival is recommended. All ages are welcome. Admission is free; donations are accepted.

FOR ART LOVERS

Founded by the late minimalist artist Donald Judd, who worked in Marfa for a time, the CHINATI FOUNDATION art gallery houses the work of 13 artists––including Judd’s. Roam through his 15 outdoor works in concrete, which all appear to be symmetrical boxes, or explore his 100 works in mill aluminum, housed in what were once artillery sheds. Then, introduce your kids to John Chamberlain’s larger-than-life sculptures, which one could compare to colorful, scrunched-up wads of paper. General admission is $10 for self-guided tours, except for the free tour of Judd’s 15 outdoor works. Guided tours begin at $20 for adults. Both tours are free for age 17 and under. Book online.

Hit the Imagination Station at MARFA STUDIO OF ARTS, where kids create arts and crafts inspired by nature at the nearby Big Bend National Park and artistic culture of Marfa, such as paper origami modeled after Judd’s displays. Kiddos use native plants and animal bones as models for their drawings. An educator guides kids through their arts and crafts and parents are welcome to participate, too. Admission is free.