Lark Howard’s Pilgrimage to Marfa

Writer and traveler Lark Howard wrote a wonderful post that has something for everyone in it: gliders, Liz Taylor’s GIANT, art, cowboy boots, a book, a hint of the supernatural, and two handsome Frenchmen. Even if you are not planning on visiting West Texas anytime soon, it’s a must-read for anyone who likes to travel or just enjoys a good story. Welcome, Lark!

“Marfa is a town where jeans and cowboy boots are appropriate pretty much everywhere”

For years I’d heard stories about Marfa from Houstonians who had fallen in love with the quirky West Texas town. But it wasn’t until I read Colleen Thompson’s romantic suspense, TRIPLE EXPOSURE, that I was inspired to brave the nine hour road trip to spend a week in Marfa myself.

A friend and I rented an adobe house on the main drag for a week and set off. For anyone who hasn’t been to West Texas, let me say there’s a whole lot of nothing between San Antonio and El Paso. The speed limit is 80 mph but you can go 95 without worrying about hitting anything or failing to see a radar trap, and you can drive on I-10 for 100 miles without passing a gas station.

Marfa is where much of the 1956 movie GIANT with Liz Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean was filmed—the parts in the Chihuahuan Desert aka Middle-of-Nowhere-Texas. Sand, rock, and a sprinkling of scruffy bushes pretty much describes the landscape here and yet the wild beauty of so much open country inspires awe.

Marfa Texas

In TRIPLE EXPOSURE photographer Rachel Copeland flees Philadelphia for her hometown of Marfa after being acquitted of murdering a young man who had stalked her. Her father, who pilots gliders, welcomes her back and soon she gets involved with a seriously hot, cowboy-type artist who works in wood. The story brings to life the town where artists, ranchers and Houston/Dallas socialites somehow manage to coexist, if not always happily. Book in hand and with advice from Colleen Thompson, I made my list of must-dos.

First was going up in a glider. At the local airstrip I found Marfa Gliders and met the owner, Burt Compton, who admitted to reading and liking TRIPLE EXPOSURE “even if it was a romance.” Fifteen minutes later we were soaring noiselessly over the stark and breath-taking countryside in a two-seater glider. The immediacy of the experience was a rush and as close to being a bird as I’ll ever get. First must-do was definitely a thrill.

Marfa Gliders

At noon I lined up in the pavilion in the center of town, waiting my turn at the Food Shark—a Colleen Thompson recommendation– where I ordered Marfalafel and ate it with gusto at picnic tables crowded with local regulars and a couple dozen visitors. (Incidentally, the only spot in town with cell phone reception is about twenty feet south of the third post of the pavilion and only the public library had reliable wifi.)

Food Shark Marfa Texas

Most evenings at dusk we drove out of town to look for the Marfa Lights—naturally occurring mysterious glowing orbs that hover on the plains. There’s a viewing outpost along Highway 90 with telescopes with a great view of the desert where they’re most frequently spotted, but we never did see them. In the book the Lights are not just an eerie and mysterious phenomenon, but have a creepy twist that I won’t spoil here. I’m still determined to see the Marfa Lights one night—maybe this winter.

Marfa is a town where jeans and cowboy boots are appropriate pretty much everywhere, even the “fancy hotel” where Liz Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean lived while filming GIANT. But unlike most Western towns, Marfa is famous in the art world. In the 1980’s Donald Judd founded an art museum and artist community in a former U.S. Cavalry post and prisoner of war camp, Fort D.A. Russell, which is now operated by the Chinati Foundation.

The tour of the 340 acre complex takes about three hours, and the November day I went our group mainly consisted of artsy retirees and middle-aged tourist couples traveling off-season– and two handsome young Frenchmen oozing with Parisian style. I’m sure everyone was wondering how they ended up in Marfa of all places. Being a writer, I had to ask…in French. And they told me…also in French which left everyone else still wondering. They were brothers traveling around the United States for six weeks before the older one—an architect– got married. A French artist they’d met in Los Angeles insisted they detour to see the Judd installation and there they were.

Chinati Foundation

The architect was awed by the art and the museum buildings, his brother wanted to know the best place in town to get Mexican food and margaritas—something I’d become an expert on in the past five days. When the tour was over, they got into a dusty Landrover and went off in search of fajitas and tequila, and two pairs of authentic cowboy boots.

I headed for the courthouse to look at the view of the town and the plain beyond from the lookout tower. Perhaps one day I’ll use Marfa as a setting for a story of my own. Maybe it’ll start: Everyone fell silent when the Frenchmen walked through the door of the noisy cantina. Clearly they weren’t from around these parts.

More About Lark

Writing and traveling have always been such important parts of Lark Howard’s life, it’s only natural for her to set her stories in the places she loves best. The first two of her romantic paranormal adventure series are set in Paris and the Caribbean, specifically the British Virgin Islands and St. Barts. The third is set in Glacier National Park, Montana. No doubt Durands, the powerful family of psychics who “star” in the series, will find trouble in England, Scotland and New Orleans at some point. When not traveling to far-away places, Lark lives in Texas with her brilliant designer husband who brainstorms some of her best plot twists.

I love the idea of visiting a setting that you read about in a book. Has anyone else done that? If so, where did you go? Let me know if you want to guest blog about it! 😀

Thank you, Lark, for sharing your great story with us! I haven’t read TRIPLE EXPOSURE but I’ve seen GIANT. (My mom and I used to love to watch it together). If I ever find myself in West Texas, I’ll have to visit Marfa!

Published by

Jill Archer

Jill Archer is the author of the Noon Onyx series, genre-bending fantasy novels including DARK LIGHT OF DAY, FIERY EDGE OF STEEL, WHITE HEART OF JUSTICE, and POCKET FULL OF TINDER.

17 thoughts on “Lark Howard’s Pilgrimage to Marfa

  1. Thanks, Lark, for the Marfa tour! I’d never heard of it until I read another romance–Lori Wilde’s Love at First Sight. She mentions the lights and another thing you didn’t mention here–did you see Prada Marfa? I will have to check out Colleen’s book! Fun post!

  2. Lark – Fabulous post! And a terrific book. Sounds like my kind of getaway. I’m adding Marfa to my “wish list” of places to see, and I have the perfect accessory to take along: a pair of unworn cowboy boots that have been sitting in my closet for eons, just waiting for the right opportunity!

    1. Yes, it’s a long drive but I don’t have a private plane yet. Next time we’re driving Houston to west side of San Antonio then San Antonio to Marfa. There just isn’t an easy way to get there by car or commercial air and the train takes DAYS!

  3. Wow, I had no idea you did that much…I thought you holed up somewhere for a writing retreat! What fun…and how odd to meet 2 Frenchmen in the middle ‘nowhere.’

    And YES, to how terrific Colleen’s TRIPLE EXPOSURE is!

    Great blog, thanks Lark.

    1. I wrote for 5-6 hours a day, usually early morning and late evening, and played the rest of the time. That’s my max. Besides, who could be in such a great place and not venture out to explore?

  4. Great post, Lark. And I LOVE that wanderlust spirit of yours! I’m guessing it provides an endless supply of writing inspiration. Also must add, if anyone’s going to see Marfa lights, I’m putting my money on you 😉

    1. Thanks, Darcy. We’re going this winter and I fully intend to see them this time! It would be a great place for Lucky 13 writers’ retreat. Just a thought.

  5. Hi, Jill! Many thanks to you and Lark Howard (waves hi!) for mentioning my romantic suspense, TRIPLE EXPOSURE, and the fabulous trip the book inspired! That is so cool! I love Marfa, Burt Compton’s gliders, and of course, the Food Shark’s Marfalafels!

    1. Hi Colleen– Triple Exposure sounds great and Marfa sounds like a fun place to visit. And marfalafels? I’m sure I’d love them. Glad you enjoyed the post! 😀

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