Trip Start Apr 17, 2013
4Trip End Apr 29, 2013
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First stop as you approach Marfa is the viewing area for the mysterious Marfa Lights. People have proposed everything from headlights on US90 to UFOs to explain the twinkling lights. I didn't have any luck seeing them myself but it's part of the Marfa mystique!
As you pull into Marfa's main drag, the first thing you see is the Presidio County Courthouse. Texas is famous for these beautiful old small town courthouses. The next thing that catches your eye is my hotel, El Paisano.
I chose El Paisano because it's where Liz Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean et al stayed while they were filming the movie Giant here back in the 50s. The Palace Theatre, across the street from the hotel, is where cast and crew would gather every evening to watch the footage they had shot during the day. The shops in the hotel lobby are full of old movie posters and other memorabilia from those days. The hotel was built by well-known southwestern architect Henry Trost, who built several other hotels around the same time, (1920s and 30s) to bring tourism to the southwest. He is also responsible for many famous buildings in downtown El Paso, Tucson, and Albuquerque.
After checking in I wandered around the town for a while, browsing the Marfa Book Company as well as several art galleries. The Chinati Foundation, started by artist Donald Judd, is open only for guided tours. Judd is credited with the "revival" of Marfa as an artists' colony. The other thing Marfa is famous for is its restaurants, and Maiya's, where I had dinner, lived up to its billing.
The morning was chilly but the brilliant West Texas sun warmed things up in a hurry as I drove to nearby Ft. Davis. On my 2005 trip I visited the old Fort, now a national historic site. This time I chose Davis Mountains State Park, full of birds and beautiful mountain views.
As you head back to civilization from Davis Mountains you pass the University of Texas McDonald Observatory. The drive up the mountain to the observatory has lots of opportunities to see wildlife and get views of the wide open spaces of West Texas. The HETDEX telescope in the photo is mapping the universe and looking for "dark energy" among other cool stuff.
Getting back on I-10 is a bit of a shock after driving through the backroads. Most of the last 24 hours I had only Marfa Public Radio for company! I hope the people in Marfa, Alpine and Ft. Davis appreciate what a gem they have there. But now my destination is the big city of El Paso. I usually just drive straight through El Paso but this year I decided to spend some time in the city. I started by driving through the Magoffin Historic District just east of downtown El Paso, where Joseph Magoffin, a former El Paso mayor, built an adobe homestead in 1877. The original town called Magoffinsville was started by Joseph's father James and was also the original site of Fort Bliss.
After my guided tour of the Magoffin home I saw a little more of downtown El Paso. The beautiful Union Station was built in 1905, designed by the same architect who did the station in Washington DC. It now houses Sun Metro, the local transit system, as well as Amtrak. The downtown seems to be thriving with lots of traffic and people on the streets. Many people from Juarez come across the International Bridge to do their shopping here in El Paso.
Franklin Mountains State Park in El Paso and Forest Park in Portland both claim to be among the biggest urban wilderness areas in the US. Other than that, the two couldn't be more different. Forest Park is a cool, misty rain forest a few hundred feet above sea level. Franklin Mountains is a mile-high Chihuahuan Desert environment with no shade from the 300 days per year of blazing sun. I limited my hiking to short, easy nature trails and enjoyed the views of the mountains and the city below.
As you leave the Patriot Freeway for the road to Franklin Mountains, there are two less well-known attractions that were worth a stop. First is the National Border Patrol museum, with exhibits showing the history of the Border Patrol, not just in El Paso or the Southwest but on the Canadian Border as well. The confiscated motorcycles in this display were outfitted by smugglers for carrying several people across the desert.
Next door is the El Paso Museum of Archaeology, with displays showing the people who have lived in this area for thousands of years. This diorama in the Children's section shows the people we call Mescaleros because they gathered and used the mescal agave plant for food and fiber.
Fabulous views of the city can be found on the Rim Road and Scenic Drive up in the Franklin Mountains above the University (UT El Paso). The green reflective glass building is the county courthouse (a little different style from the one in Presidio County!).
Downtown El Paso is a little quieter on a Saturday,but still not the kind of ghost town you see in some big cities when the office workers go home. I especially enjoyed the Plaza de San Jacinto, which the locals call Plaza de los Lagartos (Lizards), for its statue of playful alligators in the fountain. At one time there were supposedly real alligators in this fountain!
The statue at this main intersection is a monument to Fray Garcia, a Franciscan who built the first mission here and is credited as the founder of El Paso. Across the way is the restored Plaza Theatre.
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