Lifestyle

Beyond the Lights: A Look at Another Marfa Mystery

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The Marfa Lights phenomenon attracts as many theories as the 1,800 people who live in the west Texas town. However, a mystery obscured by the lights awaits. The Marfa story is defined by the people who come and go and return again. What keeps them here, and why do they so often return?

This fall, I visited with entrepreneur and Chamber of Commerce Secretary Bobbie Lopez. Born during Marfa’s 100-year dedication in 1983, Bobbie was named the town’s “Centennial Baby,” growing up and graduating from high school just a mile away. She left for ten years and returned, married a resident from nearby Fort Davis, and raises her family in town. What is so alluring about Marfa? She says, “It draws you in—we have some new history being made, and we’ve got traditional (ranching) history here, and Marfa’s popularity really took off.”

Beyond the Lights: A Look at Another Marfa Mystery

Photo: John Spaulding

Bobbie provides me west Texas directions: “Go all the way to the stoplight, turn right, travel past the Dairy Queen, and it’s on your left.” This brings me to one of the top-rated barbecue restaurants in the state, Convenience West. Housed, you guessed it, in an old convenience store. Part owner and one-time upscale chef Mark Scott says, “I’ve prepared a lot of different kinds of food, but I feel most connected to this (BBQ)—You’ve got to take your time and you can’t really hide much—it’s honest, hard and fun work.” But is it good? The answer is in the dozens of customers who suddenly appear just before opening, confirming the truth of this new Marfa food sensation’s top ratings.

Beyond the Lights: A Look at Another Marfa Mystery

Photo: John Spaulding

Mark’s wife, Kaki, works in the kitchen and greets people at the front register. They both spend an entire day before their usual Friday opening, readying the meat on the two old smokers out back. “We started doing dinosaur-sized beef ribs on Saturday,” Mark says. “So that’s kind of fun to put that on people’s trays and watch them realize what they’ve gotten themselves into.” As they adjust their menus, they follow the availability of produce for their side dishes by the seasons of the year.

Their venture (they are two of the four owners, all longtime friends) has received favorable notice from travel and dining magazines. Customers arrive from all over the country to sample their success, while enjoying Marfa’s varied art and culture scene. The success is rooted not only in their ability, but in the Marfa connection linking them. Mark and Kaki’s mothers attended Marfa High School together. Kaki is the descendant of a local sixth-generation ranching family, and Mark returned with his mom in 1995 after living a number of years in New Orleans. Mark and Kaki met and decided to call it home.

Beyond the Lights: A Look at Another Marfa Mystery

Photo: John Spaulding. Marfa Wine Company owner James Havens displays one of his many bottles of organic wine, sourced from small vintners worldwide.

I return downtown and notice a cluster of newish storefronts along Marfa’s main street, Highland Avenue. They include acclaimed Italian restaurant Stellina, Salon Coterie & Atelier, featuring handmade leather crafts and clothing, Marfa Wine Company, and yoga/meditation and massage boutiques. The eclectic store Wrong Marfa has moved across the street, occupying the old Big Bend Sentinel newspaper building. Pleasant surprises appear around every corner.

Beyond the Lights: A Look at Another Marfa Mystery

Photo: John Spaulding. The iconic Hotel Paisano, flanked by the Presidio County courthouse and ongoing festival. The Paisano was built in 1930 and displays black and white photos taken in Marfa during production of the movie “Giant.”

Marfa Pets, owned by Lesley Villareal, has also opened on this renovated block. Lesley used her 15 years’ experience as a portrait photographer to create a pet portrait business and photo art display, called Shy Gallery, after her father-in-law’s nickname. While she originally hails from the northwest, her husband, Juni, is a Marfa local, and they now live in the home where he grew up. They met out west and returned to Marfa permanently since 2011. Lesley loves the small-town life and says, “the scenery is just breathtaking, and I just like the openness of it. I can breathe here, and it never gets old.”

Beyond the Lights: A Look at Another Marfa Mystery

Photo: John Spaulding. Peering through one of the viewfinders at the Marfa Lights viewing center, you may spot one of the mysterious lights.

Of course, we revisited the Marfa Lights viewing area, just east of town. On many evenings, locals arrive to share their opinions of the lights with curious out-of-towners. While scanning the horizon, my wife exclaimed that she saw them. Hint from a local: If you see moving lights to the left of the red light in the distance, those are Marfa Lights. To the right are car lights from Highway 67. We again considered how and why these mystery lights, like many of the residents, appear and reappear in this stretch of high desert landscape.

We came to enjoy some of the latest happenings in Marfa—what we experienced was the deep connections people have with each other and roots of this town. The Marfa scene, like the lights themselves, continues to attract a diverse audience. It beckons hardy and creative souls to stake a claim, start a business, or just live and thrive in this mysterious environment.