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About Marfa and the Big Bend Area


Marfa is a city in the high desert of the Trans-Pecos in far West Texas, located between the Davis Mountains and Big Bend National Park. Its population is about 1800. In the early 1880s, the city was a railroad water stop. The Marfa Army Airfield served as a training facility for several thousand pilots during World War II.

Today, Marfa is a tourist destination. The area around Marfa is known as a cultural center for contemporary artists and artisans. In 1971, minimalist artist Donald Judd moved to Marfa from New York City. After renting summer houses for a couple of years, he bought two large hangars and some smaller buildings where he would permanently install his art. In recent years, a new wave of artists has moved to Marfa to live and work. As a result, new gallery spaces have opened in the downtown area.

Attractions include Building 98, the Chinati Foundation, artisan shops, historical architecture, a classic Texas town square, modern art installments, art galleries.

Marfa may be most famous for the Mystery Marfa Lights, visible on clear nights between Marfa and the Paisano Pass when one is facing southwest (toward the Chinati Mountains). At times they appear colored as they twinkle in the distance. They move about, split apart, melt together, disappear, and reappear. Presidio County residents have watched the lights for over a hundred years. The first historical record of them dates to 1883.

Several movie productions were filmed in the Marfa area. The 1950 film, High Lonesome, starring Chill Wills and John Drew Barrymore was filmed in Marfa. The film Giant, starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Sal Mineo, Carroll Baker, and Dennis Hopper, was filmed in Marfa for two months.


The Big Bend is a colloquial name of a geographic region in the western part of the state of Texas along the border with Mexico, roughly defined as the counties north of the prominent northward bend in the Rio Grande as it passes through the gap between the Chisos Mountains in Texas and the Sierra Madre Oriental in Mexico. The largest towns in the region are Alpine, Presidio, Marfa, Sanderson, Terlingua, and Marathon.

The Big Bend National Park has national significance as the largest protected area of Chihuahuan Desert topography and ecology in the United States. It contains more than 1,200 species of plants, more than 450 species of birds, 56 species of reptiles, and 75 species of mammals.

For more than 1,000 miles (1,600 km), the Rio Grande/Río Bravo forms the international boundary between Mexico and the United States, and Big Bend National Park administers approximately 118 miles (190 km) along that boundary.

The park exhibits dramatic contrasts, including the climate as one of its extremes. Dry and hot late spring and summer days often exceed 100 °F (38 °C) in the lower elevations. Winters are normally mild but subfreezing temperatures occasionally occur. Because of the range in altitude from about 1,800 feet (550 m) along the river to Emory Peak in the Chisos Mountains at 7,832 feet (2,387 m), a wide variation in available moisture and temperature exists throughout the park. These variations contribute to exceptional diversity in plant and animal habitats.

The 118 mi (190 km) of the river that form the southern park boundary include the spectacular canyons of Santa Elena, Mariscal, and Boquillas. The Rio Grande, which meanders through this portion of the Chihuahuan Desert, has cut deep canyons with nearly vertical walls through three uplifts made primarily of limestone.

The Chihuahuan Desert is a desert, and an ecoregion designation, that straddles the U.S.-Mexico border in the central and northern portions of the Mexican Plateau. It is bordered on the west by the extensive Sierra Madre Occidental range, along with overlaying northern portions of the Sierra Madre Oriental. On the United States side, it occupies much of southwestern Texas.

Climatically the desert is mainly a rain shadow desert; it has a dry climate with only one rainy season in the summer and smaller amounts of precipitation in early winter.

Creosote Bushis the dominant plant species on gravelly and occasional sandy soils in valley areas. Pronghorn and Lechuguilla are native plant species.

The Davis Mountains, originally known as Limpia Mountains, are a range of mountains in West Texas, located near Fort Davis. They are a popular site for camping and hiking. The mountains are of volcanic origin composed of strata associated with eruptions of the Trans-Pecos Texas volcanic field 35 million years ago. The highest peak in the Davis Mountains is Mount Livermore at 8,382 feet and is the fourth highest peak in Texas.

The McDonald Observatory is an astronomical observatory located near the unincorporated community of Fort Davis. Research today at the McDonald Observatory encompasses a wide variety of topics and projects, including planetary systems, stars and stellar spectroscopy, the interstellar medium, extragalactic astronomy, and theoretical astronomy.

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