Marfa Gay Guide – Vacations and Gay Weddings in Marfa and Big Bend NP
A haven for nonconformists and free spirits, Marfa and its environs can provide a mesmerizing backdrop for your special day.
Photo above: Tepee splendor at El Cosmico, photo by Nick Simonite
On the night of June 27, 2015, a day after the Supreme Court issued its same-sex marriage ruling, the lofty dome of the Second Empire–style Presidio County Courthouse in Marfa was illuminated in the colors of the rainbow. No, this isn’t your ordinary little West Texas ranch town.
Also, check out our guide to six cool LGBT wedding venues in and around Marfa!
Locals in this bastion of progressivism delighted in the news that Marfa, an increasingly popular destination for weddings, could now start welcoming LGBT ceremonies. Houston-based mortgage loan officer Robert Spiegel, who has a weekend house there, says that several LGBT couples have tied the knot in Marfa since then, and he sees the trend continuing. He’s currently planning to create an LGBT wedding resource guide to the area. Spiegel first visited 12 years ago and became immediately smitten. “It was like nothing I’d ever seen before—the scenery, the people. Although there are always fun things going on and the amazing art scene,” he says, “it’s also very peaceful and relaxing.”
Marfa has held a special place in the heart of nonconformists and free spirits for decades, some say as far back as 1955, when director George Stevens’ cinematic epic Giant immortalized the town, employing a raft of LGBT icons for the purpose, including Rock Hudson, Liz Taylor, James Dean, and Sal Mineo. The cast and crew stayed at the 1920s-era Hotel Paisano, which is filled with memorabilia and photos related to the film and remains one of the most atmospheric places in town to stay and eat. The community began drawing creative outsiders at an accelerated pace in the 1970s, when the late minimalist artist Donald Judd started purchasing hangars, railroad warehouses, and other Marfa buildings and installing large-scale artworks in and around them.
Ever since, this town of about 2,000 situated nearly a mile above sea level in the Chihuahuan Desert has evolved into an enormously popular getaway among painters, foodies, photographers, hikers, hipsters, and gays. “If you invite people to a wedding in Marfa, Texas,” says owner Buck Johnston of the local Wrong Store art gallery, “you can count on everybody to come. It happens all the time—couples invite 200 people thinking only 120 will show, but they all do. It’s a destination—you get to go to a wedding, but you also get to go to Chinati, Big Bend.”
The high-desert landscape, punctuated by jagged mountain peaks, is mesmerizing and richly photogenic. Adding some mystique to the town’s reputation are the Marfa Lights, an unpredictable and unexplained nighttime occurrence that many have observed on the horizon in a remote area to the southwest of town—there’s even an official viewing area just off U.S. 67/90, about 9 miles east of town. Equally eye-catching are the town’s many galleries, and you can view the works of Donald Judd and many like-minded contemporaries at the Chinati Foundation, on Marfa’s outskirts. Additionally, hip boutiques, arts-themed bookstores, organic cafes, and laid-back yet decidedly cosmopolitan bars and restaurants proliferate in these parts.
Marfa is a key gateway to ruggedly spectacular and remote Big Bend National Park, which hugs the Mexican border about 100 miles southeast, and it’s also within a short drive of such notable attractions as the curiously alluring Prada Marfa pop art installation in Valentine, Gage Gardens in Marathon, the Museum of the Big Bend in Alpine, as well as McDonald Observatory, Davis Mountains State Park, Fort Davis National Historic Site, and the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center, all in or near Fort Davis.
Planning a Marfa Wedding
“Landscape, landscape, landscape,” says Johnston, when asked what makes the town such a special wedding destination. “You can go ranch-style or high-end art—you could bring in an astronomer from McDonald Observatory. There are so many possible themes here for weddings. And Marfa’s size and setting really bring people together in a sweet and intimate way.”
Finding LGBT-friendly vendors, despite the somewhat conservative demeanor of rural western Texas, isn’t actually a problem. “All of the venues in town have been great,” Spiegel says. That said, “Marfa weddings are not cheap,” he cautions, citing the town’s considerable distance from major retailers. “We don’t have a Bed, Bath & Beyond where you can pick up cheap votive candles. People sometimes think you can do a wedding on a shoestring out here, but that’s not always the case.”
He points out, however, that some of the more affordable restaurants in town are happy to cater wedding dinners, among them Pizza Foundation and Mando’s. And Marfa has several local food trucks—such as Food Shark—that can handle weddings and rehearsal dinners. At the higher end, the outstanding Gage Hotel in Marathon will cater events in Marfa, and popular hotel restaurants like the Capri (at the Thunderbird Hotel), Jett’s Grill (at the Hotel Paisano), and the two eateries in the swanky and contemporary Hotel Saint George can provide on-site catering, which is ideal if you’re seeking convenience.
Many couples who wed in Marfa go the DIY route—some bringing their own flowers, booze, photographers, and musicians—but there are a handful of excellent local vendors as well, including Magic Hour for all aspects of event planning and Marfalite Studios for photography. It’s a three-hour drive from the nearest commercial airports (Midland or El Paso), and a six-hour drive west of San Antonio and Austin, so hauling people and goods there takes some effort. “You do need to have a bit of persistence to plan a Marfa wedding,” Johnston says.
If you’re aiming to marry out in the open country, one stunning option is Big Bend National Park (432-477-2251)—you just have to obtain a permit by calling the park superintendent (432-477-1108) at least four weeks in advance. Right in the heart of the park, Chisos Mountains Lodge (432-477-2291) has hosted many a stunning sunset reception on its patio. There, you can exchange vows while gazing out at the famed “window view.”
Another dramatic outdoor option is Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center (432-364-2499), which occupies a spectacular 500-acre spread in the foothills of the Davis Mountains, about a half-hour drive northeast of Marfa—the pavilion here can be rented for weddings. Even if you hold your ceremony in town, exploring Big Bend and visiting the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center are both must-dos. What could be more fun than a post–wedding day group hike along the Rio Grande in Big Bend’s dramatic Santa Elena Canyon, or trekking out to Clayton’s Overlook at the nature center for a panoramic view of the high desert?
Just think carefully before you go asking all of your friends to join you for a post-wedding outing. They will show up—each and every one of them.