Rodeo, Silver City, and Marfa: Cross ’em Off and Keep Moving

Big Bend wild desert flowers blooming in SpringWe are quickly approaching our two year anniversary of being on the road, and we have no intention of stopping. We’ll keep traveling and working seasonally around the country, but we’d still like to park occasionally on our own piece of land.

Our plan is to buy a small parcel in Colorado, and another one somewhere in Texas. Still, we’re keeping our options open as far as locations go. On our way to Texas, we stopped in three towns I’ve heard a lot of good things about.

Town #1: Rodeo, New Mexico

Portal Arizona Ash Spring HikeEver since our road tripping friends Kim and Sam wrote about Rodeo, I’ve been curious about it. Rodeo is located in a remote area of Southwestern New Mexico, way down along the bottom left corner, just a couple of miles from the Arizona border. It’s high desert country that doesn’t get too cold in the wintertime. The region’s dark, clear skies are known worldwide for stargazing, and birdwatching is a way of life.

Exactly Why is there So Much Money in Rodeo?

What’s really intrigued me about Rodeo was the influx of money that’s been showing up in a region that has seemingly little going on. As an example, John McAffee, founder of McAfeee Antivirus Software, started a huge development there, centered around his favorite sport, ultralight airplane flying (“aerotrekking”). Others have followed, building homes with their own private airstrips and observatories. The only grocery store, a small natural foods shop, is swanky and ranks up there with Whole Foods, but we couldn’t see how a rural area like Rodeo can support it. We imagined that that some rich guy built it for himself, using it as a tax writeoff.

cranes in flight over Arizona ranch sunriseSo why is all of this money showing up? You tell me, because I can’t figure it out. Rodeo is 100 miles from anywhere, and the town isn’t more than a few doublewides and adobe structures. There’s plenty of natural beauty, if you like scrubby desert and rock formations, but there aren’t any rivers or bodies of water, and it’s not a mecca for sports except birdwatching, and aerotrekking (if you can afford it).

We talked to locals, and scoured the area to find out why people are showing up. The locals did their best to sell us on the benefits of buying property (still relatively affordable), but we still didn’t understand the big deal. I guess as the saying goes, the rich are different, and they obviously know something we don’t.

Town #2: Silver City, New Mexico

Silver City New Mexico DentistOur friends Dru and Michael own a piece of property here, and told us that land is still relatively affordable but going up. They compared it to what Durango, Colorado used to be like a decade ago, just before it got “discovered.” On our way to Texas, we went 160 miles out of our way to see Silver City.

Like Rodeo, Silver City is 100 miles off the beaten path. Located near Southwestern New Mexico’s Gila National Forest, it’s high desert country at around 7,000′ feet elevation, so there’s plenty of pine trees and high desert mountain-type scenery. Originally a mining town that was on a downslide for a number of years, Silver City is seeing more artists, new agers and creative types moving there to take advantage of the lower prices. It even has a university, which is always a good sign. We had heard that the downtown is getting revitalized, so we headed there first.

Silver City reminded us of our old hometown, Eureka, California, when we moved there in 1998. The half mile long downtown area does have some thriving little businesses, but there were still more vacant storefronts than leased ones. Half of the buildings were for sale, and even refurbed ones had tattered edges. Things died out as soon as the sun went down.

Despite the artsy edge to Silver City, it still wasn’t enough to convince us that this dusty mining town is going to be the next Durango. While locals may consider it a diamond in the rough, we know by our experience of living in a similar area that talk is cheap, and decades might pass before economic development takes a foothold in a rural town.

If land was affordable, we might have had a different impression. But for some reason, real estate is still pricey, even with the region’s precarious water situation. The price didn’t justify what we saw. We spent the night at Wallyworld and left the next day. Again, if someone knows something we don’t, please share!

Town #3: Marfa, Texas

Texas Ranch Road 652This is the “re-discovered” town that left us the most puzzled. After leaving Silver City, we headed south east to Big Bend National Park. As we drove through ranchlands and wide open country with skies that went on forever. Longhorn cows were everywhere, stone houses and windmills dotted the countryside. This is my kind of country!

We were headed toward Marfa, Texas. Thinking it was just a pit stop on the way to Big Bend, we thought we’d stop for a night, look for the Lights some Texans told us about last year at the Ranch, and then drive 200 more miles to get to our destination.

A brochure we picked up earlier informed us that this little hamlet, 100 miles from anywhere with less than 3,000 people, was made internationally famous because the James Dean movie “Giant,” filmed on-site in the 1950s. Today, Marfa has been “re-discovered” by urbanites and movie producers.

Marfa Texas

Pulling into Marfa, we thought we’d been transported back to the 1950s. Marfa has a beautiful revitalized downtown area with high end galleries, restaurants, stores, a public radio station and even a ballroom. Many original buildings are completely redone, and The Hotel Paisano, where Giant was filmed and actors like Dean stayed, was a restored work of art.

We were perplexed. We just couldn’t figure out where all of this money came from. How did one little town find the funds to revitalize to this extent, when bigger “artsty” towns like Silver City could barely stay afloat?

Hotel Paisano Marfa TexasWe strolled through the neighborhoods, and saw a mashup of old, weathered rock houses alongside many rehabbed homes restored with tremendous care and accuracy. Old churches and vacant factories were now restored and occupied by artists. Art cars were practically on every corner, and posters announcing gallery shows were plastered throughout town. Marfa is funky and cool with an edgy feel to it . I was absolutely in love with this little town . . . at first.

We thought “wow, things must be cheap here!” and walked to a real estate office to check out listings in the window.

I hope the realtors inside saw our faces as we pointed at the flyers, then started laughing hysterically.

Marfa real estate is incredibly overpriced! Tiny, two bedroom ranch houses were going for a minimum of $250k and up, and the only affordable land was located 50 miles away. Anything in Marfa could be comparably priced to places on the East or West Coast. These people are smoking crack!

Marfa Texas Art Gallery

Darn City People!

We guessed that city people had swooped into this town, bought low, restored everything, and drove up real estate prices so high that now they’re stuck with overpriced real estate that they can’t get rid of.

Maybe they were mad about the downturn,which could explain why locals weren’t exactly friendly. People on the streets didn’t say “Hi” which is unusual for small towns like this. We didn’t see any cowboys or ranchers in town, but instead went past trendy looking pretty people with snazzy getups on their way to somewhere. Nobody made eye contact, but instead did the city thing where they look right through you as they walk by.

The Blessed Lady of Marfa TexasWe thought perhaps we stank or something, until we ran into a nice elderly native woman. She told us, “These new people, they’re coming here, and they’re bringing their ways with them. We try to get along, but they’re so different

At the chamber of commerce office, locals were talking about how a movie producer says Marfa is “the next Santa Fe.” We snickered. That seems like a serious stretch of the imagination. There’s nothing here!, we thought.

Later, we learned from a local guy in Alpine, the next closest town at 50 miles away, that New Yorkers have taken over Marfa and were doing exactly what we suspected; they bought cheap and tried to make money off of this “quaint” historically accurate restored Western town by trying to attract movie producers and artists. They might’ve been successful in doing that, but as for real people like us, we’re not insane enough to pay so much for property in the middle of nowhere, art town nor not.

Onward we traveled, south to Big Bend and beyond.

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18 Responses to “Rodeo, Silver City, and Marfa: Cross ’em Off and Keep Moving”

  1. This older post being brought to my attention again because of the recent comment. I now live just outside one of these towns – Silver City. I can tell you that the reason the city has not been revitalized still (and more than likely never will) is because it is so far from anywhere. The closest city of any size is Las Cruces (2 1/2 hrs. away) and Tucson (3 hrs away). This is where you have to go if you want to do anything more than basic shopping. Most of the people that live here like it just the way it is. The downtown has been hit with hard economic times. There is an organization that is working on revitalization but the going is slow because there is no big money here. The mines have started hiring again but things don’t seem to be picking up as a result of this. Despite all of this we LOVE this area! There are wonderful restaurants, arts, nice people, great outdoor activities, cultural activities, good music, near perfect weather and more. Most that live here want to keep all that a secret.

    • Kim it’s great to have an insider’s point of view on this. I can see why locals don’t want Silver City getting “discovered.” It’s too far away from anything for us but it is really pretty there and has good character!

  2. forget the gage in marathon, go to Eve’s Garden Bed and Breakfast…more worth your money.
    new mexico is a poor state, probably why poor artists can live in silver city. it has enough to keep those happy. texas, on the other hand, is an oil state not to mention the richest cattle ranches in the country, so there is money everywhere, and slowly driving out the poor who have been here for centuries. the money in marfa comes from rich folk in austin and new york. no one truly from marfa has money. but any small town you go to in the southwest is going to have it’s solitude and not-so-much-going-on feel, which is why most people live in those small towns…to…slow….down…
    as a rec, dixon, new mexico and jerome, arizona…never been to either, but heard they are small towns worth visiting.

    • Hey there, we saw Eve’s and it looked really cool, we didn’t get a chance to check out the inside though.

      I agree with your assessment of Marfa. We were there again last year and it still hasn’t changed. Prices are crazy and while it might be a Texas town the people are anything but Texan. It has a very weird, impersonal feel to it, nobody is all that friendly and people dress oddly urban there. We also discovered that it’s kind of a joke to West Texas Natives, they just shake their heads at what the town has become and hope that everyone who’s moved there stays there and doesn’t spread out too far.

      Haven’t been to Dixon but we do love Jerome! You’ll need to check it out. Are you a road-tripper?

  3. Yeah, it’s too bad Marfa has changed. I lived there as the change occured and knew the town when everyone waved at each other, said “hi” on the sidewalks and met in the mornings at the post office or local restaurants to talk. The money came in at first from rich people who had moved there for a getaway and from some trust fund kids who followed. Many of those people are very nice. Unfortunately, as the word got out about how cool Marfa was and the rich that had moved there the hipsters, wannabes and social suck-ups followed; those are the people you saw….it’s not you as they treat everyone ,except one of their own, that way. I recently visited and the attitude is worse now than when I moved. That said, the money also brought some positive change to the town in the form of restoration of structures, some nice galleries and restaurants and also work for many of the locals.

    Marfa was the first small town I lived in and loved it for the climate, scenery and big sky. Don’t know that I would live in a small town again after the experience. If you go back to the area you might try Marathon.
    It’s smaller than Marfa, but a lot of great things going on, closer to Big Bend National Park, spots to eat, galleries, similar scenery and big sky and people that are down-to-earth. If you liked the Paisano in Marfa you’ll like the Gage in Marathon.

    • Thanks for the comment, Rich! We loved Marathon, and hope to head back someday.

    • Hey Rich, I’d say your feedback is pretty spot on. It’s obvious that the money that came in really beautified the town, but there was definitely a price to be paid.

      We do plan on seeing the Gage Hotel when we head back that way, maybe in a few weeks. I know we missed some good stuff in Marathon, we blew past it after being in Alpine for the Cowboy Poets Festival last year, just wanted to get rolling again.

      Thanks again for reading.

  4. Rene is right!! there are so many eco friendly artists living in terlingua that the typical Bush Country doesnt Apply. But We got worse , If you are a republican or democrat. in terlingua I see Libertarians.

    You know what Terlingua people remind me of, ALASKANS. They are free thinking practical nice people who if you are on their good side you will swear its heaven. and If you are not, well then you either need to be a strong person yourself or MOVE.

    • Hey Marc, that totally sums up the people of Terlingua. Haha, I like your synopsis of Libertarians!

      I’d really like to go back there again, I’m intrigued by the place.

  5. I highly recommend checking out Terlingua, Texas. It’s on your way to Big Bend. It’s a rustic old ghost town that has been revived with many travelers that ended up settling down there. It’s the last of the Old West with plenty of wildlife and brilliant desert landscapes. The sunsets are amazing and you can literally see every star at night! Most of the population live “off-the-grid” with rain-water harvesting, solar energy, & wind power due to such low annual rainfall & sunny environment. The land is very affordable too… Viva Terlingua! O_o

  6. Henry Ferguson March 21, 2009 at 5:25 pm Reply

    Texas? That is Bush country and would be too conservative for me.

    • You’d be surprised at how many people here are completely disgusted by him. Lots of “Texans for Obama” signs wherever we go. Seriously!

      • Texans for O’Bama?????? Honestly, you must live in a city, not in real Texas! No one in the country who has a lick of sense likes O’Bama. I mean, he is the biggest looser we have ever elected, and he is now showing his stripes. Have you gotten bailed out? How about your neighbors being foreclosed?

        • Oh Will, you really aren’t doing anything to help abolish those pesky stereotypes about poorly educated Texas hillbillies. Sigh…

          We have in fact, seen Texans for Obama from small towns to big cities everywhere in Texas. Oh, and by the way, please show some respect and spell your President’s name correctly, it’s OBAMA, NOT “O’Bama”

  7. i hear mars is nice !!

  8. Glad we weren’t the only ones who were dumbfounded by the draw to Rodeo. And yeah, they do have a good aquifer there, but a local told us that experts claim it’s dwindling.

    The Rodeo health food store was just kinda weird. Top notch stuff but it felt like we had walked onto a movie set. It seemed like we were the only ones who had ever been in there, although everything was spotless and brand new. Very strange.

    Thanks for the CD tip, I’m gonna check that out!!!!

  9. We don’t really understand the attraction to Rodeo either but we did like it there – minus the high winds and the dust storms we experienced while we were there. One thing that might be attractive is the availability of water. I remember hearing something about a big aquifer or something while we were there. I wondered about that health food store myself.

    Maybe the following will help you in your search. I recently ordered a CD of info called Prudent Places. It might help you in your search for a place to live. It gives all kind of information on different parts of the country – from weather to crime to pollution to economic info. http://www.standeyo-cart.com/ProductDetails.asp?ProductCode=PPUSA

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