MARFA, a small ranching town and arts community 21 miles south of Fort Davis on Hwy-17, has three claims to fame. First, James Dean’s last film, the 1956 epic, Giant, was filmed here; the cast stayed at the historic and swanky Hotel Paisano downtown on Hwy-17 (t 432/729-3669, w http://www.hotelpaisano.com; $101–130).

Next, there’s the “Marfa Lights”: mysterious bouncing lights that have been seen in the town’s flat fields since the 1880s, attracting conspiracy theorists and alien-hunters. The town’s visitor centre (varied opening hours), in the Hotel Paisano, can give advice on good vantage points to see the ghostly illuminations; if in doubt, head for the viewing centre, nine miles east of town, four hours after sunset.

Marfa’s third attraction, just outside town, is the extraordinary Chinati Foundation (tours Wed–Sun 10am; $10; t 432/729-4362, w http://www.chinati.org). Founded by minimalist Donald Judd, the avant-garde works on display here include some of the world’s largest permanent art installations, set in dramatic contexts both indoors and out. The Judd Foundation at 104 S Highland also has art spaces open to the public (Mon–Fri 9am–5pm; t 432/729-4406).

There are innumerable, high-end galleries in Marfa that wouldn’t be out of place in New York or LA, and at affable Marfa Book Co, 105 S Highland St (Wed–Sun 10am–7pm; t 432/729-3906), you can browse its selection of art, architecture and Texana titles.