© 2024 Marfa Public Radio
A 501(c)3 non-profit organization.

Lobby Hours: Monday - Friday 10 AM to Noon & 1 PM to 4 PM
For general inquiries: (432) 729-4578
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
We're continuing to experience intermittent technical problems with our KOJP signal. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Desert Dispatch Vol. 12

PHOTO OF THE WEEK: Sunset by Claire McGinn. Each week, we'll feature a different image from a listener or staff member. Send your snapshots to photos@marfapublicradio.org
Claire McGinn
PHOTO OF THE WEEK: Sunset by Claire Lindsay-McGinn. Each week, we'll feature a different image from a listener or staff member. Send your snapshots to photos@marfapublicradio.org

When the sun sets in West Texas, it’s technicolor. Hues blast across the horizon, and it’s like you’ve been plopped in a bowl of melting sherbet. You can’t help but stare…and then take a photo.

Elise and I were talking about this phenomenon: why do we all take sunset pics? What is it about them that captivates us, particularly in West Texas?

I remember my first West Texas sunset. I had just made a Stripes run with a friend, and we were crossing East San Antonio Street. We looked out and saw a blaze of orange and pink. I audibly gasped.

“This is the most incredible sunset I’ve ever seen,” I said.

“It's…” started my friend. Magnificent? Exquisite?

“...just okay,” he said.

Just okay? What? This was the most spectacular sunset I’d ever seen and I had been told it was essentially meh. But ultimately, he was right. It wasn’t the best one. Those would come later: sunsets that knocked me to the ground, that felt apocalyptic, that felt like heaven, that felt like being on another planet entirely.

What I soon learned about living in West Texas is that when every sunset is beautiful, you start to sort out the ones that are really worth stepping outside for.

Every so often, I’ll receive a text from a friend in Marfa reading “Look outside, it’s a good one.” I don’t even have to ask what they’re talking about. I know exactly what it means: the sunset is spectacular. Maybe it’s the colors, the gradients, or the light filtering through the clouds, but whatever it is, it’s enough to break through the million great sunsets we’ve had and show us something different.

When I put out a call for sunset photos, not only did I get over 50 photos, but three different people said: “this is my moment to shine.” So for this issue, we’re going to inundate you with sunsets.

We bring you: the anatomy of a sunset.

Sunset Science

We have beautiful sunsets out here, but is there something that makes these sunsets so spectacular scientifically? Turns out there is.

When light enters our atmosphere, it bounces off particles to produce different colors, like millions of little prisms in the sky. As the sun sets, the light moves through more of our atmosphere, producing the brilliant array of colors we see before dusk.

Saul Rivera at the McDonald Observatory says great West Texas sunsets are a combination of a few factors, two being unpolluted air and dry air. When there's less stuff stuff blocking the light, the colors are way more intense.

The Fire in Alpine

Claire Lindsay-McGinn

To the question of what makes a sunset truly amazing, Rivera says that the key is West Texas clouds. The clouds we have out here exist above “the boundary layer” of the atmosphere, where a lot of dirt and debris live, so the light that comes through our clouds is a lot cleaner and makes our sunsets more vibrant. And more clouds mean more light scattering, creating these textured, Renaissance-esque sunsets.

Alexander Neal

Rivera’s favorite spot to watch the sunset is the summit at the McDonald Observatory Visitors Center, where the sun sets over the mountains. He said when he first moved out here, his mom asked him to take a picture of the sunset every day. While he can’t send a daily sunset dispatch, he says he still sends along his best ones, like the one below.

Saul Rivera

Sunsets, Sunsets, and More Sunsets

Clockwise from Left: Katie Jablonski, Katie Jablonski, Will Floyd, Claire Lindsay-McGinn, Claire Lindsay-McGinn
Clockwise from Left: Katie Jablonski, Katie Jablonski, Will Floyd, Claire Lindsay-McGinn, Claire Lindsay-McGinn


Peseta a quarter-dollar coin in US currency. It comes from the old Spanish monetary standard, the peseta, which once circulated along the Rio Grande. It’s the root word and concept for the peso, the standard in most Latin American countries today. It exists in Caló as a vestige of the Spanish governance era, which ended in 1825. Pesetas began to disappear soon after then, but the US began circulating a similar coin a few decades later. The people of the Rio Grande remembered the look and feel of the peseta and brought back the word and attached it the American quarter. Peseta soon outcompeted the English alternative and attained a high profile in pop culture in the early-1900s. What were the jukeboxes geared for? Pesetas. Quarters. The Rock-olas took no other types of coins. What got the thing, including the juke box, going? A peseta. This led to the saying “ponle una (put in a) pesata” to get whatever it is you’re talking about going, like a romance, a dance, a drama, a party, or even a fight.

Caló is a borderland dialect. You can find more episodes here.

Other programming:

It’s been nearly three weeks since two tornadoes hit the small town of Sanderson in Terrell County, and since then, bulldozers and work crews have been sorting through wreckage in the Lomita Terrace neighborhood on the west side of town — the area hit hardest by the storm. In this story, Mitch Borden takes us to Sanderson, where folks are building back in the wake of the storms.

You can read more about our newsroom's recent lifeline and recovery reporting in last week's dispatch.

The storms destroyed Sanderson's welcome sign — leaving a lone cowboy to gaze out over the remaining horizon.
Mitch Borden
Marfa Public Radio
The storms destroyed Sanderson's welcome sign — leaving a lone cowboy to gaze out over the remaining horizon.

High Five

Marfa musician Colette Haines has an entire playlist for to sunset drives in West Texas. Here's five songs for driving towards the technicolor horizon:

  1. Early Blue - F.J. McMahon
  2. I Have a Woman Inside my Soul - Yoko Ono
  3. Seabird - Innovations
  4. Kiwi Maddog 20/20 - Elliot Smith
  5. Forever My Love - The Association 

And here are a bunch of cows Colette spotted on a recent sunset jaunt:

Colette Haines

You can find all of our music shows onour Mixcloud.


Ballroom Marfa and The Chulita Vinyl Club presents this year’s DJ Camp finale on Friday, June 28th at Planet Marfa starting at 6pm.

As part of the Summer Shake Up program students ages 10 to 14 have been learning and practicing beat-matching, mixing and scratching and will show off the skills they’ve learned in this special live performance.

If you have PSAs you want on the air or in this newsletter, head to www.marfapublicradio.org/psa.

New Arrivals

We're thrilled to welcome our new Morning Edition Host Alberto De Leon!

Originally from El Paso, Alberto hails most recently from the West Coast. He's worked for a few different companies, including Apple and the New York Times, and is eager and excited to wake up Marfa and the region at large as the new Morning Edition Host.

When away from work, he likes to spend as much of it as possible listening to music, watching Survivor or playing trivia.

Catch Alberto in the morning edition chair from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. weekdays on Marfa Public Radio.

Zoe Kurland is a senior producer at Marfa Public Radio.