From my friend Nicole Barnette. Nicole is a writer and a filmmaker and a mother, who lives in Los Angeles. She is drawn to buzzing creative centers, often political and progressive. Her favorite places include New York City, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and Madrid, Spain. Thanks Nicole!
Hidden in what seems like Middle of Nowhere, West Texas lies the beautiful town of Marfa. Marfa has been an artists’ colony ever since the 70s, when sculptor Donald Judd stumbled upon it while journeying through the high desert. Inspired, he quickly moved in (from New York City) and began creating contemporary works of art within its spectacular landscape. Over time others joined him. In the last decade Marfa has become a magnet for artists from all over the world who seek peace and quiet and a community where art is appreciated, and everywhere.
The “locals”, people who lived here before the invasion, are slowly becoming used to the odd sight of the “creative types” who’ve taken over the town. A recent 60 minutes episode featuring Marfa tried to get to the bottom of what makes this place so attractive to people from big cities. In the end, I think it is the peacefulness and serenity of the west Texas countryside.
SEE + DO
There are so many things to do in this seemingly sleepy town. First: visit Chinati! The Chinati Foundation was started by Judd in 1979 to “preserve and present to the public permanent large-scale installations by a limited number of artists. The emphasis is on works in which art and the surrounding landscape are inextricably linked.” Judd envisioned a place where artists could get fellowships to come and create bodies of work. For the site, he chose an abandoned military base with a dynamic past; it had been used as a Mexican Revolution cavalry camp, an army training post and a camp for German POWs. The only way to see everything is to take a tour. Tours fill up fast, so book it as soon as you begin planning your trip. Seeing Judd’s magical “boxes” in the stunning buildings constructed to house them, is breathtaking. You cannot touch them but you’ll want to; I felt like like climbing inside each one, and living there. Be sure and see the amazing light installations in the buildings that were once the barracks. They are surreal, like the town itself , and had me feeling as if I were on another planet.
Look for the Marfa Lights which are considered a natural phenomenon; no one knows what causes them. They have been explained as headlights on the road and UFOs and everything in between. If you are lucky enough to catch them, you will not be disappointed.
At some point, as you are driving along the beautiful Hwy 90, either to or from the nearest airport in El Paso or as we did, road tripping across the state, you will be surprised by the strange road side site of Prada Marfa. Prada Marfa?! Yes. Designed to resemble a real Prada store and stocked with Prada items supplied by Muiccia herself, it has a non functional door and is “intended to never be repaired, so it might slowly degrade back into the natural landscape.” Amazing.
EAT + DRINK
We ate at a few great restaurants. The first place we we landed was Maiya’s, on the main drag. Maiya’s has modern, Italian fare with New York /LA prices. The food was delicious (I had the little bit spicy Vodka Pasta) and drinks were even better. We liked Food Shark, an arty food truck which was only open in the evenings while we were there.
The best meal we had, by far, was at Cochineal. The food was divine! It’s fresh and local, with a menu that changes weekly, if not daily. We entered through a beautiful outdoor seating area within a gorgeous succulent, sustainable garden. We went on the earlier side and it was not too crowded, but it’s best to call ahead for a reservation as it books up fast. Save room for dessert. They are homemade and out of this world!
Hotel Paisano is a wonderful old, haunted place that was around when they filmed ‘Giant’ in 1955. It is also featured in ‘No Country for Old Men’, a film more recently made in Marfa. The lobby kind of says everything you need to know about the place: crazy and beautiful original tiles grace the entryway, as does a very prominently featured buffalo head. They recently added Jett’s Grill, a modern contrast restaurant that makes a mean margarita.
Thunderbird, a one time motel, has been converted into a hip hotel with 24 rooms and could easily be straight out of Palm Springs. The sparse, modern spaces constructed with concrete and wood have all the amenities of a nice hotel (Malin + Goetz hair and body products, loaner bicycles.) They sell vintage typewriters in the lobby and have an amazing vinyl library, with record players in each room. There’s a pool, which we we didn’t use, but I imagine we’d love on the hotter days. Thunderbird is a great place to stay with kids and pets.
We had a fun staying at El Cosmico, a converted trailer park and camp ground replete with yurts! (El Cosmico is owned by the same people who manage Hotel San Jose in Austin.) We stayed in one of the larger trailers with our two year old and our dog; it was tight but great. Our trailer had a stove top (with an awesome tea kettle), toilet and basic amenities. There is a shower ~ but it’s outdoors! The only spies are bugs and spiders, who get a full view. It reminded me of showering on safari in Africa; With desert all around I was dry in mere seconds. We were lucky to be there during the Marfa Film Festival. Filmmaker Harmony Korine was the honoree, and it was hipster heaven at El Cosmico. Although it was one big party, we still found time to relax in the hammock garden. There wasn’t any food service but we discovered snacks in the lobby and friendly reception staff (who were particularly great with kids and pets.)
( 1. El Cosmico 2. Desert at Cochineal 3. Prada Marfa. All Photos by Nicole Barnette)
Posted on August 2, 2013