The desolate, sun-blistered town of Marfa, TX is like nothing I’ve experienced before. It’s a town where leathery skinned ranchers coexist with bohemian nomad types, where a faux Prada store stands in the middle of the desert and mysterious, unexplained lights pop up in the sky ever so often. There’s contemporary art + people riding horses through town. It’s offbeat in the best type of way.
My best friend of 10+ years, Talbot and I decided to go on a whim. We had some time off, so we made the decision, packed up, and were on the road to Marfa all in a matter of 24 hours. Being Texans, we know how big our state is, but this road trip really confirmed it. From where we live it’s about an 8-hour drive. We drove and drove – through Fort Worth, Abilene, the oil towns of Odessa and Midland…and finally made it to our destination.
Marfa, the Cosmos, and the infamous Prada
We arrived late that night at El Cosmico, the stellar 18-acre trailer, tent, and teepee hotel + campground. We grabbed the keys along with a wagon to haul our stuff and walked the trail to our trailer, the Kozy Coach – a super cute renovated 1951 trailer. We were greeted with a dry mini-bar box full of campy must haves – beef jerky, playing cards, and an herbal smoking blend equipped with personalized rolling papers. In the fridge was Topo Chico (a Texan fave) + Mexican coke. I adored the little details they put into this place – the minimal, colorful decor, the Mexican blanket inspired robes and a mushy bedspread. El Cosmico’s mantra is to “tune in, drop out, and be here now,” and that’s just what we came to do. We had no TV and hardly any cell service…so we walked around, drank beer, and made friends with strangers.
The next morning we woke up, took our showers outside, and drank Tejas while getting ready to Ryan Bingham. We ate at Squeeze, a sweet little BYOB sandwich shop + juicery, then headed to see Donald Judd’s art at The Chinati Foundation. Judd, an Army vet turned major NY contemporary artist, set the tone for what Marfa has become. He moved to Marfa from New York in 1971 after becoming frustrated with New York’s small gallery spaces. He wanted his art displayed in clean settings, with no interruption. He bought 40,000 acres and 16 decaying buildings, including an old Army artillery shed that he turned into a modern art cathedral.
That night, we watched a metal band play at the Lost Horse Saloon, where dogs are allowed to run free and horses are parked outside.
Of course, we had to see Prada, Marfa, the “pop architectural land art project” by Elmgreen + Dragset. Boyd Elder, the caretaker of Prada Marfa and Valentine local says it best – “You think about all the morales, all the immigrants who’ve walked across the desert in huaraches and tennis shoes and cactus stalks woven into sandals … and carrying a bag. Then you walk by the Prada store and you see these shoes and these Prada bags on the immigrant, drug-dealing path into the North. So it’s got a great ironic factor to it, you know what I mean? I hate it, but then in another way, it’s so outrageous, you’ve got to love it.”
Big Bend National Park: The magical mountain range in Far West Texas
We hit the road once more, driving the hour and 30 minutes to the park and stopping to stay in Lajitas at the Badlands Hotel. The community looks and feels like something out of the old west. It’s the kind of town where you check in to your hotel and 30 minutes later you see the front desk clerk riding on horseback through town with her husband and their dog. We ate dinner at the resort’s Thirsty Goat Saloon while listening to an old man play throwback western songs.
Later that night, we went to The Ghost Town in Terlingua and stopped at the Starlight Theatre Restaurant and Saloon, which opened in the 30s as a movie house but was then shut down in the 40s. We hit the jackpot because that night there was a “live art performance” which consisted of a woman writhing around on stage to a strobe light and a full band behind her creating dramatic background noise. I can’t describe it no matter how hard I try. There were families eating as if this strange thing wasn’t happening right in front of them. We felt like we were on an acid trip. After that ended, we sat at the bar and struck up a conversation with a local cowboy + painter named Steve. He became our buddy and we bar hopped through Terlingua with him the rest of the night. It was a full moon, so we stopped on our way back to Lajitas and took pictures.
Fun fact: Once a thriving mercury mining town, Ghost Town is now home to the Chisos mining company – a real world museum where you can explore miners’ abandoned homes and search for fossils, free of charge.
The last day was dedicated to being adventurous and experiencing Big Bend’s beauty. We stopped at Blackjack’s Crossing golf course to ask about the best hiking trails, but instead were offered a golf cart to drive around the course and take in the scenes, free of charge! We owe that sweet man working in the shop. Blackjack’s was designed by PGA Hall of Fame golfer Lanny Wadkins and is absolutely pristine.
We were told we HAD to do the “sunset drive” through Big Bend during magic hour. I’m so glad we did. We stopped so many times to take in the beauty. I loved looking at the ancient limestone of the Chisos Mountains up close and listening to our voices echo as we talked. It was the perfect end to our unforgettable trip.