#sparktravels: Marfa Travel Diary

With a pickup truck loaded with two motorcycles and a half a dozen suitcases, we were “on the road” and headed West – 430 miles west of Austin, to be exact. The four of us were like something out of a Jack Kerouac novel, eager to escape the city for a few days and venture to Marfa, Texas. Together, Josh, McKenzie, Slade, and I planned the road trip of the summer. My only expectation was to glimpse the works of art that transformed Marfa into the minimalist art mecca it is today. Yet, the trip became more than that. There’s a serene quality to life that Marfa lends to its visitors.

Welcome to Marfa.

The first thing I noticed was the change of scenery. We had traveled six hours, but it looked as though we entered another world. Pulling into our quaint house for the weekend, lovingly known to us as “Casa de Marfa,” we had a panoramic view of the mountains. Their peaks were painted with a pastel glow of blues and purples where they met with the sky. And, naturally, the desert foliage provided plenty of cacti for my taste.

I was a little excited about the wild cacti.

Our first evening included a winding excursion through the Davis Mountains, ending at the University of Texas’ astronomical observatory. The McDonald Observatory was having a “Star Party”, and hundreds of people gathered under one of the darkest night skies in the U.S. As an astronomer pointed out constellations, we found ourselves transfixed by the creamy streak of the Milky Way against a million stars. The four of us departed from the crowd to view some of the largest telescopes available for public viewing. It was there that the vivid rings of Saturn and Jupiter, with its four largest moons, were etched into our minds. A surreal experience.

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The famous Marfa Mystery Lights may be seen at nighttime near Route 67.
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The boys and their bikes.

When in town, it is obligatory to visit the artwork of the man responsible for putting Marfa on the map. A renowned artist from New York, Donald Judd first found himself drawn to the sweet desert isolation in the ‘70s. This is why we found ourselves following his path, ending at the military-base-turned-contemporary-art-museum: the Chinati Foundation. Dressing in our lightest clothes, we braved the Texas sun and walked along a trodden path to see his “15 Untitled Works of Concrete”.

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Donald Judd’s art work, featuring McKenzie and me.
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Slade at the Chinati Foundation.

Marfa is nothing short of a ghost town. We hardly encountered groups of people. The four of us took a stroll down the main street without any itinerary, popping into boutiques and art museums at whim. With every turn of my head, I couldn’t help but be intrigued by the earthy colors and old town architecture. The minimal-western culture of Marfa was evident. If a rhinestone-encrusted cowboy rode up horseback, I wouldn’t have blinked an eye.

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Downtown Marfa.
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The Marfa Contemporary Art Museum.

We hopped onto bikes, cruising through the sleeping town. Marfa is primarily supported by ranching – we rode past more livestock than residents. But still, it’s no surprise that people would find paradise in this desert.

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Chilling at the outdoor kitchen at El Cosmico.

El Cosmico plays the lovely, hospitable host to Marfa’s visitors. We rode up to their lobby, which had a little shop inside carrying their western merchandise.  

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El Cosmico’s line of apparel.
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McKenzie, reading up on Marfa’s current events.

We had to check out El Cosmico’s collection of vintage trailers and teepees. The campsite was full of retro amenities, from a hammocking station to an outdoor kitchen. Their twenty acres of campground is also home to the annual Trans-Pecos Music Festival.

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Slade, Josh, and some Sioux-style tepees.
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Vintage trailers at El Cosmico.
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McKenzie, outside of a retro RV on the campground.
I’m still in love with this powder blue RV.

Cruising down Highway 90, it was impossible to miss the large black font reading, “Prada Marfa”. The pop art installation is an uncanny replication of a Prada storefront. As we got closer we could see the displays come into view. Shoes and handbags lined the wall, each handpicked from the Prada Fall 2005 collection by Miuccia Prada, herself.

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McKenzie and I at the “Prada” of the desert.
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Josh and Slade on the lock-filled fence surrounding “Prada Marfa”.

Marfa was the ideal getaway from everyday life. A place to lose all of your cell phone service and not give a damn. A place to engage with the people and things around you. A place to be pleasantly isolated.

Maddy Murray

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