#sparktravels: An Unlikely Oasis

by Emily Deen

“Why are you driving hundreds of miles into the middle of the desert to see a Prada store that isn’t even open?” After telling people of our plans to drive to Marfa, Texas, this was a phrase that I heard more than a few times. And honestly, I never really had an answer.

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The Marfa Public Radio Station located on the main road

We had been looking forward to our trip to Marfa for weeks and even after looking at hundreds of pictures of the quaint little town on Pinterest, still had no idea what to expect. We knew almost nothing about the desert oasis besides the fact that artist Donald Judd had basically put it on the map in the early 1970s by turning a former army base into an art gallery.

But Marfa’s fame actually started about 15 years before Judd turned the town into the art mecca that it is today. James Dean’s 1956 film Giant was filmed there, and since then it has been the setting for other notable movies like No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood. Something about the rugged Texas landscape and endless open skies creates the perfect ambience for a classic western feel.

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“Downtown” Marfa

Although these movies attract a decent number of film fanatics to the desert, art continues to be the main attraction. With 17 galleries located in the span of a few miles, it is easy to spend hours walking the few blocks across town. Whether you’re stopping in the Ayn Foundation to see Andy Warhol’s The Last Supper or the Chinati Foundation to check out Judd’s 100 Untitled Works in Mill Aluminum, you remain entranced by the refined aesthetic that is apparent around every corner.

Judd moved his art to Marfa in 1973 as a way to escape the chaos of New York City and to establish a practical and permanent home for his works. Although he is definitely a part of the reason Marfa has the reputation that it does today, the town’s isolated location means it will most likely never become a typical tourist destination. However, as more people commit to making the long journey, the town is becoming more of a familiar location. Probably the most iconic feature is Prada Marfa.

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Sunset was the perfect time to see the interesting artwork

The “pop architectural land art project” was finished on October 1st, 2005, and immediately shocked people across the world who were confused by its purpose. An $80,000 project, the unopened Prada store was inspired by the power of brands and consumer-culture and was meant to be an experiment combining art and fashion. If it seems like putting dozens of expensive shoes and handbags in a store that has no one in it is a recipe for vandalism, that’s because it is. Almost immediately after it was publicized thieves broke the windows and ran off with almost all of the designer items that were actually selected by Miuccia Prada. Since then, the monument has been subject to multiple renovations and thousands of Instagrams, one by Beyonce herself.  

With a fiery sunset and purple desert mountains in the background, seeing the Prada store was truly a surreal experience. It may not seem like the most exciting monument to make such a long drive for, but I can say without a doubt it is something I will never forget and I couldn’t recommend it more.

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Enjoying the view outside Prada Marfa

Looking back on the trip now, I can clearly see why people travel hours and hours for a seemingly non-glamorous destination. Living in a city like Austin and going to school where thousands of people are constantly milling about can easily becoming overwhelming, even if we don’t realize it. Being surrounded by miles and miles of open skies, the most stars I’ve ever seen in my life and perfect silence has a way of putting everything in perspective and providing the peace of mind we needed to finish the semester. Marfa’s charming uniqueness left a lasting impression on me and was an excellent reminder of the fulfillment that can come from the simpler parts of life. •


Emily Deen is a freshman at the University of Texas at Austin and is majoring in Textiles & Apparel. Although she misses her hometown of Dallas, her first few months in Austin have given her a new love for the city and she loves exploring all that it has to offer.

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