Story and photos by Erin Lindsey and Denny Brownell
Erin Lindsey and her husband, Denny Brownell, run the Escape Brooklyn blog. They are experts about getting out of NYC and into adventures with friends. Visit their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages to learn more.
Small town mixes creative culture — vegan cafes, art galleries, funky coffee shops — with traditional honky-tonk bars.
Sometimes remoteness doesn’t mean obscureness. Despite being three hours from the nearest major airport, Marfa, Texas, is one of the coolest, most off-the-beaten path destinations out there. Located in the high desert of the Trans-Pecos Mountains, its small community of 2,000 people has one of the most vibrant art communities in the country.
In the 1970s, contemporary artist Donald Judd moved to Marfa to escape the art community he began to grow wary of. It was there that he bought an entire army base, using the landscape of the desert as his canvas for his own legendary and distinctive massive outdoor installations. He also filled the spaces with the work of his contemporaries, such as Dan Flavin and John Chamberlain. Today, the Chinati Foundation continues to preserve and present the large-scale installations that Judd left behind when he passed away. Visitors can take a full tour of the grounds, which lasts four and a half hours and costs $25; an abbreviated version lasts two hours and costs $20.
Marfa’s legacy as an artists haven continues to live. Its long reputation has resulted in a recent influx of a younger population trying their hand at opening small businesses or finding an affordable place to live while mastering their chosen craft.
No doubt, they’re also drawn to both the dramatic visual landscapes of the high desert and funky, small-town vibe. Honky-tonk bars, vegan cafes and art-filled coffee shops are havens where visitors can rub elbows with sculptors, painters, filmmakers and celebrities all at once. Surprisingly enough, you won’t find an art district in Marfa — rather, you’ll find it at every turn, whether it’s a gallery, performance or outdoor installation.
Aside from a lively entertainment scene, Marfa is also attractive for outdoor enthusiasts. Visitors can find hiking just 30 minutes outside of town at the Fort Davis National Historic Site, with short but scenic trails. Farther out, Big Bend National Park is just a couple hours by car, and the drive there along FM-170 is arguably the most scenic highway in the state of Texas. Passing along the Rio Grande, the road ventures through many different landscapes and is nothing short of incredible.
At night, explorers should check out the Marfa Lights just outside of town, where in an otherwise expanse of empty desert, unexplained orbs hover, jump, dance and dash around the landscape. While some attribute the phenomena to ghosts or UFOs, skeptics argue that they’re simply reflections of car headlights and campfires. But no one really knows.
Thinking about visiting? The coolest lodging in Marfa can be found at El Cosmico, where travelers come from all over the world to stay in unique accommodations such as teepees, safari tents and refurbished trailers. Outdoor showers, wood-fired hot tubs and casual bonfire-side acoustic shows complete the cool, laid-back experience here that’s quintessentially “Marfan.”
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