In 1971, minimalist artist Donald Judd headed west from New York in search of a place to create and permanently house his increasingly large-form sculptures.
He settled on a most unlikely place: the small town of Marfa, Texas. At a decommissioned military base, he created the Chinati Foundation, which has become one of the country's finest exhibition spaces for contemporary installation art and put the town of Marfa on the map.
Marfa is known for both its conceptual art scene and cowboy chic vibe. Galleries and working artist studios dot the small, Old West-style town (there's only one traffic light), alongside performance spaces, retro buildings, upscale restaurants and food trucks.
Installation art is a big draw. Besides the collection housed in the Chinati Foundation, you will find pieces, such as Prada Marfa, a pop-art exhibit west of town that looks just like a Prada storefront. Ballroom Marfa is a creative anchor, featuring visual art, music, film and a full calendar of lectures, workshops and dialogues.
Prada Marfa, a pop-art exhibit west of town that looks just like a Prada storefront
Film, Culture and Music Festivals
Before Judd, Marfa was famous for another cool creative: the late actor James Dean. Along with Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson, Dean starred in the classic movie "Giant," filmed here in 1956. The iconic image of Dean sprawled across an old Model-T car, with the Reata mansion and vast Texas plains behind him, is instantly recognizable to film buffs. Today, you can stay in the historic hotel that housed the cast, Hotel Paisano, or have one of its famed margaritas in the bar, appropriately named Jett's Grill after Dean's character in the film.
True to Marfa's creative culture, film and music festivals are held year-round. The Trans-Pecos Festival of Music and Love is held in late September at El Cosmico, a hub for local musicians and artists where guests stay in vintage Airstream trailers or tents. The Viva Big Bend Music Festival and Marfa Film Festival are both held in July, drawing performers and filmmakers, as well as general attendees, from all over the world.
An art installation in the rural desert town of Marfa, Texas
The natural desert setting of Marfa, located hundreds of miles from any city and three hours from the nearest airport, creates the perfect haven for visitors who are seeking a quiet retreat or outdoor recreation.
Big Bend National Park, just under 160 kilometers from Marfa, is a magical place for hiking; its colorful canyons, sculptural cactus formations, diversity of animal species and splendid isolation provide a camping or hiking experience like few other.
Visitors can also appreciate the incredible stargazing with some of the darkest night skies in the United States at the world-class McDonald Observatory. Located about 48 kilometers from Marfa, the facility offers some of the largest research telescopes in the world. McDonald hosts regular viewing nights and parties, along with daily tours.
Speaking of night lights – you can't mention Marfa without hearing about the mysterious "Marfa Lights." Strange lights, seemingly without a source, dance across the horizon in an unexplained phenomenon. Some have attributed them to car headlights and electric lighting, yet they were documented by Native Americans long before these inventions. No one really knows what they are, but they can be seen most nights. The official Marfa Lights Viewing Area is located nine miles east of town on Highway 90.
An aerial view of downtown Marfa