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My First Time: 4 Things I Learned in Marfa, Texas

Marfa had been calling my name for a while—and when I finally visited, I learned why.

Visiting Marfa, in the far West reaches of Texas, had been on my mind forever. The brilliantly absurd idea of a Prada store installation in the middle of the desert, a small town commandeered and reinvigorated by minimalist artist Donald Judd, and of course the far-out El Cosmico with its stunning vintage trailers and teepes just wouldn’t leave me alone.

Late September, I finally jumped on a Texas-bound plane for El Cosmico’s 10th Trans Pecos Festival of Music and Love, a long weekend of live music, off-beat workshops, sandlot baseball, and crazy-good food. Getting to experience the rest of Marfa’s magnetic field of architecture, art installations, galleries and whacky shops was, of course, a perfect bonus. 

1. Bring Your Passport to Marfa

Getting stopped by patrol border between El Paso and Marfa to show my passport made for a surreal beginning to my three-hour drive through West Texas. Apparently, you have to cross some invisible border to enter planet Marfa. All in order, I was sent on my way, but I later learned that the infamous Sierra Blanca checkpoint patrol had busted the likes of Willie Nelson, Snoop Dog, Fiona Apple and many others for dope possession. 

Donal Judd's installation

2. Time Moves Slower in West Texas

To quench my obsession with Marfa, I had arrived a few days ahead of the El Cosmico’s Trans Pecos Festival. I spent hours walking around, taking in the townscape and the many remnants of Donald Judd’s existence. I went for long drives across the desert, completely in awe of the vast landscape and endless big sky. Time seemed to slow down here, allowing for much-needed brain space to thoroughly take it all in. I went on guided tours of Judd’s studios, and spent a day at the Chinati Foundation to see permanently installed art by Judd and other artists that he had invited to leave their imprint there. 

3. It Really Is Home to Misfits

Donald Judd’s move to Marfa in the early 70s went against all odds when he escaped New York’s art scene to settle and work as far away as possible, forcing friends, journalists and collectors to travel a long way to visit him in his desert outpost. His bold stance laid the foundation for others to follow their dreams in the Chihuahuan desert. One of Marfa’s more recent visionaries, Liz Lambert, continues the tradition with her own magnetism. She’s the unstoppable force behind El Cosmico’s universe, as well as the utopian Trans Pecos Festival of Music and Love. 

A scene from the Trans Pecos Festival

4. The Trans Pecos Festival Might be Better than Burning Man

Perhaps an apt description of the Trans Pecos Festival is that it is a distilled, intimate version of burning man. You're still in the desert (the largest in North America), but it’s easy to escape for field trips to the outside world and return before the bands start to play in the evenings. Amongst the annual gathering of the tribe, creativity, love, acceptance, and hilarity abound. The outfits (humans and dogs alike) are fearless, and people don't take themselves too seriously. This is West Texas, after all.

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