On the road through south-west Texas with the GLA 250.
The Texas drop-out.
Marfa as we know it was “born” in 1971. Back then, the artist Donald Judd, an icon of the minimalist movement, decided to leave the New York art scene and set up shop in the deep South, 60 miles from the Mexican border. His peers were not slow to follow – today, this middle-of-nowhere sanctuary has become a mecca for dropouts and cultural mavens. We decided to investigate further – and took a Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 all the way to Marfa to explore the town’s unique draw and spell.
Without limits on the highway to Marfa.
At 9am, the sun already scorching earth and skin, we leave Austin, Texas, to make our way west. Soon, we leave the major highways behind to enjoy the sheer scale and expanse of the “Lone Star State”.
Here, tribes of goats seek shade and shelter among small bushes while sand scours the broken windows of abandoned buildings. The strikingly pale blue sky, the dry prairie’s pastel shades of green and the ochre earth lend the landscape an otherworldly glow.
Welcome to Marfa.
Our seven-hour drive takes us to Marfa where the roads’ rundown beauty soon makes way for renovated Art Deco facades, freshly painted homes and lovingly designed businesses. On our way to the Food Shark, a popular food truck with fantastic turkey sandwiches and Arabian-Texan “Marfalafel”, we also pass the Marfa Ballroom for contemporary art, the Judd Foundation and the expertly curated Marfa Bookstore.
A few steps down the road, the elegance of the El Paisano hotel beckons with an impressive pedigree of stars in 1955: James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson shot the feature film “Giants” nearby and lent their names to the hotel’s luxury suites.
Sky is the limit.
It is early evening when we arrive at “El Cosmico”, our home for the next two days. A prime example of “glamping”, the site’s generous tipis, restored Airstream trailers and colourful hammocks turn camping into a real treat.
Once our heads hit the freshly starched pillows and our eyes turn to the starry sky, we soon drift off to the soothing sounds of distant freight trains.
The desert Prada.
The next day, we decide to wander the grounds of the “Chinati Foundation” with its geometric concrete cuboids courtesy of Donald Judd. Back in the 1970s, the artist had sought – and found – a place that would encourage unhindered interaction of life and art, work and environment.
A little further away, we visit a work that, at first glance, seems like an alien fata morgana: What is a Prada store doing on the hard shoulder of a Texan road? Back in 2005, the Danish-Norwegian artist duo Elmgreen-Dragset had erected this incongruous sculpture – and treated Marfa to another art attraction.
Our next destination is the eerie beauty of the “White Sands” limestone desert. Armed with a charged iPod, a glove compartment full of snacks and plenty of lifted spirits, we tackle the 300 miles to New Mexico – and find it hard to believe our eyes. The glittering, blindingly white gypsum sand forms wave-like dunes; its brightness pierces the darkest shades. Thrilled, we scale the majestic dunes, traverse bizarre valleys and enjoy a restorative break in the shade of towering white mountains. Here, the desert seems suffused by a quiet haze, somehow.
And although “White Sands” is a popular tourist draw and destination, it makes us feel like we are the only people in the world. At night, the brutal heat gives way to balmy warmth. Once the first few stars come out to dot the dusky sky, we decide to make our way home. In the car, all is quiet. Awed by the sheer wealth of landscapes, places and moods we drive into the sunset: impressed, exhausted and supremely happy.