Thursday, March 24, 2011

Art & Architecture in West Texas - Marfa, Prada & Cibilo Creek Ranch - Part One

They say you can't get there from here. But when you finally get there, it is well worth the trip. A close friend, a Florida transplant who now lives in Austin, says Texas really is like living in a different country. After my last visit in the spring of 2006, I know what she means. Everyone knows about the cultural and music scene in Austin or the big city glitz of Dallas, but few have experienced the sometimes surreal experience of west Texas and the art enclave of Marfa, Texas. In addition, the boutique destination hotel/resort Cibilo Creek Ranch (Cibilo Creek Ranch) is a mere thirty minutes south in the high desert country of west Texas.

After landing in El Paso, we knew we were in a "different" country when the car rental agent made me sign a document stating that I would not take the rental car into Mexico and then gave me a stern lecture on what would happen if I violated that agreement. We grabbed some lunch and headed down I-10 for the three hour drive to the small town of Marfa, Texas where we planned to stay for one night before our final destination at Cibilo Creek Ranch.

Leaving I-10 behind for US 90, we headed further into the Texas desert. One of the great joys of travel, especially road trips, is the serendipitous occurrence of the unexpected. Imagine our delight when we came upon Prada Marfa (Prada Marfa Video) , a permanent architectural art installation designed to resemble a Prada store. Complete with high design shoes and handbags, this small building/sculpture, literally in the middle of nowhere, served as an iconic marker of more to come thirty miles down the road. 

The Hotel Paisano (Hotel Paisano), which housed the cast and crew of the classic 1956 film Giant, starring Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean, was the perfect place to rest up for our venture into the world of Marfa. Opened in 1930, this restored Spanish  Revival gem captures an earlier time of a Texas community that was the center of the cattle business and social life of west Texas. With exquisitely detailed interiors, a stunning courtyard, open air balconies and an indoor swimming pool, it is the perfect base to enjoy the many bounties of this cool little out of the way place. The other hotel worthy of note is  the Thunderbird (Thunderbird Hotel Marfa). A minimalist renovation of a classic 50's motor hotel, it is another option for those that want to enjoy a different design approach for sleeping while in Marfa.

New York has MOMA (MOMA), LA has The Getty (J. Paul Getty Museum) and Paris The Louvre (The Louvre). The Chinati Foundation (Chinati) is Marfa's answer to the question: What in the world is there to do in Marfa, Texas? Established by visionary artist Donald Judd, the foundation officially opened to the public in 1986. Comprised of various buildings at locations in and around Marfa, the permanent and temporary collections are both provacative and powerful. Due to physical limitations, large works of art and sculpture are often compromised in museums. None of those limitations are in evidence here. Large outdoor sculpture, as well as works by Judd and other artists, are housed in converted  artillery sheds, older utilitarian buildings, houses and smaller galleries downtown, allowing the viewer to see the work as the artist originally intended. So plan on spending the day in this utterly facinating world where cow town meets modern art in one of the most unique environments you will ever experience.


Just like the art and architecture, Marfa offers unique eating choices. For dinner, we enjoyed oustanding Italian, with a Texas twist, at the intimate Maiya's (Maiya's). With stark, minimalist interiors of white walls, concrete bar tops and bright red light fixtures, it proved the perfect place for dining after a busy day of Marfa culture. After dinner, we drove out of town to view the Marfa Lights. These paranormal lights, visible from a viewing station on US 67 just outside of Marfa, have yet to be adequately explained. As we headed back to The Paisano, thinking about the days events - the Prada store/sculpture, the minimalist art in sheds and fields in this little corner of west Texas and, now, unexplained night lights - I started to see and hear Rod Serling everywhere!!

After a very peaceful sleep in our room overlooking the pool, we started the day at The Brown Recluse, a unique cafe serving Fench Press coffee (They roast their own beans on site) and amazing omelettes. The perfect start for more gallery hopping and then on to Cibilo. Unfortuantely, this very hip little eatery has since closed. As we headed out of Marfa to our final destination at Cibilo, we knew we had found one of those places that makes you realize that taking the road less traveled - You will always be better for it.

Check out this week's video artist Asleep At The Wheel. What better way to celebrate Texas than with the definitive western swing band in the tradition of Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys?

Travel Quote of The Day
When preparing for travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.  - Susan Heller

Happy Trails   DLS

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