Marfa, TX: Getting lost in the desert with Jill Bradshaw
FROM THE ARCHIVES
Originally published January 2012
Jill Bradshaw is the Trend Director at Stylesight, singer and bassist in the Brooklyn-based band Open Ocean, and all around world traveler. Jill spent this past New Years Eve in the magical land of Marfa, TX with a few stops in the desert along the way.
Here’s her recap of what to check out if you go, and she even put together a rock-heavy list of tunes for your trip at the end of this article.
Words and photos by Jill Bradshaw
I spent four years of my college life in Austin, TX and Marfa was never on my radar, though it was there, brewing with potential and creativity. I started hearing about Marfa about four years ago through a friend of a friend who had moved there. I didn’t know much about it, but it always intrigued me.
Cut to last September when I was frantically trying to make sure I did NOT stay in New York for New Years. Thankfully one of my best buds Jess Rotter (aka artist extraordinaire, lover of all things magical and 70s, and best friend to said friend in Marfa), was down for a journey. And it went a little something like this….
El Paso is the nearest major airport. The bad part about El Paso is that you are an arm’s length to JUAREZ. The good part about El Paso is making a pit stop at the El Paso Saddleblanket store. If you are like Jess and I, you will walk in with wide eyes and jaws dropped, wondering where to start and what to do with yourself. Two hours later I left with a white turquoise ring for $60, a large cochina doll, and some presents for friends. Jess made out with some sweet table runners and a large blanket. If you build up an appetite be sure to hit up Pho Tre Bien just up the road for some delicious Vietnamese food.
El Paso is quite close to a desert treasure–White Sands. Grab your rental car, set your dial to 105.1 and listen to one of the best radio stations around with rock jams from the 70s and 80s while you drive up the road into New Mexico. (Don’t do what we did which was drive through the military base by accident.) Get to White Sands before the sunset so you can explore, but be sure to stay to watch the sun go down. It was one of the most calming and beautiful experiences of my life. After taking about 100 photographs, videos and Polaroids, my fingers were about to fall off, so we said goodbye as we continued our journey back into the heart of Texas. Somewhere along the road we were transferred into another dimension filled with beautiful scenery, colorful characters, and infinite possibilities.
The beauty of Marfa is letting go and letting things find you, but we were lucky to have the lovely and amazing Susannah Lipsey, who moved to Marfa four years ago, as our guide for the week. There’s also something to be said about running into Larry Clark at the local juice bar, or the local poet with a white Dutch boy haircut hits on you at the Get Go while you buy your organic groceries.
So in no particular order, here is a list of some of my favorite things I did while I was there.
FOOD: The food there is AMAZING. Our first dinner was at the Miniature Rooster, which was a mix of southern comfort food and Indian food. I loved every minute of it. Order one of everything. Second dinner was at Cochineal. Ce magnifique! Great ambiance, great wine, great food. I had the salmon and Jess had the duck which were both equally delicious. For dessert, order the date pudding, you won’t be disappointed. Third dinner, NYE dinner, was at Maiya’s which capped our dinners off with a mix of Italian and rustic cuisine. I didn’t have one bad meal in this town. Oh and let’s not forget FOOD SHARK. Only open during the day Tuesday thru Friday, this food truck sets up shop with goodies such as the Marfalafel, some pulled pork goodness I scarfed down, and even Mexican coke. They also own the grilled cheese place, but I never made it there. I also didn’t make it to the Pizza Foundation, which is supposed to be quite good. Basically, you can’t go wrong in this town.
SIDE TRIP: If you have some extra time I would recommend taking a side trip over to the Chinati Hot Springs. It was a little bit of a drive and being that it was winter when we went, the tub could have been a bit warmer. But alas we still stayed for an hour, bathing in the lukewarm lithium water, on a gorgeous day with 65 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. You can stay overnight however we just decided to do a day trip. We also decided to do something maybe a little bit stupid, but also a little bit awesome. We took the dirt road back to Marfa instead of the paved road. If you’re driving a Nissan Sentra this might not be a good idea. We drove 10 miles per hour over a rocky 10-mile drive that took us an hour but was one of the most beautiful drives of my life. If you can muster it in your rental car, or if you’re there with four-wheel drive, I say DO IT.
DONALD JUDD DONALD JUDD DONALD JUDD: With our tight schedule, Jess and I were only able to make it to the short tour of his works but it was soooooooo great, and one of the best things to see here. I love a good mixture of modern and rustic together and there’s a reason Mr. Judd was drawn to the desert. It is the perfect landscape to view his work. I will definitely be hitting up the Chinati Foundation some more the next time I go. I want to tour his home next time too…I hear it’s amazing!!
THE ROCK SHOP: ROCKS! Never did I think I would spend an hour in there and leave with $100 of rocks, but I did. I felt a strong connection to my grandmother who lives in 29 Palms, California when I walked into Moonlight Gemstones. Since 1989, this store has been selling some beautiful agates and pyrites and other mystic gems and I am now obsessed. Jess and I decided to buy geodes, which we broke on New Years Day. Each taking one half and leaving the other half behind as a token of our appreciation for our stay with Susannah and Alex.
BARS: As for bars, Padre’s was great. We went there a couple of times. One of the nights was hosted by a cover band featuring members over the age of 45 playing jams from Jimi Hendrix to Jimmy Buffett. This place had a fantastic mix of cowboys, Mexicans, locals, and hipster tourists (like ourselves…?) that kept me entertained for a few hours. Lost Horse is another bar in the area that we went to on New Years Eve. I remember being outside with a lot of people and really enjoying myself. Sadly the bar closed at 1 and we had to end our experience there early. Ce la vie. Next time. Hotel Paisano is also a great spot to drink during the day, during the evening, whenever. Damn good bloody mary, too.
LODGING: I was lucky in that I got to stay with locals while I was there (the houses there are quite beautiful), but there are some great spots to check out as well. If you’re up for camping in a tent, yurt, or Airstream trailer, then El Cosmico is for you. I would totally want to do this next time, just maybe not when it’s 30 degrees at night. Thunderbird also looked cute, though this is just based on a visual view of the outside. Also, for some authentic flair, stay at Hotel Paisano, home to where they filmed Giant.
Am I missing anything?? Oh yeah, check to see if there’s anything happening at the Ballroom. We were fortunate to be there for a special screening of Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid set to a live score by a musician from…wait for it…New York. Besides the dude in front of me who felt like narrating the movie out loud, it was quite enjoyable. They seem to be doing a lot of good events in the town so definitely hit up their site.
And look out for Miss Susannah Lipsey…she is opening up her very own boutique in Marfa and it will be a MUST-STOP spot filled with goodies from all over.
I didn’t see any Marfa lights while I was there, nor have our friends who have lived there for years, but I definitely enjoyed my journey. The best thing to do is walk around, immerse yourself in the town, and see what happens. Meet some locals. They are all amazing. And you will find yourself in the desert if you let it; it has mystical powers. The sunsets are to die for and the air makes you feel like you were just born anew. I could see myself not only visiting this small town again, but possibly relocating my whole life there. It’s that kind of town. Yes, it’s in the middle of nowhere, but it is a tiny microcosm of the most creative and inspiring energy that you won’t find anywhere else.
1. James Gang - Collage
2. Savoy Brown - Stay While the Night is Young
3. The Kinks - Strangers
4. Pink Floyd - Fearless
5. Grateful Dead - Shakedown Street
6. Richard & Linda Thompson - I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight
7. Neil Young - Everybody Knows This is Nowhere
8. Karen Dalton - Something on Your Mind
9. Findlay Brown - Teardrops in the Rain
10. Philamore Lincoln - The North Wind Blew South
11. Led Zeppelin - Down By The Seaside
12. Lee Hazlewood - Your Thunder and Your Lightening
13. Bill Fay - Maximes Parlour
14. George Harrison - I’d Have You Anytime