Marfa, Texas: A Masterpiece in the Middle of Nowhere

Drawn to its remote location, classic Western landscape and inspiring art scene, HGTV Dream Home designer Brian Patrick Flynn and his squad explore the West Texas town of Marfa earlier this year.

May 27, 2020

Photo By: Rustic White Interiors

Photo By: Rustic White Interiors

Photo By: Rustic White Interiors

Photo By: Rustic White Interiors

Photo By: Rustic White Interiors

Photo By: Rustic White Interiors

Photo By: Rustic White Interiors

Photo By: Rustic White Interiors

Photo By: Rustic White Interiors

Photo By: Rustic White Interiors

Photo By: Rustic White Interiors

Photo By: Rustic White Interiors

Photo By: Rustic White Interiors

Photo By: Rustic White Interiors

Like Nowhere Else in the Middle of Nowhere

More than a decade ago, I read about an unexpected and logistically complex art installation in a place called Marfa, Texas: a free-standing real-life replica of a luxury brand storefront literally in the middle of nowhere ... as in, the nearest city was almost four hours away. Over the years, I'd research what a trip to Marfa would entail, but then I'd give up when I realized it requires a three-hour flight (to El Paso) on top of a three-and-a-half-hour drive with nowhere to stop in between. And then every few months I'd get the itch to go to Marfa all over again. Now that I've been there, I can't wait to get back.

A Giant Work of Art

Roughly one half hour before reaching Marfa, you'll pass through the West Texas town of Valentine where artist John Cerney's "Giant Marfa" installation pays homage to the 1956 Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean film "Giant" which was filmed in the same exact spot. Travel tip: Be sure to look out for it on your left as you're headed in from El Paso. It's surprisingly easy to miss when you're zipping down the highway facing the camouflaged backsides of the structures, but once you pull over and see it all from the front, its grandeur stops you in your tracks.

Hollywood Facade

As you step out of your vehicle, you'll find yourself drawn to classic 1950s music blaring from hidden speakers just beyond the fence. Look more closely and you'll discover that artist John Cerney created these seemingly ornate structures by simply using basic plywood, including the mansion facade, a director in a director's chair and a grip handling lighting equipment.

Little Reata

Just a short distance from "Giant Marfa" is the iconic Little Reata signage seen in the Academy Award winning film. Little Reata is the name of the ranch owned by James Dean's character in "Giant," Jett Rink.

Prada Marfa

The most popular thing to see and photograph in the area is Elmgreen & Dragset's permanent art installation Prada Marfa (it's actually located in Valentine, TX, not Marfa). Although it's life-size in stature, it's not a functioning store by any means, and there's absolutely no access inside. If you're excited to take photos standing in front of it, keep in mind you're most likely not the going to be the only one. Within a single minute of pulling up to Prada Marfa, four more cars packed with excited tourists pulled in right behind us with smartphones and social media live streams blazing.

Across from Prada Marfa

If you encounter a large number of tourists eager to take pictures of Prada Marfa, know that the train tracks across the highway offer stunningly beautiful backdrops to take portraits for social media while you wait. As a dozen people stepped up their own selfie games in front of the structure, we trekked safely across the street and used the time to make the most of the West Texas sunset.

Picture Perfect Prada Marfa

After waiting it out for 15 minutes, we got our highly desirable travel shot featuring the four of us in front of Prada Marfa. The best way to capture the grandeur of this iconic spot is to set up a tripod across the street set way back from the road, then set a timer to take multiple images back to back. Negative space around the sides and above the structure help convey the vast openness, solitude and calm that epitomizes Marfa.

Buildings in Disrepair

Part of the unique Marfa experience is taking in all of the old buildings in disrepair along the way in from Valentine. Marfa was established in 1881 as a water stop to service the railroad and many of its original structures are still standing. Over the years, many roadside buildings were abandoned and have started to deteriorate, adding a ghost town vibe that's equal parts eerie and beautiful.

Marfa Water Tower

One of the main points of interest downtown is the Marfa Water Tower. Located at 125 E. Washington Street, it doubles as a great navigational tool for making your way around by foot.

Bus Book Store

Architecture in Marfa runs the gamut from custom built modern homes to quirky repurposed structures unlike anything you've ever see. Case in point: this bus-turned-sci-fi-bookstore known as Spurgin Stationers.

Monty Welt Mural

With its slower pace of life, tourists have plenty of time to walk around the town of Marfa and take in all of its artistic wonders. This mural is the work of artist Monty Welt.

Godbold Feed Company

Godbold Feed Company sits on the south south of Marfa and was previously used for the grocery distribution. It's currently in the process of being redeveloped as a distillery.

Fuel Storage Depot Exhibition Space

Small business owners in Marfa constantly reimagine old structures for new uses. Pure Joy Marfa is an art-project space founded by artist Meghan Gerety. Used for art exhibitions and also housing a small store, this location was originally build solely for fuel storage.

Food and Tattoos

With unlimited creativity, pretty much anything goes in Marfa. This vibrant storefront not only houses a place to enjoy food and drink outside in the sun, but it's also a place where you can get a tattoo.

Truckland

Right smack in the middle of town you'll find Truckland, a non-residential open space rented out for almost anything including food trucks, art installations, film premieres, temporary galleries and markets.

El Paisano Hotel

Opened in 1930, Marfa's El Paisano Hotel was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. In addition to being one of the most architecturally significant buildings in town, it also housed the cast and crew of the 1956 movie "Giant" during its six weeks of production.

The Palace Theater

One of the most photogenic and vintage architectural works in downtown Marfa is The Palace Theater. Built in 1905 as an opera house, it was given a facelift in the 1930s with art deco style and has been closed since 1970.

Nowhere But Here

Throughout downtown Marfa, tourists will find that many of the old signage is still intact and constantly updated with phrases and slogans which make for excellent social media moments.

Wrong Store

One of the most visited boutiques in Marfa for one-of-a-kind finds is Wrong Store. Relocated in 2019 to 110 N. Highland, step inside to discover hot pink floors, folk art, large format photography, handmade pottery and a kaleidoscope of color.

Artful Exteriors

With a population largely made up of artists, the exteriors of Marfa homes definitely take risks that pay off visually. Similar to the hot pink seen on the floors of Wrong Store, this ranch house near downtown Marfa is painted in a bold shade of hot pink.

Chinati Foundation

The Chinati Foundation was named after the Chinati mountains which sit nearby to downtown Marfa. It sits on an abandoned army base which artist Donald Judd starting to purchase in the late 1970s. Now, most of the old dilapidated buildings have been reworked to accommodate permanent art installations and temporary exhibits.

15 Untitled Works in Concrete

Between 1980 and 1984, iconic artist Donald Judd completed 15 concrete structures which were cast and assembled on site. These run along the border of what's known as the Chinati Foundation.

Chihuahuan Desert

Donald Judd's concrete works offer a rigid juxtaposition against the free-flowing grasses of the Chihuahuan Desert.

Presidio County Courthouse

Located at 300 Highland Street, the Presidio County Courthouse is likely to be what many people refer to as "the big pink building in Marfa." Known for its Italianite architecture, it was built in 1886 by architect Alfred Giles.

Lone Star Marquee

Known for its white exterior and adobe construction, the Lone Star Marquee building in downtown Marfa is located in close proximity to the Chinati Foundation headquarters in town and Wrong Store.

Texas Train Tracks

If you're looking for industrial spots to take amazing middle-of-nowhere photos in Marfa, know that train tracks run directly through the center of town, so you'll have plenty of photo opps packed with texture and machine age charm.

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