In the past year and a half, I’ve traveled more than I ever have before. For the entirety of this past fall, I was taking weeklong trips to the East Coast every third week for work. Once I was home I’d need a week to recover, then the next week I was busy planning another trip. Consequently, I’ve been racking up frequent flier miles which has allowed me to go on some real vacations. I just got back from a wedding on Cape Cod a few days ago, but before that a couple friends and I went on a dream trip to Texas.
As the rain continued to pour down in Portland, we flew to Austin to work on our tans. We spent the first two days exclusively drinking coffee, eating tacos, laying around and occasionally getting into the water at Barton Springs, and then drinking micheladas at the bar at Hotel San Jose. If this alone was all we did it would have been a great vacation, but it was just the beginning of what turned out to be the best trip I’ve taken in recent years.
From Austin we drove to White Sands, NM, which is a place I’m not sure if I even knew about before we started planning this trip. When we were driving up, I was convinced that we’d pull up, look around, then go along our way. I don’t think any of us expected to be so blown away by White Sands. Huge rolling white dunes that seemingly go on forever. I’ve ridden a camel in the Sahara Desert, and that has nothing on this place.
The clouds were beautiful and intense, but we didn’t think much of it. We drove five or six hours down to Marfa, TX that evening, and the clouds followed us there.
We were driving south, just 50 or so miles from Marfa, in the middle of the desolate West Texas desert, and this was the view in my rearview mirror. At any point during the trip, if one of us wanted to stop the car and take photos, that’s what we’d do no questions asked.
We got to El Cosmico after dark and after the reception area closed, but were instructed to just go straight to our teepee and check in the next morning. We were so excited to be there, and to finally shower after running through sand dunes and camping the previous night. We settled in, exhausted, and quickly passed out. Those thunderclouds that we had seen all day caught up to us and we were awoken just after 1am to extremely loud claps of thunder, rain and hail pounding on the canvas walls of the teepee, the wooden poles that hold it up rattling in the wind, dirt and rain flying in the sides where the structure wasn’t sealed to the ground, and incredibly bright flashes of lightening. Christie’s and Sarah’s beds were more exposed to the rain and dirt, so they got in bed with me and we weathered the storm together in my bed with the covers completely over us. Of course we all had thoughts of the teepee collapsing or flying away, but we mostly just stayed quiet and let the storm pass. The next morning the girl at the reception desk told me that she was thinking about us all night, and how terrified she was for us. She was so sweet and said that we didn’t pay for that experience, and didn’t let us pay for that night.
We ate our way around the small town of Marfa. Food Shark was definitely our collective favorite. A month later I’m still craving the fattoush salad. My unexpected favorite thing I did there was tour the grounds of Donald Judd’s home and studios. I realize this isn’t what I was supposed to take away from the tour, but even just peering in the windows of his home left a lasting impression. I’ve never seen a house that I’ve wanted to live in more. No photos were allowed on the premises, but it looks like someone snuck a photo of the exterior.
Equally impressive was his library. His will stated that none of his thousands of books should be moved after his death, so in recent years an archivist photographed each shelf and cataloged his entire collection online. It was a massive project that took two years, but now you can type your zip code into the website and find the closest bookstore to you that sells a given book. Amazing.
I came home from this trip many shades darker (or redder?), and drunk on sun and friends. It’s taken this long to be able to articulate anything about this experience, because more than anything, it just feels like a sweet dream that I really can’t do justice with words.
*I almost forgot – I owe Michael M. Muller a big, public thanks for sending a list of recommendations for both Marfa and Austin at the very last minute. As our friend said, he’s the salt of the earth.
All photos were taken with my film camera.