El Cosmico, Marfa, Texas
Will Ross, December 13, 2017
Slip off the Interstate 10 freeway at the tiny town of Van Horn, Texas and start hurtling down south and you’ll soon start to feel like you’re departing from civilisation entirely. Continue toward the Mexico-US border and you’ll see that a 73-mile slab of tarmac actually ropes the tiny art town of Marfa into the motorist’s South-West road map.
Set within the broad West Texas landscape, Marfa has become renowned in the art world since the New York-based Donald Judd started moving his collection there from the 1970’s. Now an iconic Prada building stands alone at the midpoint of the most popular route into town, serving as a welcome arrow to the alternative interpretation of Texan isolationism. Film makers have joined in too – the Coen brothers spotted the town’s architectural layout in the 2000’s, using it as a set for No Country for Old Men (2007).
Judd’s enterprising move has since been followed by the slow drip of quality hotels, developed to cater for the some 40,000 tourists who now make the pilgrimage to Marfa each year. El Cosmico is one effort from Austin-based hoteliers, planting a spacious footprint of tents, Sioux-style tepees and aero streams across 21 acres within a six-minute walk of Marfa’s main crossroad.
I spent two nights in the wonderful walled safari tents, arriving on the stroke of midnight to crisp sheets after celebrating Halloween in Tucson, Arizona. Grappling with an odd two-hour time difference, the durable canvas walls were grounding, standing on top of a wooden platform foundation along with a dozen or so others.
With cloud-like bedding, a narrow sideboard and bench at the foot of the queen bed, the tents have the essential amenities needed for a cosy stay at nearly 1500m above sea level. Tents are hooked up to electricity with a pair of bedside lamps just bright enough to keep the 120 square-feet of living space in ambient light.
Without doubt the most enjoyable aspect of living partially outside at El Cosmico is the outdoor bathing units. Essentially constructed from upturned and enlarged fruit crates, one unit is wrapped in vines, providing enough privacy for shower units and a cast iron bath. Dr. Bronner’s 4-in-1 organic soap is fixed within each unit, covering you with a peppermint blast to waken the senses.
Marfa’s art, food and drink is almost entirely walkable, subject to the pressing Texan heat. Stellina was a dinner highlight, and Do Your Thing is the place for coffee and the remarkable Jerusalem toast. Art attractions are numerous, but from an outdoors perspective, the 2km loop of Donald Judd’s 15 untitled works in concrete is a necessity.
As thrilling as it might be to try to run to the Prada building or indeed to other art attractions on the way to Alpine, these roads are treacherous for pedestrians. For road running, you’re best off taking the 2810 south-west of the city where you can enjoy broad Texan sky with fewer headlights. The track at Marfa High School is concrete so not super but sufficient, and Marfa City Pool pool is open and heated during the summer. Ironheart Gym is available for weights sessions, open from 6:30am each day of the week aside from Sunday and Monday.
Wander over to elcosmico.com for events and bookings.