A West Texas Adventure From a Couple Who Love It So Much They’re Getting Married There
Welcome to Design Detours, a series where creative people whose tastes we trust share their well-curated, design-minded travel itineraries.
Washington, D.C.–based designer Lincoln Mondy and his now fiancé, writer and artist Amirio Freeman, first visited Marfa in March 2020, just as the nationwide pandemic shutdowns were starting to take hold. The two originally traveled to Austin for SXSW, but decided to reroute to the West Texas town when they learned the festival had been canceled upon landing. "We listened to increasingly alarming reports about Covid," Mondy says. "When we got to Marfa, most businesses had closed." Still, Mondy says the trip was "foundational" for the pair’s relationship: "Marfa holds a special place in our heart."
The town’s size provided a comforting familiarity for Mondy and Freeman. "We’re both from small towns intimately tied to the land: me from Farmersville, Texas; Amirio, from Hampton Roads, Virginia, by way of McCormick, South Carolina," Mondy says. "Marfa’s feeling of and connection to slowness is why we’re choosing to get married there."
Earlier this year, the couple returned to Marfa in search of a wedding venue for their upcoming nuptials, this time flying into the closest city with a commercial airport: El Paso. During their trip, the duo also carved out plenty of time for eating, hiking, and cultural visits in the area. Here, Mondy and Freeman share some highlights from their West Texas adventure, including stops at Donald Judd’s contemporary art museum and a desert ghost town.
Day 1: Touch down in El Paso and explore before driving to Marfa
We arrived in El Paso late at night and checked into The Plaza at Pioneer Park. We came across the hotel in a Texas Monthly piece celebrating El Paso’s downtown hotel renaissance and fell in love with its Art Deco style. The Plaza’s reopening honors the hotel’s early form with a unique blend of Western, Native, and Mexican design. The rooftop bar has views of the surrounding Franklin Mountains. To our surprise, during our welcome tour, we learned that Elizabeth Taylor and Conrad Hilton lived in the hotel’s penthouse in the 1950s when it was a Hilton property. Taylor was filming the 1956 blockbuster Giant alongside James Dean and Rock Hudson in Marfa. The history felt like a great omen to start our trip with.
After a Tex-Mex breakfast at the hotel restaurant Ámbar, we set out to the El Paso Museum of Art, which houses a permanent collection of American, European, and Mexican art, as well as special exhibitions. (It’s also within walking distance of the hotel, which was great, as we only had a half day in El Paso.) A major highlight was the There Is a Woman in Every Color: Black Women in Art exhibition, which examined the representation of Black women in art over the last two centuries.
After the museum, we checked out of the hotel and went to pick up our rental car before heading to Lucy’s, which was recommended to us by a woman we met at a bar in D.C. one night. (We were skeptical at first, but a quick Google search confirmed we couldn’t leave town without stopping by.) We sat at a booth where a picture of the original café, which opened in the 1970s, hung above us. We ordered the Tacos Antonia and were surprised by a complementary soup that was warm and delicious. The tortillas were crispy and salty, and the meat tasted like it had been marinating for days. We were silent for almost the entire meal.
Then, we began our three-hour drive to Marfa. It’s a straight road, save for a few turns and exits, through the expansive desert landscape that can sometimes feel like Mars. We knew we were near when we saw Prada Marfa, a permanent installation roughly 30 miles from Marfa that popped up on the roadside in 2005.
After a quick stop, we continued toward Marfa and checked in at Thunderbird Inn. We raced to dinner at The Water Stop down the street, which felt like a mix of a beachside shack and antique shop. We washed down the house cheeseburger with a prickly pear Ranch Water and called it a night.
Day 2: Grab a coffee and explore a nearby ghost town before hiking in Big Bend National Park
We rolled out of our room and walked briefly along a dirt path behind our hotel to reach The Sentinel, a coffee shop, bar, restaurant, and venue that hosts community events (like an ABBA disco in support of abortion funds) and is home to the namesake local newspaper, founded in 1926. Inside, there’s a range of art, books, textiles, and homemade goods. We got coffee and tea and checked out the outdoor space for a potential option for arrival drinks for our wedding.
We stopped to take photos of the quirky, colorful houses across from The Sentinel and stumbled upon Marfa Mood, a small mercantile in the backyard of a house. We struck up a conversation with the owner, Deidrea ("Deidrea, as in Weird-ra," she told us) and got some town gossip in addition to a ceramic cone holder she made in the shop.
A two-hour drive from Marfa, right before the entrance to Big Bend National Park, Terlingua is a ghost town that’s not actually incorporated, meaning it exists in some kind of no-man’s-land on the map. The once-booming mining town features the original Starlight Theater, trading post, and cemetery. There are also various lodgings and junkyard art scattered across the landscape. Eventually, the smell of Texas barbecue led us to DB’s Rustic Iron BBQ. We shared a two-meat platter with ribs and brisket—sizzling, tender, and with a dry rub that offered both sweet and spicy notes. We ate it in an open carport, feeling the breeze and listening to country music.
After walking off lunch and perusing more shops, we got back in the car to enter Big Bend National Park. We opted to explore the Upper Burro Mesa Pouroff Trail that took us through a narrow canyon with boulders, sandy washes, and caverns formed by the Rio Grande. The two-hour hike was breathtaking. After, completely zapped by the sun, we drove back to Marfa at sunset and stopped by a Sonic drive-thru in the nearby town of Alpine. We were too exhausted to be ashamed.
Day 3: Spend the day shopping at Marfa’s markets and perusing local galleries and wine shops
We decided to wander around Marfa on Saturday, as most shops and stores are closed on Monday and Tuesday. We knew the Spring Hubbub market was happening down the street from our hotel, featuring local makers, music, and food. It seemed like the perfect starting point for a day around the town. We stopped by Big Sandy Coffee, a 1956 Spartan trailer turned café at the event, and got a cold brew with oat milk and a homemade cinnamon-chocolate pop tart by chef Hannah Delagi. I bought a Big Sandy shirt and Amirio took home a handmade mug by local ceramicist Colin Waters.
The first store we popped into was inside the Hotel Saint George, a 2016 boutique hotel built on the footprint of the 1880s property of the same name (and the potential site of our wedding). The hotel gift shop has a beautifully curated selection of art books and local wares. I picked up the photography book The New Black West and Amirio purchased Party Studies: Home Gatherings, Flat Events, Festive Pedagogy and Refiguring the Hangover.
Next, we popped into the contemporary art gallery Ballroom Marfa and viewed a solo exhibition by Kenneth Tam, as well as another exhibit, Ecstatic Land. After getting our art fix, we headed to The Marfa Store, where I picked up The Giant Tote from Marfa for a friend. On our way to the center of town, we passed by government buildings that look like they’re from a Wes Anderson film, including the pink Marfa Central Fire Station. We stopped in a shop by skincare brand Mira Marfa, and a tiny bookstore called Stop and Read.
Ready to sit down for some light bites and drinks, we stopped at Marfa Wine Co. for a glass of rosé. We sat in the courtyard underneath an old mill and chatted with some locals. I then remembered a free wine talk I’d seen on Instagram, so we headed to Alta Marfa, where we were greeted with a small crowd chatting around free wine. They weren’t all strangers: with such a small town, you start seeing the same characters. The owners, Ricky and Katie, shared their journey of starting a vineyard in Far West Texas.
Someone we saw selling jewelry at the Hubbub earlier in the day invited us to a shop-closing party down the street; we were promised free booze and a nice vibe. We said yes and followed her to Shop Freda. We poured ourselves mezcal and ate charcuterie while making friends. I purchased a ceramic pourer with hand-painted flowers.
We walked toward the center of the small town square and saw a lime-green neon sign in cursive handwriting. As we got closer, we heard the sounds of shuffling plates and loud conversations. We walked into Margaret’s and pulled up at the U-shaped counter. We ordered the roasted cauliflower and cheese toast with burrata, fresh tomatoes, and balsamic, and finished with spaghetti bolognese.
Day 4: Head to the Chinati Foundation and stop by an Italian deli
After picking up an iced horchata latte, herbal tea, cinnamon toast, and avocado toast at Do Your Thing specialty coffee shop, we spent most of the day at the Chinati Foundation, the art compound founded by Donald Judd in 1979 on the site of a former military fort. Next, we decided to get a bite at Bordo, a small house-shop on the side of the road that has an Italian deli with a slew of imported goods you can’t find anywhere else in the area and a gelato bar. The main dining area has a green-and-orange tiled counter where owners Hannah and Michael serve homemade pasta, bread, and gelato. We ordered a side of patatas bravas and nibbled on the patio. After, we decided to spend the rest of the day sitting poolside at Thunderbird, reading our new books in between naps in the sun.
Day 5: Sample a buzzed-about Marfa burrito
We woke up hungry, and to our delight, the famous Marfa Burrito was open. The small, no-frills food spot is attached to a family house and has been visited by the likes of Anthony Bourdian and Matthew McConaughey. We got one egg-and-cheese burrito, and one with chorizo. We ended up scheduling our wedding venue meetings and tours all on this same day.
Day 6 : Admire native flora and fauna at the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute
On our last day before making the drive back to El Paso, we visited the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute as our final wedding-planning excursion. We want our wedding to be reflective of the region, so learning about the native plants and wildlife seemed to be the perfect creative inspiration. We spent most of the time taking photos of the institute’s cacti collection for color palette inspiration.
We stopped in neighboring Alpine to get coffee from Cedar Coffee & Supply and check out the selection at Front Street Books. Then, we packed up the car and set out toward El Paso, full from the people, food, and natural wonders we were able to witness on the trip, and excited to welcome our family and friends here for our wedding.
Top photos courtesy of Lincoln Mondy and Amirio Freeman.
More Design Detours:
Ruth De Jong’s Weekend of Art Installations and Outdoor Adventures in the Berkshires
AphroChic Founders Bryan Mason and Jeanine Hays’s Quick, Crafty Trip to Marrakech, Morocco
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