Amy Quackenbush is even cooler than her name. The Seattle entrepreneur and owner of Adele Salon has travelled extensively around the world, mostly solo.
Her infectious spirit and fearless curiosity makes us want to squish into her suitcase and join her on her next adventure. Like her upcoming visit to a Bar W Guest ranch in Montana. Recently we sat down with Quackenbush to hear about her stay in Marfa, TX - a town that seems half cattle ranch, half fine arts school.
3 Days*: As a solo adventure queen, you're on the road a lot. What destinations have you hit this year, so far?
AQ: My measure of a year is from birthday to birthday. January first means nothing to me, except that it is the countdown to my spring trip, which is usually my longest. This "year" I've been to Peru, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, Holbox Island, Mexico, Vietnam, Cambodia, Marfa, Texas, Iceland and London. It's a random smattering of places, but they've all been on my bucket list for a while.... except London which is a repeat visit.
3 Days*: We are especially curious about Marfa. It is such an Instagram favorite, but is there more to explore than just the PRADA store? What were some highlights for you?
AQ: Definitely! There is so much more to Marfa than just Prada. The reason Prada smothers Instagram is that it's one of the only famous pieces of art that you can actually take a photo of. If you're looking for the Prada art installation, you'll actually find it about 26 miles outside of Marfa in a "town" (aka side of highway 90) in Valentine, Texas.
Let me share our itinerary with you... We arrived in town and briefly wondered what the heck we were going to do for 4 days. That concern quickly vanished as our long weekend unfolded and turned out to be full of learning, laughter, eating and drinking.
Day 1: Fly into El Paso and drive the 3 hours to Marfa. Stop by Prada on the way.
There are a couple of hotels in Marfa, with the incredibly hip St George and the El Cosmico topping the most popular list. The El Cosmico Hotel provides print outs that tell you all the opening times for the local eats and art installations. This is key in Marfa as any restaurant that isn't part of a hotel has random opening hours. You have to strategically plan where and when you want to eat.
We stayed at the St George but I wouldn't recommend it as the train runs by all night, and both service and hospitality were quite disappointing. Texans generally are very friendly people, but I can’t say the same about the St George Hotel staff. Next time I'd stay at the Thunderbird.
Day 2: Chinati Tour is the best crash course of the local art scene and only $25. Here you will find the most famous work of Donald Judd (the artist who put Marfa on the map), the art of Dan Flavin, and many pieces from John Chamberlin, among others.
The tour is 4-5 hours long, which might seem long at first but it goes quickly and leaves you wanting to explore more. When you break for lunch in-between, head to Food Shark for some grub.
After the tour, head back for a cocktail or two at your hotel (pool or bar) and regroup before your evening activities. Have dinner at Stellina. Our food was lovely and it's a cool place to see some familiar faces again whom you’ve probably crossed paths with throughout the day.
After dinner head toward Fort Davis and go to the Star Party at the McDonald Observatory. This is a 40-minute drive outside of Marfa, but the lack of light pollution allows for breathtaking views of the sky. You'll pass through a cute little town called Fort Davis before heading up the mountain for the observatory.
The star-gazing to come is really remarkable. In this part of the US the night sky is particularly dark without any real light pollution. Being a city kid, I love to get outside for some good night skies, yet I've never seen anything quite like this. Buy your tickets in advance, they can sell out.
Day 3: We decided to leave day 3 open to browse through town on foot by ourselves. First stop: brunch at Buns and Roses (no website and once you've been there you'll understand why). It's an old school diner that usually is packed. The donuts are amazing, cinnamon rolls worth every calorie, and the staff couldn’t be nicer. On our walk back from Buns and Roses (about 1.5 miles from the hotel) a car slowed down and asked if we wanted a ride back.
The weather was getting warm, and the couple in the car had been sitting at the table next to us. That's the kind of town Marfa is, visitors are friendly and you all have the common bond of being art fans. We declined the ride as we were trying to work off donut and cinnamon roll calories.
The town is very walkable in general and by foot is the best way to really see the cool buildings and feel the energy of Marfa. The streets are quiet even at their busiest of times. There are some cute shops: I bought a pair of leather boots at Cobra Rock as a souvenir and haven't taken them off since. Cobra Rock is a great shop for all kinds of handmade leather goods.
After a morning of roaming we all got massages at The Wells Spa..... decent, but not a must. Hindsight I would have hit the afternoon sun and happy hour at the St George pool for some serious Hipster spotting in a cool space.
Dinner options on a Sunday in Marfa are limited, but St George and Paisano Hotel are worth exploring. After dinner it's time to head back out of town about 7 miles and see the phenomenal Marfa Lights, also known as Marfa Ghost Lights that appear as mysteriously glowing orbs in the night sky. They sound hokey and I wasn't a believer until I saw it with my own eyes. Grab a 6-pack and sit on the side of the road to take it all in.
Day 4: The Donald Judd Blocks Tour is 2 hours long and is a personal tour of Judds living space, and studios. Afterward you can stock up on road trip snacks at Get Go Grocery and hit the road back to El Paso for a flight home.
3 Days*: Thank you so much for these perfect Marfa tips. We’d love to nip your itinerary and exchange stories. And once you’re back from the Dude Ranch we’d love to hear about that adventure as well. I (Kirstin) am still trying to join you on that adventure.