***This is our first in a series of immersive articles. Each article incorporates photo and text, but also utilizes music and video to truly transport you to a place. We are in beta, so there are a few kinks. You'll need a Spotify account and app (if you don't already have one - sign up at Spotify for free). Watch the video at the beginning of this article, then hit PLAY at the Spotify playlist to listen to the curated music as you read. We hope you enjoy this experience designed entirely by Alexis Stember Coulter .
LAND BEFORE TIME
DRIVING THROUGH AMERICA'S SOUTHWEST
Video, music curation, words and photographs by: Alexis Stember Coulter
My husband Dylan and I have a little girl who is 17 months old. Every day is so full, both of love and of chaos, that it’s hard to remember a time before she came. But there was such a time and that time for us was largely filled with travel.
Dylan being a photographer and me a producer, our jobs had always required travel but for us, travel was more than that. It was a passion that bonded us from the very start. In our first three years together, we’d visited Maine, Morocco, California, France, Italy, Iowa and New Mexico...
Each place we visited had a special appeal but New Mexico had stunned us. It was visually rich in a way I personally had never seen with a landscape that pierced the eyes and haunted the soul. It was off the radar, bountiful in history, generally affordable and close to home as in, it was part of America.
We suddenly found ourselves bookmarking webpages on small New Mexican towns and modern prefab homes. We fantasized about buying a large piece of land and building a remote house with floor to ceiling windows framing a view out onto eternity. If New Mexico was so magical, we asked ourselves, what was the area surrounding it like?
Before I was too pregnant to board planes or venture father than a short commute to the hospital, we embarked on one last adventure, popularly known as a babymoon. This is my loose collection of thoughts and memories from the week we spent driving through America’s southwest.
I’d charted an extensive itinerary for our trip and planned our days down to the minute. We headed towards a small outpost in southwest Texas made famous by minimalist artist Donald Judd. A former army base and training facility for pilots during WWII, the land was bought by Judd in 1976 as an "anti museum" to create large open air art installations. The infamous PRADA store in the middle of the desert is a permanent installation here.
In my mind, Marfa had been the Tulum of the southwest, populated by fancy people with an art twist. I’d seen articles like “Celebrity Travel: The 10 Coolest Things to See in Marfa, TX” and approached the town with a certain amount of trepidation, picturing something modestly sized, modestly developed and modestly obnoxious. The reality of Marfa was entirely different.
It was cold, dusty and above all, incredibly small. With just one stoplight in the entire town, it felt true to its 1883 heritage as a remote water stop for passing trains. I’d imagined we’d have to search for our hotel when we arrived, the same hotel where James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor stayed during the filming of the 1956 epic western drama Giant (a local claim to fame). No search was required. It was right there, on one of the few blocks of establishments to speak of.
The unassuming nature and true isolation of this town was vastly counter to my expectations and I loved it for its rugged humility and wandering soul. It was easy to understand how a pioneering, antisocial artist like Donald Judd could have arrived and decided to call this place home.
The drive from Marfa to White Sands National Monument in New Mexico was manageable. The open horizon stretched out for miles as we continued down the desolate and empty road. Mexico became easily visible and we passed a daunting reminder of its proximity on the side of the highway: a grounded US Customs and Boarder Protection aerostat radar system that looks like a blimp, keeping an eye on the territory where the US and Mexico meet.
There was little else to speak of on this long flat stretch as we headed toward New Mexico. It was harsh and dry and beautiful and impossible to imagine that not far over over the state line, we would soon find ourselves swimming through an ocean of white sand.
Stayed: Hotel Paisano.
Saw: La Mansana de Chinati/The Block and The Studios.
Ate: Do Your Thing Coffee for breakfast, Marfa Burrito for lunch and Stellina for dinner.
Alexis Stember Coulter is a mother, producer, photographer and writer. She is currently working on a book detailing her 15 years living in New York. She now lives in Los Angeles with her husband Dylan, daughter Ella and their coterie of family in southern and central California. You can follow her on IG (Trust me - it is fantastic) @alexisstembercoulter