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Mr Tom Ford’s West Texas

We explore the far-flung corner of the designer’s home state – the setting of his new film, Nocturnal Animals

  • Terlingua, Texas. Photograph by Mr Chris Parker/Getty Images

In Nocturnal Animals, Mr Tom Ford’s second foray into cinema, a toast-of-Los Angeles gallerist played by Ms Amy Adams receives a manuscript from her novelist ex. His story of a serial killer, and a bereft husband’s quest for retribution following his family’s rape and murder, consumes and distracts her in equal measure, just as her own marriage is crumbling.

The setting for this harrowing fiction-within-a-film is Texas – specifically the state’s wild western corner, 800 miles of empty interstate from Austin, the designer’s hometown. But the Chihuahuan Desert – as big as Texas itself – has a lot more to offer than arid wastes and thirsty plains: there are canyons and rivers, ghost towns and art enclaves, not to mention a jaw-droppingly cinematic setting. MR PORTER takes a road trip.

Big Bend National Park

  • Photograph by Mr Witold Skrypczak/Getty Images

Spanning the elbow of Texas’ southern frontier that juts into Mexico, the eponymous bend is formed by the Rio Grande as it winds around an obstinate headland. It’s part of a natural border between the two countries that stretches for 1,000 miles – 120 of which make up the park’s southern flank. Great for hiking, cycling and horse-riding, the park is also home to roadrunners, coyotes, tarantulas and mountain lions. For a period in the 19th century, the park belonged to Mexico until the ranchers moved south and began to settle on the shores of the river. The Lost Mine Trail one-day hike can be done with or without a guide. Hiking trips can be booked here.

Where to stay: the park has some very basic overnight accommodation and restaurants, but The Gage Hotel in Marathon is a safer bet.

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Terlingua

  • Photograph by Ms Susanne Kremer/4Corners

You can spot Terlingua by a derelict old mansion that haunts the horizon, and the rusting machinery that harks back to its glory days as one of the state’s most prosperous mercury mining towns. The town is home to around 50 artists and hippies, many of whom bolted the big city in search of a slower pace of life. They live in stone houses built for the miners. It is the kind of town where you can leave your front door open and expect to arrive home to your neighbour sitting on your porch petting your dogs. By night, everything happens at the old cinema, now the Starlight Theatre restaurant, which serves up Tex Mex classics, such as pork medallions with chipotle sauce, while local singer-songwriters warble their latest ballads.

Where to stay: Candelilla House is one such stone cottage with regulation porch and an open fire.

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Chisos Mountains

  • Photograph by Ms Marina Lister

This mountain range, which sits within the Big Bend National Park, is best seen from above. Five minutes from Terlingua there is a corrugated iron hangar where you will find Mr Marcos Paredes, a former park ranger, and his five-seater Cessna. From here, you soar along the course of the Rio Grande, crossing into Mexican airspace, taking in the big bend of the river before forking left towards the range’s highest mountain, Emory Peak (2,400m). The name for Chisos is thought to come from a Native American word for “ghost” – the mountains were once home to a nomadic tribe who were driven out by the Apaches and Comanches some 200 years ago. The huge seams of cinnabar (from which mercury is extracted) were used by the Native Americans to make red body paint.

Marfa

  • Photograph by Mr Joerg Buschmann/SIME/4Corners

With its picture-postcard water tower and fire station, this town has three hard-to-believe claims to fame. First, it is home to the Marfa lights – a cosmic phenomenon not unlike the aurora borealis or an optical illusion depending on who you ask. Second, it boasts the world’s first fake Prada store. An installation piece on its outskirts created by Scandinavian artists Elmgreen & Dragset, who set up shop (but never actually opened it) in 2005. Third, despite having only 2,000 hipsterish residents and being 200 miles from the nearest major airport (the local airstrip doesn’t really count), it has a cultural scene to rival a small city. Visitors flock here for the film festival in July, to gawp at the stars from the observatory and feast their eyes on Mr Donald Judd’s large-scale concrete cubes and 100 aluminium prisms. A tour of Mr Judd’s Chinati Foundation gallery, his carefully preserved home and studios is a must, as is the Mr Dan Flavin installation of fluorescent lights.

Where to stay: at El Cosmico you can laze in a hammock, soak under the stars (and “lights”) in a wood-fired hot tub and sleep in an aluminium trailer.

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Santa Elena Canyon

  • Photograph by Mr Witold Skrypczak/Getty Images

The best way to enter the Santa Elena Canyon is via the Rio Grande, which runs through it. But only when the river is sufficiently high (the autumn months offer the best chance of this). Don’t expect the raging rapids of Yosemite, however – this trip is more scenic than hair-raising, and you can even jump out and float along certain stretches of the 21-mile course. With 26 million years of history mapped out in the limestone rock face, and vultures and red-tailed hawks soaring above the sheer cliffs, it’s a geography field trip and biology lesson all in one.

Contrabando

  • Photograph by Ms Marina Lister

This abandoned film set has been used in numerous Westerns, including the 1989 miniseries Lonesome Dove, based on the Mr Larry McMurtry novel of the same name, which starred Messers Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones. It sits inside the Big Bend Ranch State Park (next to the National Park of the same name), 10 miles west of the town of Lajitas on the Texas State Highway 170. Well signposted, you can pull up on the side of the road and access the set on foot. First constructed in 1985, the swing-door saloon and adobe outhouses are brilliantly photogenic; telegenic even. So bring your Stetson and recreate your own shootout for an Instagram story.

How to get there: drive 10 miles west of the town of Lajitas on the Texas State Highway 170 until you see the sign.

Shop Tom Ford

  • TOM FORD Slim-Fit Shearling-Trimmed Suede Jacket

  • TOM FORD Slim-Fit Cutaway-Collar Checked Cotton-Flannel Shirt

  • TOM FORD Washed-Denim Jeans

  • TOM FORD Gloucester Suede Jodhpur Boots

  • TOM FORD Woven Leather Bracelet

  • TOM FORD Leather and Suede Messenger Bag