04/29/2014 10:52 am ET Updated Jun 28, 2014

America's Coolest Desert Towns (PHOTOS)

The little desert town of Marfa makes no logical sense. How did this dusty outpost in far West Texas become a buzzworthy contemporary art center?

Two words: pioneering spirit. It took folks with enough grit and vision and can-do attitude to invent a new life among the red rocks, sagebrush, and sand of the American West.

In Marfa's case, pioneering artist Donald Judd was drawn to its sweeping vistas in the 1970s. But its psychic roots go back further to the "Westward Ho!" homesteaders and cowboys who sought their fortunes all across the region, only to see them go ghost-town bust.

The result? Entire towns ripe for reinvention: rustic digs, cheap land, and endless possibilities. That's why you'll find a James Beard Award-nominated restaurant in a formerly derelict rail hotel in northern Arizona, a luxe resort among the wildflowers of a southern California state park, and wineries in the high desert plains of Western Washington.

America's deserts are a fertile landscape for creativity, culture, and quirk. So pack the sunscreen and consider this your compass to the coolest desert towns now.

--Nicholas DeRenzo

See All of America's Coolest Desert Towns

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America's Coolest Desert Towns (PHOTOS)