Terlingua, Texas: Much ado about nothing

Terlingua “Ghost Town” turn-off

Heading to Big Bend National Park from Davis Mountains State Park, we made sure to make time for a stop-off in Terlingua, a former mining town known primarily for its eponymous chili cook-off (actually two cook-offs these days which take place on the first weekend in November). I’d heard about the Terlingua chili cook-off for decades and am the proud owner of a cookbook of championship recipes from the original event. The chili cook-offs draw upwards of 10,000 people to a tent- and camper-filled party in the desert. According to the town’s event calendar, Terlingua has also instituted a couple of lesser cook-offs including one for black-eyed peas and another for dutch ovens. Barring cook-offs, Terlingua is a desolate little town. I didn’t expect much, and a cook-off-less Terlingua turned out to be less than that. Oh well, all travel destinations are not created equal. If you’ve got the time, the turnoff to the Terlingua “Ghost Town” is about 5 miles west of Hwy 118 just north of a main entrance to Big Bend National Park. If you don’t have the time, no worries.

Terlingua has developed a sort of funky, artsy reputation, but it is mostly a motley collection of ramshackle buildings; an old cemetery full of broken crosses and beer bottles; mobile homes, cheesy teepees, and the like serving as tourist accommodations; and a few small businesses and eateries scattered across a rocky desert.

We made a quick swing through the one main store (not remotely tempted to buy souvenirs), peeked in the ramshackle old jail and walked across the parking lot to view ruins of early settler buildings that constitute the “ghost town,” all of which took 20 minutes or so. The Starlight Theater, a well-known spot recommended to us was closed at lunch time, so we headed to nearby guesthouse La Posada Milagro for lunch. We ate outside on their porch, enjoying the view of the mountains of Big Bend in the distance despite the unsightly clutter of Terlingua. My chicken quesadilla was actually very good and my husband liked his big chicken salad sandwich, too. The service was friendly and we were welcome to provide our own beer.

Post lunch, we made a short trip through the dirt roads of the town towards AirBnB teepees in search of clear inflatable domes that serve as rental rooms offering views of the starry skies abounding in this remote part of the world. (My cousin had sent me an article about these new additions to Terlingua, and we were mildly curious.) We found the turn-off to the domes which sit just over a small rise from the teepees with a sign asking us to go no further if we weren’t guests. Oh well, the search was nothing but a lark anyway.

Terlingua Cemetery

Our last stop in Terlingua was the cemetery, as ramshackle as the rest of the town, but interesting nonetheless. Most graves are marked by rough board crosses although some are more elaborate and the cemetery is still in use. Typical Mexican skeleton-themed candles and trinkets decorated many graves along with flowers, beads, beer bottles and other mementoes.

All in all, I’m glad we stopped off in Terlingua just so I could see it for myself since it was such a short detour on our way to Big Bend National Park, but I can’t think of a reason to go back.

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