Terlingua On My Mind

Photo courtesy of author

The quirkiest part of Texas is also one of its most remote settings. Drive past San Antonio on Interstate 10. Go through the lush Texas Hill Country. Keep going westbound. Make sure you leave Kerrville with a full tank of gas and groceries. Filling stations become scarce the further west you go. Terlingua has no grocery stores. It has a little country store with the sky high price tags you'd expect in Hawaii.

Terlingua is about as close to Mexico as you can get without crossing the border. Only 110 people call it home. It's a blip in the desert. Fort Stockton seems like the edge of civilization. You still have three and a half hours to reach Terlingua. The ghost of a town on the Texas-Mexico border deserves a visit. Marfa gets most of the attention from the media and tourists thanks to a faux Prada store that technically isn’t even in Marfa. Terlingua has a different vibe.

What is so appealing about going off the grid in far West Texas? Cell phone signals disappear somewhere between Alpine and Terlingua. No phone calls. No deadlines. Time comes to a screeching halt. Thoughts of work scamper to the back of the mind like a coyote in the night. Put the phone away and explore the funky roadside art installations. Look up at night. Millions of glittering stars serve as a reminder of how small we are in the universe.

I've visited Terlingua twice in the last eighteen months. Both visits left a lasting impression on me. I want to return to the far flung fever dream full of roadside art installations and abandoned cars. There are stories there among the old buildings. Untold stories that deserve to be told. It is a legitimate ghost town. Mercury mining was the lifeblood of the town at one time. When electronics made mercury obsolete in 1944, the little town dried up and became a ghost town. Many of the original miners are buried in the Terlingua Cemetery along with victims of the influenza outbreak of 1918. It’s a somber reminder that history likes to repeat itself.

Over the years, various individuals have brought new energy to the forgotten mining town. 1967 saw two newspaper reporters launch a chili cook-off that continues to this day. Ever eaten at a Chili's chain restaurant? Its creators drew inspiration from the famous Terlingua chili cook-off. Besides that, true crime story addicts find fascination in a local cave bar called La Kiva. Yes, it was a bar in a cave. It's closed indefinitely because the owner was murdered in the parking lot. It remains unsolved. The truth of that night may never come out. A Texas true crime podcast titled All Crime, No Cattle devoted an episode to La Kiva. I listened to it as we drove by the exact location of the murder.

Terlingua is an unconventional choice for a vacation. It’s quite a drive. It’s better to not visit in the sweltering Summer months. It is after all, the desert. There’s a reason why the chili contest is held in November. Stargazers must stay at Basecamp Terlingua. The clear bubble rooms offer stunning panoramic views of the glittering night sky. Book well in advance because they do fill up. I haven’t even scratched the surface of what makes this place so special. Writers will find inspiration from it. There’s a well of ideas that need exploration.




Word Nerd, Movie Geek, Writer, Southpaw, Texan

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SJ Matthews

SJ Matthews

Word Nerd, Movie Geek, Writer, Southpaw, Texan

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