Terlingua Ghost Town, Texas

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I’ll start our tour of the Big Bend National Park area with a stop that’s just outside the park itself.  Terlingua Ghost town is on FM-170, about 8 miles from BBNP’s western entrance, and five miles west of TX-118 (and the similarly named community of Terlingua-Study Butte).  If you don’t want to stay in the park (it offers just one expensive motel in Chisos Basin), you’ll probably want to find a place here.

I stayed three nights at the El Dorado Hotel, which was far from luxurious, but a decent bargain (at $79/night) given its location.  Somehow, I forgot to take a picture of the motel itself, but it’s right beside FM-170, at the entrance to the ghost town.  Drive past the motel and up the road into town, and the first place worth stopping…

… is the Terlingua cemetery. Some of the graves here date back to the first few years of the 1900’s, but despite being a century old, they are still adorned with beads, trinkets, flowers and candles — and even a few beer bottles (which around here, seems completely appropriate).

Most are simple graves with wooden crosses…

… but others are topped with more elaborate shrines.  There are newer graves here, as well, and a sign reminds visitors that the area should still be respected, just as you would any other cemetery.

The Terlingua Cemetery is a great place to walk around for a while, to truly get the ghost town feel.  I imagine it would also be quite interesting to visit it on a clear, full-moon night.

Within walking distance of the graveyard, there are quite a few ruins of old buildings…

… some in better shape than others.  As far as I could tell, it’s acceptable to wander around these ruins, so long as you’re not damaging them.

Terlingua was the site of one of several mercury, or quicksilver, mines that sprung up in the area in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Terlingua’s Chisos Mining Company was the most productive of them all, and brought prosperity to the town.  by 1913 Terlingua had its own ice making plant, public water supply, occasional telephone service, and mail delivery 3 times a week.  Its store was the biggest between Del Rio and El Paso, and people would travel 100 miles, and cross the border, to shop there.  By 1936, Terlingua even had an ice cream shop and motion picture theater.  But, a decline in demand for mercury after World War I caused the mine to struggle, and it closed for good after World War II.

Driving or walking on into town (it’s small enough to leave the car at the motel), you pass a welcome sign, calling Terlingua a “ghostown”, and advising you to respect the town and leave any artifacts where you found them.

Aside from the few places to stay in Terlingua, there aren’t many other businesses — but you will want to stop in at the Terlingua Trading Company for some souvenirs.  Also, if it’s dinner time, check out the Starlight Theatre next door.  It’s no longer a theater, but now a restaurant, and a center for fun in a town where there aren’t many other options.

In addition to the Starlight Theatre, there are several other options for food in Terlingua.  I highly recommend the High Sierra Bar and Grill, attached to the El Dorado Hotel (try the Tacos de Alambre).  I also had good barbeque at La Kiva, which is just a short drive from the ghost town area.  Both restaurants offered live music on the nights I visited.

If you’re lucky, on the way into town you’ll spot the evil, one-toothed tomato.  If the sign is out, then the local Farmers’ Market is open.

There wasn’t much to the Farmers’ Market, just a few vendors, but I did get a couple kinds of good homemade bread.  There were also some local plants for sale, but they would have been a little bit difficult to carry back on the airplane.

If you’re looking for a gas station or a general store, you’ll need to head up the road to Terlingua/Study Butte, at the intersection of FM-170 and TX-118.  There are at least two good grocery/general stores, and a couple of other convenience stores, but sadly none of them were well-stocked with souvenirs.  So, if you see a t-shirt or sticker you like, buy it!  Chances are, you will not find it at a better price, someplace else.

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