Two weeks ago, I first discovered that Terlingua existed. A week later, I was making the eight-hour drive to West Texas for a four-day stay in the small town. And I’m glad I did because I couldn’t have had a better time. Though it’s not a well-known destination for travelers, it shouldn’t be left off your Texas must-visit bucket list and here’s why:
1. It’s a Ghost Town.
In the late 1800s, cinnbar, from which mercury is extracted from, was discovered in Terlingua and it quickly grew into a mining town of about 3,000. However, by 1930, mercury wasn’t as sought after and the mining town quickly became a ghost town. Buildings were abandoned and there they sat eerily in the desert. Today, visitors can explore many of these decaying buildings. Others have been renovated into restaurants and bars, or into local homes.
2. Big Bend National and State Park
Terlingua sits in the beautiful Big Bend area of West Texas. With that, it’s a very short drive into the Big Bend National Park and the Big Bend Stat Park, both of which has awesome hikes. Try to the following trails in the National Park: South Rim, Santa Elena Canyon, Lost Mine, and Emory Peak Trail. The Closed Canyon Trail in the State Park is a beautiful and shaded trail in a canyon.
3. The food is fantastic
For a town that has about 300-500 residents at any time, the food here is fantastic. I didn’t have one bad meal! Head to Long Draw Pizza and Nancy will cook you up the best pizza that I’ve ever had. Tuesdays is Fried Chicken Night at La Kiva and it’s utterly scrumptious. Go for Mexican food at the High Sierra Bar & Grill. The chili is good there too! Breakfast burritos at La Posada Milagro were amazing and I loved the charming outdoor patio! I didn’t eat at Starlight Theatre (beyond a taste of a friend’s meal) but the margaritas there were amazing.
4. Two words: Inverted Fireworks
Inverted Fireworks? Yes, it sounds crazy but this is a “thing” in Terlingua. As an abandoned mining town, there’s these cool hidden places in the small town like an underground passageway near the Starlight Theatre and covered mining shafts around the town. Terlingua is often in a burn ban so to enjoy fireworks, the locals have gotten a bit creative. They shoot fireworks down a large mine shaft just above the town.
5. The home of the International Chili Cookoff
Terlingua is the home to the Original International Chili Cookoff. It may seem like a random spot to have this international competition, but when you visit, you’ll get it. Locals tell me that with the competition comes a lot of partying, so it’s probably well-worth the visit for good food, cheap drinks, and lots of fun.
6. Dia De Los Muertos in a Historic Cemetery
Terlingua has always been heavily influenced by the Mexican culture. Many of the first miners here were Mexican citizens. So it comes as no surprise that the town’s cemetery is a beautiful display of Mexican graves. Many are lovely above-ground stone displays, while others are mounds of rocks. During Dia De Los Muertos, the residents come out and place offerings and candles throughout the historic cemetery and it’s supposedly a wonderful and beautiful affair.
7. The Locals are Amazing
I’ve been to quite a few small towns in Texas, the U.S., and abroad, and I’ve never met locals that are quite like the Terlinguans. They are a diverse group of individuals. Some are a mix of professors, world-known researchers, teachers, hippies, musicians, business moguls, and outdoor enthusiasts. Each evening, many of the locals will gather on the Porch of the Starlight Theatre for beers, good conversation, and often music jam-out sessions. Talk to them, get to know them — trust me, it’s worth it.
8. Hot Springs and Swimming in the Rio Grande
For a desert hideaway, there’s quite a few places for a swim. Check out the Hot Springs in the Big Bend National Park. It runs at 105 degrees year round. If it’s too warm outside or you need to cool off, jump over the side into the Rio Grande. Terlingua has it’s own creek with water that is sometimes a night time destination to cool down.
9. Mexico is a short drive away
Before 9/11, it was easy to go to Mexico from Terlingua. Things changed and for many years, families and friends were separated by new border patrol rules. However, recently, a new pass has opened to Boquillas, Mexico, in the Big Bend National Park. You’ll need a passport, have to pay a small fee, and must return by a certain time to enter the U.S., however, a day-trip from Terlingua to Boquillas is well worth it. Explore the small town, have a bite to eat, and buy a few souvenirs.
10. Sunset on sunset on sunset
The sunsets in Terlingua are fantastic. As it sets in the west, the rays shine down on the mountains of Big Bend creating a beautiful array of colors. It’s such a wonderful sight with a drink in hand in Terlingua.