Big Bend 2: Terlingua

I don’t know what it is about Terlingua. You could easily drive through without taking a second look. The main highway from the north barely grazes the outskirts of town, and if it weren’t for the last major gas station on the way to Big Bend, I doubt many travelers would even stop. It is partially for this reason that I’ve written a blog about the proper way to get into Big Bend, and it definitely includes a drive through the heart of Terlingua. (See Big Bend 1: Getting There)

But let’s assume you’re already planning on spending some time off the grid…

Yes, I said off the grid. Terlingua is pleasantly isolated from the rest of Texas and nestled up against the Mexican border. Mountains border on two sides, and the drive from the north requires a couple hours of free time. This kind of location attracts a certain kind of person. Writers, painters, welders, photographers, musicians, and other freethinkers live here. Something tells me that anyone you meet will claim to be an artist of some sort. Despite the fact that you’re still in the US, many of the locals feel like expats. Your typical introduction begins with something to the effect of, “Oh, we used to do X, Y, and Z in the big city, but now we’re living out our dream in Terlingua.” It’s always for the better too. Not yet have I encountered anyone that just barely seems to be getting by in the desert. They’re all eerily content with the isolated freedom of southwestern Texas.

Both times I’ve stayed in Terlingua were Airbnb rentals, and the two experiences couldn’t have been much different.

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The first stay was at the Leapin’ Lizard house. I don’t think Airbnb even existed at the time, but they do now have an official listing. Check it out.. This was one of our first times renting out a house while on the road, and it was a really unique experience. It is a solar powered, rainwater collecting, outdoor shower, kerosene lantern, kind of place. That might make it sound like you’re going to be roughing it, but that simply isn’t the case. The Leapin’ Lizard House was still incredibly comfy and modern. The outdoor kitchen, landscaping, fire pits, were all quite inspiring and even have made an impact on what we would consider in an “ideal house”. If you’re looking to get away from it all, this is really an ideal location. The house sits a ways down a dirt road and all you can see from the back porch is desert and mountains.

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This past April I had the opportunity to stay in an RV right in the middle of Terlingua’s Ghost Town. Honestly, I’m not sure of the ghost town’s history, but it is anything but abandoned now. It seems like the area had probably been settled a long time ago, deserted, and then repopulated with Terlingua’s current residents. You’ll find plenty of structures that are a combination of something very old modified to make it a habitable (and probably very artsy) abode. In a blatant contrast to all of this aging architecture, you’ll find plenty of RVs and mobile homes. I stayed in a property seated right behind the main stretch of the ghost town, and there were at least three occupied trailers surrounding a common area with kitchen and baths. Perfect for someone looking to get out of town and spend time around like-minded individuals. The owners also stayed in one of the campers, and were more than happy to swap stories and share the sunset and a few drinks as the day began to wind down. A short walk up the path lead to the Boathouse, a fairly new bar and restaurant. It may have just been the time of year I was visiting, but it seemed like everyone was a local. Apparently there is live music most nights. The evening I stopped in was a guitar and tenor sax duet. The saxophonist was spending the season in a rented space to work on his dissertation of american bluegrass music. (See, everyone here IS an artist of some sort)

As cozy as this spot was, I simply had not come to Terlingua to swap stories or hang out at the local watering hole. My main intention was to get away for a couple days, so I stayed the night and pushed on the next evening.

Why are my only pictures of “ruins” from an abandoned movie set?
Why are my only pictures of “ruins” from an abandoned movie set?

Okay. So what can you DO in Terlingua?

I’ll get to that in a moment, but first consider that you might not want a particularly involved itinerary while staying here. Like I’ve mentioned a few times, this is where people go to escape from commitments, and spend a little time working on whatever drives them to be creative. My second trip to Terlingua was a solo one, and I had every intention to start writing and practice some photography. Neither turned out the way I wanted to, but this is a great place to find inspiration. Even if it does lead to some degree of failure.

Obviously, you’ll want to visit Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park. I’ll be writing specifically about both of those soon. (Note to self: Insert links when complete)

One of the best tips I received while staying in the RV was to check out the land down Indian Head Road. A Scandinavian guy who was staying at the same place as me insisted that it was the best place for exploring in the area if you didn’t want to go into either of the parks.

On the east side of town. Behind the gas station and the motor inn.
On the east side of town. Behind the gas station and the motor inn.

Getting there isn’t difficult, but you’ll certainly feel like you’re diving somewhere you shouldn’t be. The road is rough and there are absolutely no signs indicating where you are headed. Depending on the state of the path, you may need 4WD. The ground was fairly dry when I visited, but some of the ruts in the road required careful planning.

My arrival near sunset was a bit of a blessing and a curse. Of course I got to see the wonderful colors of the rocks and the setting sun. But, it also meant that I didn’t have much time for exploring. Chances are I’ll make a point to stop by again next time I’m in town.

There aren’t a lot of good places to eat in Terlingua. This is really an opportunity to break out the grill and treat yourself to a nice dinner al fresco. I did check out the Boathouse Bar and it is much better than Yelp would suggest. Nothing too fancy, and you’ll have your choice of burger, burger, burger & fries, chicken burger, and breaded mushrooms (stuffed with burger meat). I am a fairly flexible vegetarian, so I opted for the burger. It was good, but next time I’ll bring something a bit less carnivorous to cook myself.

Supposedly, Terlingua is a town known for art festivals and grand, Burning Man-esque, gatherings. I’ve never been around to witness that, much less either of the great Chili Cookoffs or the Starlight Theatre. I’d love to hear from someone who has, and maybe stop myself some day.

Be sure to check out my previous post, Big Bend 1: Getting There.

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