Terlingua Ghost Town & THE Drive

January 23-25

Right down the road from Lajitas is the famous Terlingua Ghost Town.  It’s a place you must visit if you’re in the area, complete with a little history and a lot of knocking about in the middle of nowhere.

The Ghost Town


This is a really dusty, crusty place where a town used to thrive during quicksilver mining days as early as 1888.  For those of you, like me, who didn’t know about quicksilver, it’s another name for mercury.  It stems from the Old English term meaning “living silver”.  If you’ve broken a thermometer, you know what that’s all about.  Anyhoo, the rocks are rich in cinnabar and mercury can be extracted from that mineral.  You know you’ve found cinnabar when the rocks have telltale reddish-purple stains that look a lot like spilled grape juice.  I added a small one to my growing rock collection.

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No cinnabar pictures, but here are some original buildings back from those early days.  When the need for mercury dropped after World War I, the mine went bust and it became a true ghost town.  Back in the 60’s, people started squatting here and Terlingua is now a ghost town mixed with a real town.  People are living in houses made partly from original adobe ruins with RVs and wooden sheds attached for good measure.  It’s a very strange hodgepodge of structures.


I was taken with the view of the old building ruins with the Big Bend backdrop, so focused my photography in that direction.  Somehow it just didn’t seem quite right to take pics of people’s homes and post them like oddities.

A few more shots showcasing the original mud bricks.  Pat was fascinated with the construction and even googled how to make the adobe bricks.  He might just try to build one of these houses, or so he says.

We took the walking tour of the area to see the ruins, old church, old schoolhouse and even a closed mine shaft.  There were some pretty lean dogs strolling about, and some locals sitting on the porch of the Terlingua Trading Company drinking beer.  A pretty authentic experience.



Views from the Trading Post.

Our tour ended at the Starlight Theater, famous for live music and good food.  We had some great queso and chips and on our second visit, I tried the World Famous Terlingua Chili.  That’s Terlingua’s other claim to fame.  They claim that the world’s first chili cook-off was held here in 1967.  So how was it you ask?  Pretty good topped with onion and cheese with chips on the side.  But, I confess that I like my chili with beans.  I realize this will start a firestorm of debate over beans vs. no beans, but I have to take a stand.  I make mine with three kinds of beans.

THE Drive

A fellow camper at Seminole Canyon told us that we must drive the road through Big Bend Ranch State Park to Presidio.  Spectacular views were promised as well as a fun drive.  We were also promised a real grocery store and at a mere 50 miles away, it beat our next best option back in Alpine at 100 miles away.  So off we go on “THE Drive”.


I call it THE Drive because it is 50 miles of uppy, downy, curvy and crazy.  This is the sign you see when you get to the top of the hill after a very windy 15% grade UP.  You’ve probably never noticed in a car, but highways post when roads are at a 6% grade or more and caution trucks to use a low gear.  So imagine more than twice that.  Bitsy couldn’t do it in anything over second gear and protested mightily.  You can’t see over most of the hills and it truly felt like ‘Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride’ the first time I did it.  And going down that 15% grade?  What a rush, but again, only in second gear lest we fly off the cliff.


Here’s the view from both directions at the top with the Rio Grande in the distance.

Bitsy is dwarfed by the rocks and Pat shows how impressed he was with the grade.


Here are a few cars coming down off the hill.  Everything is just so massive.

The Views


The scenery was pretty spectacular.  So much so that many movies were filmed here.  We stopped at this old set, mainly to admire the striking red rocks.



This one is for Pat’s brother Rob.  Something you never thought you’d see.  Pat sneaks into Mexico.  Not really.  Didn’t want to get his boots wet, not to mention it’s illegal.


And here’s the terrain.  Boulders, prickly pear cactus and ocotillo.  You learn really quickly on the trail that you can’t brush past the plant life here like you can anywhere else.  They all bite back!

We’re also finding the weather here to be fascinating.  In the morning, it’s in the 30’s/40’s and we have our little heater humming.  By afternoon, we’re putting up the protective window shades that look like we’re preventing the aliens from reading our minds.  And running the AC.  Ambient temp is probably only in the 60s, but in the shade you want your jacket and in the sun, you’re baking.  Make it a windy day and it’s hard to know how to dress.  Lotion, chapstick, water, a hat and layers are required to go just about anywhere.  And don’t get these folks started about the dew point.  It’s all about the moisture level in these parts and mostly it’s non-existent.  At least until the rainy season that they promise is in July.


I’ll leave you with another desert shot from the Fresno Canyon pull-off.  The prickly pear cactus thorns glow red in the afternoon sun.

Next up – Big Bend outings.  It will probably take me several posts to do justice to the scenery and the hikes in both the state and national parks.  See you on the way!



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