Have you ever visited a ghost town? I mean a real, honest-to-goodness ghost town? I did just that when my travels took me to Big Bend in West Texas. Terlingua is an-often-talked-about ghost town that appears a little broken down in appearance. In fact, it is downright scary in some places with a color palette in shades of brown. But Terlingua, Texas is where my friends and I found a thrill to visit!
Only 150 people call Terlingua home, though it has been had its share of vibrant times. Those seeking work came here in the 19th century to go deep into the mineshafts to extract cinnabar, the raw ore that produces mercury. The mercury was used abundantly during WWI when the Chisos Mining Company in Terlingua employed a few thousand people.
After the recession, mercury mining went belly up and the company filed bankruptcy; not necessarily a bad thing since mining cinnabar was so dangerous.
Terlingua attracts an interesting group of people. Most of the people we met were trying to get off the grid and didn’t care for or need modern technology. Many were just visitors passing through on their way to Big Bend.
I joined a group of travel writers in Terlingua to see the Big Bend state and national parks and experience a road trip through West Texas.
Where to Stay in Terlingua
Today, visitors flock to Terlingua, Texas to see the unique terrain of the Chihuahuan Desert and attractions of the town. One of those is The Holiday Hotel Terlingua, which has a row of motel-style rooms as well as a few houses you can choose from.
The Holiday Hotel
My friend, Vanessa, and I stayed in Casa Buena Vista, one of the adobe houses at the Holiday Hotel. Our house had a large area to roam around in, full kitchen, and two bedrooms. The screened in porch afforded fantastic views of the awesome sunset, that I watched from my comfy day bed. A claw foot tub was the highlight of the bathroom and a large living room gave us a place to relax and work.
The Casa was filled with treasures which we enjoyed looking at. Books, statues, wall hangings, and artwork told us that the owner was a serious traveler.
Big Bend Casitas
On our second night in Terlingua, we stayed in the adorable casitas that are owned by Far Flung Outdoor Adventure, called Big Bend Casitas. My 400-square-foot room had a huge bedroom, kitchenette/dining room combo, spacious bathroom, and an awesome back porch with two chairs. The room was neat and tidy; a perfect little desert oasis.
Shout out to the best air conditioning system ever! The room was super cool when we checked in. After the day’s nearly-unbearable heat and humidity, it was a nice welcome to come inside for immediate comfort.
In the midst of the casitas, about 14 in total, was an ice machine, refreshments area, and several BBQ grills. Big Bend Casita’s property was nicely decorated, had a garden area, and the location was primo to Big Bend adventures. Beside the casitas sat a Mexican restaurant and coffee bar that you could walk to.
Things to Do in Terlingua, Texas
Though the landscape is barren, the town of Terlingua has plenty to see, do, and keep you busy.
Big Bend Ranch State Park
Schedule your outdoor adventures in Terlingua from Big Bend River Tours. We used them for a guided trip through Big Bend Ranch State Park, a remote park in the midst of rugged and colorful mountains. This is also Texas’ biggest state park. The park has been designated an International Dark Sky Park; perfect for stargazing. The Texas night sky is amazing! You can look up and see thousands of stars and clearly identify all of the constellations.
Besides photography and short hikes, Big Bend Ranch State Park is known for its mountain biking, horseback riding, paddling, and backpacking. Some roads require four-wheel drive as the inclines are extremely steep.
We enjoyed exploring Closed Canyon and a few other short two to three-mile hikes. With the temperatures ranging between 105° and 110° that day, that was plenty long enough.
Big Bend Ranch State Park Adventures
Along with providing a great tour of the Big Bend Ranch State Park, Big Bend River Tours also provided a picnic for us with juice, cheese, crackers, cookies, and fresh fruit. It was fun pulling over to our picnic spot (The HooDoos) overlooking the beautiful park where we saw several bikers and bird-watchers on the lookout for the 300 species found in the area. We saw mixed desert scrub with ocotillo, cacti, and plenty of creosote.
If you are in the park on your own and looking for snacks, a general store sells pre-made sandwiches and snacks at a pull-over along the drive into the park. It also has souvenirs and other necessities. Bonus, there are clean bathrooms.
Other Terlingua Points of Interest
Looking out at the town of Terlingua you will see abandoned cars, decorations, and other rusted pieces throughout the town. That may sound depressing but it is very picturesque considering the landscape. We loved the uniqueness of it all.
The lovely Terlingua Cemetery, in downtown Terlingua, is one of the most photographed places in the state of Texas. Be sure to drop by and pay your respects to the souls buried here. The tombstone gifts and treasures put there is something to see and admire.
St. Agnes Church, a dry goods store, and another couple of shops dot the Terlingua landscape. The dry goods store, Terlingua Trading Company, is where you can buy souvenirs. I picked up some adorable earrings there. It also has an impressive selection of food and drinks, including alcoholic beverages.
A day trip to Boquillas, Mexico is also an option but you will be required to have your passport with you.
Local outfitters offer sunset horseback rides if you feel like an adventure, but beware of a large amount of dust involved from the rugged landscape.
Due to the terrain and climate in Terlingua, be sure to watch for the enemies; scorpions, javelinas, tarantulas, and snakes. It can certainly be an unforgiving desert.
Where to Eat and Drink in Terlingua
Though Terlingua has limited choices for food and beverage, the ones they do offer are tasty and affordable.
The Starlight Theatre Restaurant and Saloon is famous for live music and has a fantastic vibe. It originated as the movie house for the mercury miners.
From the playful stools on The Porch to the taxidermied first mayor of Lajitas (it’s a goat!), this is one place you won’t want to miss. Besides offering music, Starlight Theatre has really good food. Some of our favorite dishes were the Street Tacos, Rib-Eye, Mixed Grill (steak, quail, wild boar/venison sausage), and Chicken Sauté (mushrooms and spinach in a cream sauce).
The Starlight Theatre’s refreshing drinks were a treat after the West Texas heat and sun. Try one of the margaritas, perfectly mixed and really tasty. The Chili con Queso Dip paired wonderfully with our tasty Texas wines and margaritas. If that were not enough, The Starlight Theatre also serves award-winning Terlingua Chili.
Another tasty dinner option is High Sierra. This two-story restaurant features American and Tex-Mex food and has a stellar rooftop bar and often live music. It is also a great place to catch a stunning sunset.
High Sierra’s Chips and Queso Blanco consists of melted Monterey Jack cheese with freshly diced jalapeños. It is a must! Our group tried many of the Mexican dishes from the menu including Beef Tip Tacos, Enchiladas, and the Mexican Plate. Hands-down, the favorite was the Mexican Plate with a roasted chile relleno, taco, two enchiladas of your choice, and rice & beans. Yummy!
La Kiva is another fun place to visit for an adult beverage and appetizers in a cave setting. It opens daily at 5 PM. This is the place for really great tasting margaritas.
The prices at La iva are very affordable and the bar is cozy inside. The restaurant is known for having great burgers but they weren’t serving food the day that we were there. Other than burgers, the menu features chicken sandwiches, salads, onion rings, and loaded fries. Allow for a few minutes to browse the interesting decor inside the restaurant.
Chili Pepper and Espresso…Y Poco Mas
Grab breakfast from either Espresso…Y Poco Mas or Chili Pepper. At Espresso…Y Poco Mas, enjoy delicious breakfast burritos, free Wi-Fi, and your morning espresso or coffee. Chili Pepper offers a larger selection of Tex-Mex and Northern Chihuahuan food, including omelets, biscuits and gravy, and amazing tamales.
My favorite was Migas, a spicy egg dish with onion, jalapeno, tomato, and cheese. The service was impeccable at both places.
Experience a Unique Texas Town
Terlingua proved to be an exceptional place to visit and also somewhere I would recommend to those wishing to travel off-the-beaten-path.
The heat is a factor to consider in this part of Texas, but other than that, Terlingua is fascinating! We all had a great time, which I think is obvious from the photos.
Terlingua, Texas Photo Gallery
Thanks to Visit Big Bend and Texas Tourism for hosting my visit. As with all of my articles, reviews and opinions are 100% mine and unbiased.
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