With that opening, I’m yielding to the dialect most folks talk in the Southwest. You won’t find us talking too much like that because we are meeting and talking with a lot of people who are here temporarily from the Midwest, those snowbirds that migrated south when the temps started to cool in the northern climes.
This week we visit Terlingua (pronounced tar-LING-gwa), Texas about 7-8 miles from the southwest entrance to the Big Bend National Park. If one looks at a map of Texas, there is a tip that dips or bends down, home to the appropriately named Big Bend NP that covers most of that dip separated from Mexico by the Rio Grande. Terlingua is located about 5-6 miles from the river in the hilly desert surrounded by rocks, cactus and mesquite. It is said to get its name from the corruption of Tres Lenguas, either the name of a mine or a local feature.
Terlingua sprang up as a mining town in the late 1880’s when cinnabar, a bright red form of mercury sulfide, the most common source of elemental mercury also known as quicksilver, was discovered. This discovery brought hordes of miners to the isolated Chihuahuan Desert to seek their fortunes. The mining and processing of quicksilver lasted for over a few decades with a boom happening during World War I as quicksilver was used to manufacture munitions for the war effort. Along comes the depression putting many miners out of work and the main mine closed just as World War II broke out. Terlingua virtually became a ghost town leaving abandoned homes, shops, and churches.
Now days, Terlingua has seen a revival of sorts with folks moving back and rebuilding some of those abandoned homes and shops. Some say it’s attracted a bunch of old hippies and folks once on the wrong side of the law that have reclaimed the town, if that’s the case so be it! Some live off the grid only coming into town for supplies, a shower and washing clothes at one of the campgrounds in the area.
A stop (down a dusty, rocky road) in modern day Terlingua is not complete without a visit to the Terlingua Trading Company (the former company store for the mine). The big front porch is often filled with people not only to view the wide valley below but to listen to the musicians playing and singing for fun (not busking for $).
Visitors will buy something to drink and sit on the porch listening to the music. The day we were there a couple of guys were singing both classic pop, country, and a few made up songs soon joined by a guy with a stand up base, another guy on flute like instrument and occasionally a harmonic player. As the sun set over the Chisos Mountains, folks tourists and locals alike, enjoyed the impromptu concert. We were told that this happens most days on the porch, a fun cultural experience.
These guys (locals, we think) grabbed some of the best seats in the house! Note the guitars waiting for someone to pick them up and play some songs.
As we left town, we stopped by the local cemetery, unique in itself with rocks instead of dirt covering the deceased. Here are a few photos to show this unusual graveyard.
Near the ghost town of Terlingua is the town of Study Butte (pronounced stoody byoot) where most of the areas commerce is located such as a gas station, motel or two, a few RV parks, a couple of restaurants, a branch bank, a car repair shop and a few art galleries. Oh yes, there was also a quilt shop, we couldn’t pass that up!! We stopped by on a cool, windy day and met the proprietor, Marguerite, a very elderly, hard of hearing woman who was recently featured on the front cover of an area arts publication. She made sure every visitor left the store with a copy of the paper! During our visit, she kept up a lingo of information about the goods she was selling as well history and happenings in the community. A delightful, interesting local celebrity!
One day during our stay in the area, it was very cool and overcast so we decided to take a drive on the scenic El Camino Del Rio known locally as the River Road. This 50 mile (one way) follows the Rio Grande from Terlingua to Presidio, Texas where there is a border crossing to Mexico. The National Geographic rates this scenic drive as one of the top ten in the US. I’d agree, it is rustic, rough country but very picturesque. Here some photos to illustrate the beauty we saw along this two lane road.
There are a few sparsely populated settlements along the road with lots of abandoned residences, businesses and left behind objects. These photos are an example of what we saw.
When we arrived in Presidio, we expected to find some touristy stuff but its more of a typical desert border town, dusty and a bit gritty. We did find a Mexican bakery where we purchased some sustenance for the ride back to Terlingua. We thought about walking over to Mexico but the cold wind stopped us. We’ll save that for another time.
On our return trip, I noticed a rocky, dirt road leading to an adobe building. Much to the chagrin of my traveling partner, I turned down that road to capture some photos. Here are the results, my favorite part of the drive.
There is one town along the scenic drive that looks like it has some life, Lajitas. There was a convenience store, a general store that was closed and a big exclusive golf resort right in the middle of the desert! The cemetery located right along the road was of more interest to us. Here’s a few photos from our stop.
We were sad to leave Terlingua but we had places to go and things to see. Next week, join me for the first of a two part series on the Big Bend National Park. Thanks for traveling along.
Until next week, travel safe.