Terlingua, Texas, Is the Quirky, Under-the-Radar Gem You Need To Visit

The Lonestar State's famous ghost town is a lot less sleepy these days.

When it comes to West Texas small towns, artsy Marfa might win for most likely to draw curious travelers off the beaten path. With a reputation as a cultural hub among urban elites and an Insta-perfect vignette of a lone (faux) Prada boutique set against a sparse desert backdrop, the destination has become a must-stop for many Lonestar State tourists.

But Marfa isn't the only desert gem in West Texas that's attracting attention. Just two hours south, travelers are increasingly finding their way to Terlingua.

So what's drawing visitors to this sleepy town just over the Mexican border? For adventurers, it's the close proximity to Big Bend National Park, in which endless trails mere minutes from town afford some of the most breathtaking views in Texas. (In fact, some of the most sweeping vistas of the park and its surrounding mountain ranges happen to be from right within Terlingua.)

Terlingua Ghostown Texas
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History of Terlingua

But, while the park might initially draw visitors to Terlingua, it's the quirky discoveries within the historic mining town that has them wanting to come back for more. More than a century ago, Terlingua's growth was spurred by the discovery of quicksilver, which brought miners to the area and helped them thrive for decades. But the Great Depression hit Terlingua hard, and as the demand for quicksilver dried up, so did the town. In the '40s, Terlingua's inhabitants packed up and moved on, leaving behind the crumbles of an eerily quiet ghost town.

Terlingua Texas Sunset
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What to Do in Terlingua

Today, the remains of the town—which include homes, antique cars, a church, and a cemetery—are part of what's drawing people back. Though known for its abandoned ghost town, Terlingua isn't entirely dead. Since the region's demise, dozens of artists and eccentrics have found their way back here, many of whom you'll find manning Terlingua's small number of businesses, which include a trading post, a saloon, and a handful of Mexican restaurants. Come sunset, locals and visitors mingle on what's simply known as "the porch," a BYOB hangout perched in front of Terlingua Trading Company, a general store housed in the old company store of Chisos Mining Company. For dinner, head over to the Starlight Theatre, a restaurant and saloon where you can try Texas specialties like Chicken-Fried Texas Antelope with Lone Star Beer Gravy and Smoked Brisket Queso, then wash it all down with single-barrel tequila sold only at the Starlight. After you eat, stick around for live music and enjoy the company of nearly everyone else in Terlingua.

Terlingua Texas Ghost Town
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If crowds are more your thing, Terlingua wakes up in a big way every November, when its famous "granddaddy of all chili cook-offs" draws thousands of spice seekers from around Texas and beyond for a party in the desert. During the annual CASI Terlingua International Chili Championship, attendees have the opportunity to sample every recipe for chili imaginable, as well as hot wings, beans, and salsa on other days of the five-day festival.

Holiday Hotel Casa Buena Vista

Courtesy of Holiday Hotel

Where to Stay in Terlingua

There are no Marriotts or Hamptons around these parts, but what you'll find is far better. Longtime Terlingua resident Bill Ivey and his family restored the Holiday Hotel, a grouping of old buildings that now hold rooms in everything from a former mansion to the businesses in Terlingua's ghost town, and even his own family home. For a truly unique stay, book one of the Holiday Hotel's three casitas, tiny houses built in the shadows of the Chisos Mountains. For stunning views, pick the Casa Buena Vista house, a historical adobe structure that was originally built for the Chisos Mine foreman.

Located just across the street from Terlingua's ghost town, you'll find Buzzard's Roost, a collection of three tipi stays and one two-room casita. The idea may be rustic, but the stays here are far from rustic. The tipis feature queen beds, soft linens, mini refrigerators, plush bathrobes, WiFi, outlets, space heaters, and coffee stations. For the camping feel, you'll also find a private hammock and fire pit where you can enjoy the wonder of the great outdoors in such a stunning setting. Other rustic luxury stay options including tipis, casitas, lotus tents, bubbles, and campsites at Basecamp Terlingua.

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