Jan 29 - Terlingua Texas

How does one describe Terlingua Texas?

Terlingua is actually the name for a mining district in West Texas. Located between the villages of Study Butte and Lajitas, about 14 miles north of the Mexican border and 80 miles south of Alpine, the entire area has an official population of about 300 people. I think a few more probably live here but have no interest in being counted or having their names on any government list of any kind.

The original "draw" to the area was mining. In the late 1800s the mineral cinnabar, from which the metal mercury is extracted, was discovered and a small rush into the area resulted in a number of mining operations and a population of about 2,000 people. The ruins and remains that exist today as the historic Terlingua Ghost Town was owned by the Chisos Mining Company and was populated by the mine workers and some of their families. Like most mining ventures, this one played out and by the end of WWII the people left, leaving the old company town to qualify for ghost town status. But in the last 30 years or so, an influx of tourists and recreational enthusiasts attracted by the National Park and the Rio Grand River, have provided enough critical mass of economic activity to result in a revival of sorts... built figuratively and, in some cases, literally on the ruins of the old mining town.

Most of the buildings in the ghost town were built of adobe bricks and are in ruins... various stages of decay and erosion. But it's still a small, vibrant community. Some buildings are partly habitable and, if so, it might be a home for someone. A few key structures have been rehabilitated... the Terlingua Trading Company General Store, the Starlight Theater, the El Dorado Hotel, and a some others. A few newer structures dot the ruins too. Some folks live in old RV trailers, school buses, or in their car or van. There are some, what you might consider, normal houses but the whole area has a run-down, hodge-podge, random feel to it. The few bright spots resulting from someone's monetary infusion stand out by their brightness, uniqueness. But despite all this, the place has a positive vibe to it... one we've come to savor.

It's not an easy place to live. Want a full-selection grocery store? It'd be 80 miles away in Alpine. Doctor? Dentist? Hardware store? Also 80 miles away in Alpine. The nearest Walmart? Well, that would be almost 150 miles away in Fort Stockton. As a result a lot of folks do without when it comes to some things most of us take for granted.

Who lives here? The denizens are about 2/3 White and 1/3 Hispanic. The average age, according to the census, is 34. Men outnumber women by 30%. By my own observation I'd say they are a collection of misfits, refugees, hipsters, exiles, artisans, fugitives, and freethinkers, who seem to be united only in the belief that life doesn't have to be lived conventionally, that the traditional "American Dream" is not their dream, and that it's more important to live their own self-reliant life than the "rat-race" life of so many others... and to have fun along the way if at all possible. Some of them think they never got a fair shake in the "real" world, whether by their own doing or others. Some just never fit in. Certainly it's not an easy life for many, and downright hard for a few, but circumstances have conspired to bring them here... like so many seeds floating on random air currents until something or someplace sticky enough happens along... to hold them for a while. Some take root here, where it can be cheap to live, where misfits fit in, where the odd and quirky are normal, and where they can, for at least a while, call this place home. Terlingua.

To sample the flavor of Terlingua, I offer two websites for your perusal:

http://ghosttowntexas.com/terlingua.html ... general information

http://www.drdougs.com/index.html ... self-proclaimed "borderline mental therapist.

We met Dr. Doug while having lunch at the High Sierra Bar one day. He may be the quintessential resident... but there are so many more.

One of Terlingua's recent claims to fame is it being "ground zero" in the competitive chili cooking world. The first weekend in November every year is the big national competition (actually two separate competitions by two competing chili cooking organizations - the Chili Appreciation Society International and the International Chili Society) which attracts thousands of folks from all around the United States and the world.

During our visit to Terlingua this past Saturday we attended a regional cook-off competition... this one hosted by the Terlingua El Dorado Hotel. As a real bonus, we were also able to snag a spot at a tasting table with a couple new friends (Danielle and Lucius) we made that day... and for a short time became official Chili Tasting Judges. Our 15 minutes of fame... at least for that day.

We hung around all afternoon, enjoying the live music, some free and some inexpensive beer, and soaking in the vibe that is Terlingua.

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