Ghost Town Tales

Alice Knight will be the first to tell you that no one is from Terlingua, TX. They all came here from somewhere else and forgot how to leave. Alice came in 1979 when she purchased 5 acres fronting the only paved road in the area for $5,000. She’s been making art and going through husbands ever since.

Artist in residence, Alice Knight

We visited longer than expected when we dropped in on the Big Bend Art Studio that doubles as her house. At 79, Alice is an expert in everything from pottery and yoga to geology and bass guitar. She says she plays in the jam sessions on the porch at the Starlight theater but we can listen to her music at home on Spotify. She knows she has a little tidying up to do, but is easily distracted by her next painting project, a commission for the woman who brings her groceries since the “bony ass husband” she’s trying to divorce took the car and left town. Sheri shopped in her bedroom, kitchen and living room until she found a Longhorn Steer clay fired curio. We took Alice’s trash out to the dumpster at the end of the street on our way out. If this sounds odd, that might be how it goes in Terlingua.

It’s a home and a store. Just pick something that interests you and Alice will talk price.

Terlingua is the anchor town for the Rio Grande side of Big Bend Ranch State Park. National Geographic named El Camino Del Rio as the most scenic highway in America. It twists and winds along the river, separating Texas from Mexico and connecting bikers, rafters, equestrians and explorers to adventures in the primitive Chihuahuan Desert. It is a self-proclaimed artists colony, where modern AirBnBs, vintage Airstreams, and rustic TeePee structures have popped up to meet the demand for urbanites seeking the ultimate insta-west-texas-lonely moment. All dwellings were unoccupied when we drove by, but if they build it we will eventually come?

$155 per night for a Stargazer dwelling.

Terlingua bills itself as an authentic Texas ghost town and its claim to fame is its annual International Chili Championship. We brewed up our own batch using what we could find in the Dometic fridge and seasoned it with 2X award winner Tom Dozier’s spices from the Lajitas General Store. Award winning? We’d say its is akin to saying you have the best cup of coffee in America. Who can really argue with that? And, if you do get to arguing about it, isn’t that the point?

Award winning chili ingredients at the Upper Madera site on the Rio Grande river.

Sprinkled among the low adobe and weathered trailer homes typical of a desert town, new builds are popping up that could have come right out of the Emmy nominated mock dramedy streaming on Showtime, “The Curse.” In the series, a couple of pretentious Angelenos with Daddy’s dirty money plan to save an impoverished desert town by making it eco-friendly with passive mirrored homes. No kidding, we found the home in Terlingua, along with VENGA, a hipster cafe/outdoor gear/art museum that would look appropriate next to MOMA in NY. We took advantage of the open Pickleball court in town and worked on our dinking drills. Obviously, Eric had our paddles with him. Unfortunately, the locals might have been intimidated by our skill level and did not come out to fill in for a doubles game.

Excellent form!

Opposite Terlingua in every way, Presidio, TX is the western gate of the Ranch. There are no fancy outfitters or eco-friendly rentals there. We found a laundromat, gas station, grocery store and auto parts store, perfect for taking care of business. Presidio’s sister city on the other side of the border is Ojinaga and is roughly ten times the size of Presidio. A lot of commerce takes place at the crossing. Ranger Kat recommended that we do all of our grocery shopping in OJ since the stores are much nicer. “Just be sure to not leave anything in your car,” she added. Mixed messaging?

A beer can Octillo tree at sunset. Big Bend supplied the plant. We helped empty the cans.

Perched high on a bluff overlooking Rio Grande about halfway between Presidio and Terlingua, we are nearly alone in this supposedly booked campground. Half of our view is Mexico, half Estados Unidos. A sign states that there is a $5,000 fine for illegally crossing the border so we will not be wading across for a lunch on the southern bank. The 360 view of ocotillos, prickly pears and more varieties of cacti set against rock face and mountains keep Sheri busy practicing her outdoor painting and drawing. She’s no Alice Knight, but she’s trying.

Hiking the Closed Canyon slot.

Away from camp, we hiked the nearby Closed Canyon, a slot canyon that empties into the river. The trail terminates in a tinaja of undetermined depth. We could hear but not see a boisterous party of 20-somethings further down the slot, and see their wet tracks left on the other side, but did not join them. Age and experience has its privileges, and having hiked the impossibly narrow Buckskin Gulch slot in the Arizona strip, we earned our pass.

Trendy VENGA. Also, supplied the WIFI for this post. Thanks!

It’s date night in Terlingua tonight. Maybe there will be music on the porch or a game of pickup pickleball on the concrete court. All we know is that they built it so we must come.

The Mayor of Lajintas. Some say he is the Greatest Of All Time (GOAT).