Trash peppers nearly every plot of dirt, rocky sand and cacti throughout the miniature town of Terlingua, a few miles west of Big Bend National Park. Rusted out chassis with their wheels long removed promise to keep their residence alive here for decades to come. Giant strips of sheet metal creak slowly, painfully in the heavy winds that cool an otherwise blazing sun day to perfect temperatures. Plastic bags join the doves in filling the blue sky and perching on trees, telephone poles and trash sculptures.
Spring has arrived on the calendar, and heavy rains in March have given way to a myriad of flowering weeds, cacti, ocotillo and a lush-for-the-desert patches of sage and grass. Tourists rub the sand from their eyes and the sweat out of their straw hats. A local man, in his late twenties, smokes a rolled cigarette next to his old pickup, his long hair, unkempt and unwashed, blows around his face as he’s joined by a similar looking fellow. He passes the cigarette, a distinct smell permeates the parking lot of the “Porch”, where they’re currently biding their afternoon away.
The Porch is the focus of Terlingua. Older gentleman of questionable backgrounds and thick in the smile sip Lone Stars and greet the rest of us. Some tourists look past them, others sit down and enjoy a story or two over a beer.
Terlingua is a ghost town twice over. Less than 60 people live here now. It was once a rather bustling mining district. Mercury led to the boom. One can imagine disheveled, salty old miners inhabiting the original ruins we see today, sandy, worn away stone and clay structures that now resemble a sandcastle after a wave washes away its sharper edges, leaving a rounded shell of a relic.
Time went by, the town became a true ghost town, no residents. Then a wave of free spirits came for the cheap housing. Some of the old ruins have been restored to livable condition, or changed into vacation rentals or coffee shops. New buildings were erected over the past few decades, many of which are also now close to what most of America would consider “in ruin”. Beat up school buses and ancient Airstreams are homes to many. The Chisos Mountains stand tall and gorgeous, triumphant over their desert surroundings and when the sun goes down, they glow purple. In the morning haze of a windy day, they fade into the background, almost transparent. The word “chisos” has been interpreted as having its origins in Castilian as meaning “ghost”. Fitting for their subtlety in a windstorm.
There’s an Indian word though which means “people of the forest” that may have been the origins as well. Like Terlingua itself, the Chisos rise up to hold significantly more vegetation, beauty you might say, than the relatively desolate desert surrounding them. All throughout West Texas, if one only has the eye for it, a grace can be seen amongst the decay. The desert is an astounding place, both beautiful and gritty, and this ghost town is a perfect fit.