December 28, 2012 – Part 1
We are heading west out of the Big Bend National Park today. Our first stop is a small ghost mining town of Terlingua. Once a booming mining town that exploded when cinnabar was discovered, from which mercury is extracted, is now not much more than a few building remnants made of stone, abandoned capped mines, and of course the excavated hills that litter the area for miles. This isolated place along the Rio Grande is called the end of the road, but it might as well be the end of the world. The closest commercial airport is five hours away. Cellphones do not work, even at the top of the buttes. There is no municipal government, unless you count border patrol, and the elected mayor was once a goat. Yes, you heard right. The elected official of this town was a billy goat. Clay Henry, Sr. and then later Clay Henry, Jr and I believe there may have even been a Clay Henry III were all known for their unusual thirst for a cold Lone Star beer and became such an icon that when an election in the early 1970’s came around, the town voted to have the goat become mayor. They both have since passed on and goats are no longer kept to amuse the tourists, or maybe possibly the locals. Around the same time Terlingua also became home to the one of the biggest chili cook-offs in the nation, with participants coming from all across the country each year to enter in the competition. Ever see Independence Day? Remember the part in the movie when all the RV’s are in the desert? Well that is about what it look like here when it is cook-off time.
There is not much town left now of it’s former state and only a dozen or so “modern” buildings, and I use the word modern very loosely here, have erected after the mining bust. There is a small gift/general store, which even sported three men playing guitar on the front porch for everyone’s entertainment, a chapel, an outreach shelter, Starlight Theatre providing as a restaurant/saloon with live performances on the weekends, a small cafe, and an outdoor restroom. You heard right, when inquiring about facilities I was told that they only have one that is located in a separate building outside. Would seem that plumbing is a issue around here and a sign warns to expect delays with drainage of water. On the plus side, if you are looking for some unique lodging and you don’t mind paying a bit, The Big Bend Holiday Hotel (which is actually several separate lodging locations in the area) has some very unique rooms and lodgings to offer. They are a little pricey but if comfort is important then definitely worth the look.
Fed Ex may may have the market on international expedited shipping, picking up and delivering packages within 24 hrs, but it does not hold a candle to the out-of-the-way places we have spotted the UPS vehicles traveling around. Ever take a look at map of this region? Terlingua is miles from anywhere. And sometimes it is hard to image even getting postal service let alone specialized delivery. Today as we sit and eat our sandwiches a representative of the fine establishment pulls in, delivers, and with a friendly toot-and-wave to us, heads on to his next destination most likely miles away from here.
Up on a hill was an interesting place. I was compelled to take a closer look even though the sign indicated that it was not for tourist exploration. What caught my attention was the state of the building combined with the radio tower sticking out of the exposed roof. To make the appearance even more confusing was the dilapidation of the building in contrast with the carefully placed patio furniture and potted plants. Was it really occupied? Was this some secret location where the government was transmitting it’s secrets around the world?
The are several ruins of the once mining town. Many are only a partial wall or two standing, but there were still one or two that were fairly intact. Tourist may wander the ruins at their own pleasure, or risk, as there are several large holes indicating where the ground has caved in, not to mention the glass scattered everywhere. Nonetheless it is still very nice to explore without anyone glaring at every step you take.
Some of the most interesting explorations was not what was on top of the ground but what was under. There were numerous caves scattered around, remnants of rooms from structures build into the side of buttes created from the mining. Some even contained left behind trinkets. We would like to believe they were left behind by miners from days past for us to discover, but the various smashed Lone Star beer bottles and clothing labels suggest that the owners of these items were more likely a little more recent-perhaps maybe even the night before.
Above us on a nearby hill we notice more ruins and decide to hike up and take a look.
From this vantage point we are able to see far off into the distance and obtain a different perspective of the surroundings. Off into the eastern distance we can see the Rio Grande River as it winds it way towards Big Bend. Turning south we are greeted with the towering cliffs on the Mexican border. Further to our west is Big Bend State Park, though it is still quite a distance from here and not visible from our location. We will be heading towards that direction later today.
High on the hilltop, the town has erected a giant Pegasus with blue lights attached. At night when on, I bet this is a sight to see against the dark desert night. We also find a couple of large, covered mine shafts. I venture over, peering cautiously down into one, but the mangled pieces of support below does not build confidence, and I limit my experience on the sidelines. Andrew, on the other hand, boldly jumps right in the center with camera in hand, snapping shots even before his two feet hit metal. The ruins up here have not fared as well as those below, with little more than a few stones left. Even with the lack of walls though, it is evident that many buildings were housed here. The view would have been a great selling point!
Along the short road to into the town a small art exhibit is displayed. The dragonfly and motorcycle are made from recycled parts. There were some great shots taken and maybe I will do a post with just those shots some time. Shooting from below provided some excellent vantage point shots and limiting our choice to post to three shots was extremely difficult.
Have you had your tetanus booter lately? You better think twice before sitting down here to take that tourist shot. Maybe that was the intent. No need to post “Stay Off” signs. Just make sure it is ill-advised to clamber on.
Three hours later we finally have explored most of the town and so we hop into the truck receiving the cool blast of relief from the ice cold a/c and head west once again.