Terlingua, Texas is the quirkiest small town I’ve ever had the chance to visit, and one that I recommend experiencing. How do I define quirky? Well, my first exposure to its weirdness, included sipping a tequila cocktail (I skipped its famous Mind Eraser, this time) at La Kiva Restaurant and Bar.
This semi-subterranean bar along the highway is an eclectic mix of horns and antlers, dinosaur bones mounted on the wall, alien, hippy and cavelike decor and so much more. You could spend a good hour moving from room to room checking it all out. It is also the shady site of the murder of its former owner.
Located in the Chihuahuan Desert near Big Bend National Park, Terlingua is not a town to be missed in your travels through West Texas. In this post, I’ll share more quirky spots.
If you haven’t been to the Big Bend area before, read about my tips for first-timers.
I’d like to thank Visit Big Bend for hosting me in May 2018. #visitbigbend
Disclosure: You can help support my small town travels by using the affiliate links in this post. Using the link is at no additional cost to you, and provides a small commission to me to help support my blog.
Terlingua: A Quirky Small Town in West Texas
Founded as a quicksilver mining town in the 1880s, Terlingua retains around 60 year-round residents according to the last census. They are artists, outlaws, guides, park rangers, geologists, and people who want to get away from it all. Being out in the middle of nowhere, they are self-reliant and imaginative, and if you take away anything from your experience, it will be their creativity.
But, just because it is a small town doesn’t mean no one visits. In 2017, 440,276 visitors came through Big Bend National Park, and many of them made their way through or to Terlingua.
A Living Ghost Town?
A few miles down the road from La Kiva Restaurant and Bar is Terlingua Ghost Town. This isn’t a typical ghost town with only empty crumbling mercury mining buildings and homes to wander through. It used to be, but that changed in the 70s when people started taking up residence. Amidst the ruins, cactus, and sagebrush is a mini village with a cafe, restaurant and bar, gift shop, art galleries, a hotel, rental guesthouses, and residential homes. Almost all of the livable spaces are created out of its ruins.
Fun fact: During its heyday in the 1890s as the “world’s quicksilver capital,” Terlingua had over 2,000 residents. Some of the town businesses included a butcher shop and ice cream shop (how in the world did they keep it cold enough?).
How to Experience Terlingua
Stay in Terlingua Ghost Town
To experience the full breadth of the area’s quirkiness, I suggest staying at the Big Bend Holiday Hotel. This unique accommodation has a variety of guest rooms and lodging throughout Terlingua Ghost Town. Many are within walking distance of the cafe, restaurant and gift shop.
During our hosted trip, we stayed in the Teacher’s House, which had two bedrooms (one with an en-suite bathroom), and a shared kitchen area. Throughout the house are unique touches that reflect West Texas or accents that are reminders of its earthiness, like a gemstone sink.
One of my favorite feature besides the bright turquoise room (love that color!) turned out to be the porch. It had a day bed, table and chairs, and a fabulous view.
Quirky Places to Eat in Terlingua
I already mentioned the uniqueness of the semi-subterranean La Kiva Restaurant and Bar. Two other quirky places I suggest are in Terlingua Ghost Town. They are La Posada Milagro Guesthouse & Casitas and The Starlight Theatre.
La Posada Milagro Guesthouse & Casitas
La Posada Milagro Guesthouse & Casitas is another option for staying in Terlingua Guesthouse. Their rustic luxury accommodations are built atop former ruins and feature sun decks, firepits, and views of Terlingua and the Chisos Mountains. I did not see their lodgings, but they do have photos on their website.
What I did do is dine at the cafe and coffee shop. The cafe is also built inside ruins and has an artsy outdoor patio with lots of bright and colorful accents and views of the mountains. For breakfast, they have items like burritos, granola and yogurt, and English muffin sandwiches. For lunch, its sandwiches and salads. I ordered a breakfast burrito, which was pretty basic. Next time, I’d try something else, like one of their plated egg dishes or splurge on French toast.
Travel tip: If you find yourself missing your dog or cat, there will surely be some here to pet.
The Starlight Theatre
The Starlight Theatre is a former motion picture house turned lively bar, restaurant and music venue. It opens at 5 pm for dinner and stays open later for the bar crowd. The theatre is spacious and airy with additional outdoor seating options. The room has an artistic ambiance, and while tourists and locals mingle together, it is the locals who add extra quirkiness to the atmosphere. I’m sure if you close the bar down, it can get even more interesting.
Be sure to check out the bar stools outside and have a photo opt with the first Mayor of Lajitas; a beer drinking stuffed goat on display near the stage. If you have to use the restrooms, they are near the jail.
I was not disappointed with the food options here, and as you can imagine being in Texas, the menu is red meat heavy with ribeyes, filet mignon, venison, and wild boar. There is even an antelope burger! I opted for the mixed grill, which had venison/wild boar sausage, grilled quail and a ribeye. Being a wine lover, I paired my meal with a Texas cabernet. If you like margaritas, they have eight to choose from.
Explore Terlingua Ghost Town
One thing you won’t want to miss is walking through Terlingua Cemetery. There are over 400 graves here, and they say not one person died of mercury poisoning, although many died during the 1918 influenza outbreak. Give yourself some time to look at the trinkets and momentos left on the gravesites. I was particularly touched by two graves of two young teens who died on the same day.
If you have time, buy a self-guided walking tour pamphlet at the Terlingua Trading Company gift shop ($1) and discover Terlingua’s past. There are 11 stops on the tour, and some of the highlights include Saint Agnus Chruch, Terlingua Jail, the Perry School (where you can also stay) and an old mining shaft. One stop that isn’t on the list is the community garden. You can’t walk through the gardens, but the humorous signs and art are worth peeking inside.
Fun fact: Terlingua has eight miles of hand-dug tunnels. Some are 800 feet deep or more.
Travel tip: If you decide to do the walking tour, wear sturdy shoes and go in the morning or evening when it is cooler. Don’t forget to wear sunscreen and bring a hat and sunglasses. Also, be snake aware.
More Information on Visiting Big Bend
To find out more about Terlingua Ghost Town, visit their website.
To find out more about the Big Bend area, including where to stay and what to do, go to Visit Big Bend.
To find out more about Big Bend National Park, visit their website.
To find out more about Big Bend Ranch State Park, go here.
Have you been to Terlingua? What quirky thing did you love or hate?
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with meals and accommodations for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.