Terlingua is the liveliest ghost town you’ll ever experience. Quality restaurants, trendy lodging, and funky gift shops are just a few of the things you’ll encounter in the small community of Terlingua. Even the cemetery here is a major tourist attraction. The town was abandoned after its mercury mines closed in the 1940s (leading to its distinction as a ghost town), but it has since been revitalized as a tourist attraction with several hundred permanent residents.
Most of the souls laid to rest at the cemetery were workers at the Chisos Mining Company, a major quicksilver producer established in 1903. The liquid metal, eventually called mercury, was mined as cinnabar ore and recovered via a baking process to its metallic state. The mining company became one of the nation’s leading producers of quicksilver, peaking during World War I when 40 percent of the mercury mined in the United States came from Terlingua.
By World War II, mining operations ceased, leaving Terlingua as a ghost town until the late 1960s, when the village became famous for its annual chili cook-off. In 1967, the Chili Appreciation Society named Terlingua the Chili Capital of the World, and the November event continues to draw thousands of people to this deserted desert community every November.
If you only have a short amount of time to spend here, be sure to visit the Terlingua Trading Company (100 Ivey St., 432/371-2234, www.historic-terlingua.com ) and adjacent Starlight Theater (432/371-2326, www.starlighttheatre.com , $8–28). These two buildings perfectly capture the Terlingua vibe, with enough lively folk art, friendly locals, and spicy border-influenced food to rouse the spirits at the famed cemetery just down the road. You can easily spend an hour in the Trading Company, browsing the impressive book collection featuring national, statewide, and regional titles (including the entertaining Tales from the Terlingua Porch), Mexican-themed artwork, local snacks, toys, and the requisite Viva Terlingua!
T-shirts. Plan to have a meal at the Starlight, a historic 1930s theater now serving as a restaurant featuring hearty American fare, regional dishes (the chipotle-glazed pork medallions are a must), and some of the best margaritas you’ll ever experience. A troubadour often accompanies your meal with lonesome western songs from a small stage in the main dining area.
Other noteworthy eateries in town include Phat Cafe (Hwy. 170 at Terlingua Creek, 432/371-2520, open for lunch 11 a.m.–2 p.m. Tues.–Sat., dinner at 7 p.m. Wed.–Sat., reservations required, $10–32), a fairly upscale and tiny Asian fusion restaurant featuring fresh vegetables and a perfect pad thai. For a true taste of local flavor and culture, check out La Kiva Restaurant and Bar (Hwy. 170 at Terlingua Creek, 432/371-2250, www.lakiva.net , 5 p.m.–midnight daily, $6–19). This rustic eatery is known for its top-notch barbecue and mediocre Mexican food—the best bet is the Terlingua Trio, a combo plate of smoked chicken, ribs, and brisket.
Unless you’re visiting Terlingua during the raucous chili festival held the first week of November each year, you shouldn’t have trouble finding a room. Surprisingly, there are several decent lodging options in and around this tiny village, but the best choice by far is La Posada Milagro Guest House (100 La Posada Ln., 432/371-3044, www.laposadamilagro.net , $145 d). The historic stucco and stone facility offers luxury in the midst of the harsh desert climate via its four suites with large comfy beds, air-conditioning, sun decks, fire pits, hammocks, and Wi-Fi service.