Road Trip Big Bend: It’s a Ghost Town

This following post represents the collective experiences and thoughts of three women who set out on a 1,500 mile trek across West Texas in December 2003. This is their “Road Trip: Big Bend.”

SUNDAY

Sunday morning found us well-rested and ready for our journey down “El Camino Del Rio,” the River Road. “For over 30 miles, El Camino del Rio twists and winds with the Rio Grande, crossing arroyos, climbing mountains, and hugging canyon walls. The “Big Hill” has one of the steepest grades on a highway in Texas, and at the top, the view looks east to the Chisos Mountains 75 miles, and west into Colorado Canyon and mountain ranges deep into Mexico.”

We awoke early enough to catch the sun rising over the mountains, and all agreed that it would be great to see the sun rise in the park the next morning.

Our first stop, after coffee and a photo opp outside the hotel, was the Terlingua Ghostown, an old mining camp, now partially deserted and left in ruins. An elaborate gift shop—incredibly out of place—kept us occupied for nearly an hour, as we scouted out the first truly commercial establishment since we left Austin.

Historic Terlingua…often referred to as the “Ghostown”…was home of the Chisos Mine, which extracted cinnabar, or Mercury ore. The Chisos was the largest of almost a dozen cinnabar mines in what was once know as the Terlingua Mining District….During the boom days of 1913-1918, the population of Chisos Mine and Historic Terlingua was over 2000.

Several structures have been restored or stabilized. The main building once housed the largest retail store between Del Rio and El Paso. It now houses shops and a restaurant. Many of the stone miners’ cabins have been restored by a new generation of inhabitants. The massive adobe walls of the original owners mansion still stand, and demonstrate how quickly boom goes to bust. Although Historic Terlingua is all private property, much of it is open to the public.

The $1 walking tour brochure led us around the town and ruins, but we opted to skip numbers 6 through 15 and headed to the hauntingly attractive Ghostown Cemetery. Here, we discovered old and new graves adorned with rugged crosses of wood and iron. Candles and monuments dotted the small stone mountains standing in memory of the people who once occupied this town.

Today, people still live in the Ghostown, in makeshift houses created from the ruins. New roofs and walls attach to golden adobe brick skeletons. They call this home and we drive off toward Presidio in our SUV with our newly purchased chachki.

Ghostown cemetery
Ghostown cemetery
Ghostown cemetery
Road Trip: Big Bend narrative & photos ©2020, Jen Payne.

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