Okay. So along with quirky and weird roadside attractions, I also love visiting ghost towns, abandoned buildings, and old historic places that carry stories of the past.
While researching things to do at Big Bend National Park, I also checked to see what else there is to do near the park and quickly discovered the Terlingua Ghost Town. Sweet! It went on my list of must do activities and I couldn’t wait to check it out. It ended up perfectly too, because Terlingua is located between the entrance to Big Bend National Park and our hotel, the Lajitas Golf Resort.
We had two nights and two days allotted to explore Big Bend National Park and anything else in the area, so we decided to do the Ross Maxwell scenic drive and visit Terlingua on day one, then visit the Chisos Basin, Rio Grand Village, and the rest of the park on day two, then head out the other park entrance.
The plan was to reach the Texas Ghost Town in the late afternoon, explore the ghost town for a while, then hop in line for dinner at the Starlight Theatre & Restaurant — one of the best restaurants in the area that later in the evening sometimes has a three hour wait!
Visiting The Terlingua Ghost Town
The Texas Ghost Town of Terlingua was a real mining town of 2,000 people built around the Chisos Mining Company in the mid-1880s. Chisos Mining Company, owned by Howard Perry, was a thriving cinnabar/mercury mining operation, but when the mine went bust, the miners moved on and left their homes behind. Today, Terlingua Proper has a few dozen local residents living in the Ghost Town and their homes are mixed among the abandoned mining town ruins.
As you explore the Terlingua Ghost Town, you’ll wander through adobe building ruins, around lots of prickly cactus, past old rusting cars, into an old church, through the cemetery, by the crumbling school house, and in an old hotel. There are also several capped and abandoned mines nearby, like the California Hill where the mineral terlinguaite was first found, as well as the Rainbow, the 248, and the Study Butte mines. And while the Ghost Town is cool, if you’re craving more human-interaction, Terlingua has restaurants, art galleries, a hotel, and a huge store and gift shop packed with pretty much everything you can imagine.
This first thing we did when heading to Terlingua was pull off the highway to snap photos of the giant pirate ship, enormous submarine sunk in the sand, and a Statue of Liberty on the side of the road! We then checked out some of the collapsing adobe ruins, visited the historic cemetery and graveyard, and meandered through more decaying ruins (being careful of rattlesnakes).
When we had our fill of isolated ghost town adventures, we visited the The Leapin’ Lizard Studio and Gallery that has a UFO in the front yard and enjoyed all of the colorful, beautiful handmade items inside. Then we stopped in the Terlingua Trading Company, which was the the original Chisos Mine company store built in 1908. It is in the largest old adobe building in the State of Texas and is stuffed with arts and crafts, gourmet treats, gifts, toys, clothing, home decor items, jewelry, and books, and its gallery features local writers, artists, and musicians.
Finally, we walked over to the old Starlight Theatre & Restaurant. We heard from the staff at our hotel the night before that this restaurant, gourmet dinners, a full service bar, and live music, is the best near Big Bend and often has a three-hour wait. So we hopped in line early (along with a bunch of other people) before it even opened.
The Starlight Theatre was originally built in the 1930s as the Chisos Movie Theater but when the town went bust in the 1940s, it was abandoned, the roof was sold for scrap, and the building deteriorated. Eventually it was used again as a venue for open air parties, jam sessions, concerts, and dances, and in 1991, it got a face-lift and a new roof, and reopened as the Starlight Theatre Restaurant and Bar. Today it is one of the best restaurants in Brewster County.
Know Before You Go
- Terlingua Ghost Town is located in southwestern Brewster County, West Texas, just outside Big Bend National Park.
- Admission is free.
- While the homes of the several dozen current residents are mixed in with the crumbling ghost town ruins, there are no fences in this west Texas ghost town. This means you can explore to your heart’s content, checking out the cemetery, mine shafts, and abandoned adobe structures, as well as the current restaurants, stores, and art gallery.
- The Terlingua Cemetery was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1902.
- I’m sure at some point, you’ll even visit the old jail as it’s also the location of the public restrooms!
- The historic Starlight Theatre Restaurant & Saloon is located at 631 Ivey Road, Terlingua, Texas 79852 and offers great food, great service, and live entertainment. In fact, the restaurant doesn’t open until 5:00 pm, but you’ll find a line of people outside the door at least half an hour before that. We heard wait times can be hours to eat at the Starlight!
- The ghost town of Terlingua is famous for its two Chili Cookoffs — the CASI Terlingua International Chili Championship and the Original Terlingua International Championship Chili Cookoff — both held the first weekend of November.