The entire front wing is falling down. There are no doors or windows in this wing. There are bullet holes in the kitchen walls along with graffiti from its visitors while abandoned over the decades. There’s an underground radio station in a secret room. There are only two rooms that can be reserved in a wing behind the dilapidated wing. There is one bathroom. There is original furniture leftover from its former residents, hauntingly furnishing what little remains of the mansion.
The ghost town of Terlingua is a cozy place. It’s quiet. It’s calming. It has a rich history. It has a few residents in what few structures are still standing within the perimeter of the ghost town. Everyone knows each other and most of them can be found on the steps of the local general store on Texas afternoons and evenings, playing guitar and drinking cold beers. Mind you, this general store allows its patrons to purchase beer, leave it in the fridge inside, and take them out one by one as you enjoy an evening on the porch, under the vast Texas sky. The worker keeps a tally of how many you have left. You can’t get more small-town than that. And that, my friends, is authenticity at its finest.
Kaci Fullwood, the mind behind the Mansion, is an amazingly intelligent, knowledgeable host, offering immense insight into the surrounding area, local charms, natural history, and area legends. She left the Mansion much as it was when she first crafted the idea of renting the rooms to visitors. Aside from her crafty touches in the livable areas of the Mansion, it stands deteriorating as it has been for several decades, which I find both genuine and intriguing.
Arriving much after dark on a warm Texas night, there’s an enveloping eeriness to the Mansion. There’s a quietness to West Texas that’s unlike any place I’ve been. It was almost as if the Mansion was breathing and given its history, that’s a possibility. Miss Kaci (as locals call her) greeted me with a glass of Sangiovese and an intriguing conversation in the rustic kitchen (a tin ceiling, a door leading to the dilapidated wing, and original windows), before showing me to my room.
The room was upstairs. It was simple, simply having two beds and a vanity sink. The curtains hung on “rods” made from local vegetation. And there was an antique filing cabinet found in the remains of the Mansion. The bathroom is at the foot of the stairs, which is lined with built-in bookshelves filled with classic novels and local tales, a collection belonging to another local resident who had nowhere to put them. There’s another door leading to the top floor of the inaccessible wing which remains sealed, as the floor is no longer existent.
I awoke around 5 a.m. to brew some coffee and watch the sunrise over the Chinati Mountains from the Mansion’s porch. The vibrant colors slowly rising over the desert and mountain ranges was the most beautiful sunrise I’ve ever seen. Steam from my hot coffee created a mystic, cloud-like forefront to the distant sunrise. By 7 a.m., Miss Kaci and I were off to Mexico, via River Road, listed in America’s most scenic drives, which travels along the Rio Grande River into Presidio, Texas before crossing into Ojinaga, Mexico, which was about a two hour drive from the Mansion, though I took my time for innumerable photo ops along the route.
We spent the morning exploring the sidestreets of Ojinaga, having roadside ceviche, and interacting with other Terlingua locals who happened to be having lunch at the same drug-lord operated restaurant where we were having morning margaritas (Miss Kaci is well-informed). One of my favorite characteristics of Ojinaga were the city official trucks with cannons in their beds. I didn’t know cannons were still considered conventional weapons?! We then ventured farther in search of San Carlos, a small village about 3 hours into Mexico. We went through Mexican Federales checkpoints (a dream come true for me- ridiculous, I realize) and explored the quiet streets of a village that had little activity aside from a cock-fighting arena and a couple of local farmers selling produce from the back of their truck. With timing seemingly perfect, we were headed back to Terlingua along River Road as the sun set over the Rio Grande, offering scenery that words do no justice.
After napping, I headed down the hill, just footsteps away, to the Starlight Theater, a local restaurant next to the town’s general store- a colorfully converted theater turned restaurant and bar in an adobe style building, specializing in live music and wild game.
The following morning, I set off to explore the ghost town by foot, which I’d yet to do. I enjoyed the Wild West cemeteries scattered amongst decrepit mining houses, backdropped by mountain ranges in all directions, wooden crosses standing pridefully in the desert stillness. I met Blair Pittman, a former correspondent for National Geographic, for lunch at the Ghost Town Cafe, a very local diner- a diner so local my waitress was rolling cigarettes at the table next to me while I ate homemade chicken noodle soup and Bridget (the Ghost Town Cafe kitty) happened to jump into my lap mid-meal. I ventured with Blair to a different ghost town he lives on- a former cinnabar mine (which I’m not allowed to name- hey, that’s The Anti Tourist loyalty; some things are meant to be discovered on our own).
I had planned to leave thereafter when I received a last minute offer from a townsperson to stay another night in their friend’s adobe house in the town. Apparently the said friend was in Ecuador, so they did the logical thing and sent their daughter through his window to unlock the doors, granting me an entire house to myself for another evening of exploration. Anytime “breaking and entering” is involved, I’m happy. Again, names will be left unstated for obvious reasons.
So, I headed to Long Draw Pizza for dinner. I somehow scored a free pizza, made friends with some locals who I ended up incredibly intoxicated with (Newcastles were only $2), and was taught that cell phone usage is not permitted in Long Draw. In fact, the owner will go ape-shit if she sees you on your phone. I like this. We ended up going to La Kiva, a bar down the street, and playing a game called Butt Darts. (That’s one of those things that must be discovered on your own as well. And I might be a little bit ashamed.)
The next morning I ventured to Kosmic Kathy’s Kowgirl Kafe, a pink roadside trailer specializing in BBQ. I sat around a fire with a few locals, attempting to cure the damage from the previous eve. One man mentions being at La Kiva the night before when I said, “Oh! I was there last night.” He responds, “I met you last night. Do you remember playing butt darts?” Laughter ensued around the campfire. I then met Brown Dog, who is apparently the collective pet of Terlingua. Brown Dog wonders the highway between Study Butte and Terlingua (about 5 miles), stopping at restaurants along the way, knowing what time people will be where. When veterinary attention is necessary, a random townsperson will take him and set him free again. I was informed that there’s no worry of a traffic accident as Brown Dog’s apparently a “free spirit, a wanderer, a wise dog.”
The quirks, authenticities, mysteries, and discoveries are endless in this quiet, remote corner of West Texas. Within just three days, I gained random insight, nearly unbelievable stories, unusual experiences, new friends, local knowledge, and reassurance of realness left in the world. Terlingua offers a change of pace that seems impossible to achieve. Terlingua offers a direct interaction with a history long lost. Terlingua offers remarkable beauty, a genuine sense of community, and most importantly, a reminder that our personal velocity is, in fact, our personal option.
By: Ashley Halligan