No one ends up in Terlingua, Texas by accident.
Regardless of how many miles accumulate on the dashboard odometer, the town is a million miles away from the modern world. Terlingua is desert town doing a slow dance with the powerful grip of nature in one direction and while people searching for a brief reprise from an overly connected world pull from another. Instinctively you find yourself rooting for the former.
“By Terilingua standards I am well off,” said a man with bottle-dark hair leaning from a barstool in the fabled Starlight Theater. His words are both truthful and ironic.
The desert town, now only a generation or two from being abandoned by the world when the mining business dried up, still proudly wears the scars of time. Adobe and stone housing shells no larger than a backyard shed dot the landscape – some more recognizable than others. Whiles most have crumbled under the benevolent care of Mother Nature, others are slowing returning to life as small rentals for those exploring nearby Big Bend National Park.
Terlingua is an honest-to-God ghost town brought back to life – that is in relative terms. And those terms are completely at the discretion of local residents. Even the paved roads seem added more as a convenience to visitors than to locals where four-wheel trucks are as common as rattlesnakes.
While the nearest Starbucks is safely located hundreds of miles away, a small shed of a building serves coffee to both locals and guests. The ordering area generously allows room for three close friends to stand tightly next to each other. Outside picnic tables and a half-dozen or so small tables and chairs populate the space beneath sun-shading canopies.
The man at the bar continues to talk to a pair of women who obviously reside in a zip code far away. Shorts and shirt with a collar make him one of the best-dressed people in the restaurant. He could be selling real estate or himself – but here you never know.
And no matter how much the outer world tries to creep in, Terlingua remains a dusty town true to its roots. Outside on a bench sit four men each with a six-pack of beer between them. I overhear them debating if it is proper to pour the remains of one beer into a fresh one in order to cool it off. The problems of the world I know remain far away from the front porch.
There is a special kind of quiet in Terlingua. One where the soundtrack features birds excitedly talking back and forth, dust kicking up from the ground from a nomad wind, and being able to hear the hum of an overhead electrical wire from 50 yards away. It is quiet, but like everything else in this place, on Terlingua’s terms.
The truth is if rusty metal cans and white dust were valuable commodities, Terlingua would be a boomtown. But they are not – and to those who love Terlingua, this is perfectly fine.