Terlingua, Texas, a historic ghost town of considerable renown in the breathtakingly beautiful US Southwest, etched itself in my brain on a special birthday trip a few years ago. Ellen reserved a place to stay there for two nights, a place that was unique in our experience and somehow aligned with the unique features of Terlingua itself.
“Ghost town” somehow doesn’t quite seem like an appropriate descriptor for Terlingua, even though it is promoted widely as a Texas ghost town. Terlingua is full of life—even in its hodgepodge, engrossing cemetery—and we didn’t see a single ghost there.
We arrived in Terlingua, population about 250, after spending three days in the nearby desert jewel that is Big Bend National Park, but nothing in the park had prepared us for what we would find in Terlingua. First off, when we checked into our small hotel of six rooms on the rocky hillside above the town, we knew we were someplace special. It was created from an old limestone and log building, with lots of attention to creating a beautiful, serene hotel. We got the key to Room # 4 and proceeded to unload our luggage and get settled. Soon we realized our room was just one room, with no bathroom. Then outside our door in an L-shaped addition to our room we saw another locked door with # 4 on it. That was our nicely appointed bathroom! The other direction from our door along the main building was Room # 5.
Late one night as I made my way to our separate bathroom, the residents of Room # 5 were sitting outside their door enjoying the still evening—at least until I emerged in my bathrobe and began jiggling the lock on our bathroom door. I never had observers watching me go to the outhouse when I was a child, so having observers that evening caused a strange self-consciousness. When I finished in the bathroom, I had to face those two guests as I walked the few steps back to our door. It just felt odd.
My birthday dinner was in a unique and lively restaurant that was noteworthy because the roof had blown off the old Starlight Theatre building several years earlier and was never replaced. Well after sunset we sat at our table and looked straight up at the stars.
Terlingua is a special place. Words fail me in trying to describe it. Suffice it to say that I chose the town to celebrate my birthday there, and in doing so decided to leave our car parked all day and evening, savoring the place on foot in slow strolls, milling about the old general store and cemetery, talking with locals and tourists, and wishing this was a place closer to home so I could become a regular there.
Terlingua made that particular birthday memorable. I don’t recall how I celebrated my birthday the year before that, or the year after that. But I’m not likely to forget my birthday in Terlingua.
To me, the beauty of this post is in “seeing” Terlingua again. I can see the whole town now, taken there today by memory.