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Terlingua, a magical little ghost town scattered across the low hills along Hwy-170, used to be populated by the hard-scrabble folks who worked in the mercury mines. But in the 1970s, river guides began moving into the abandoned stone structures, and now Terlingua is home to friendly outdoors enthusiasts, artists, miscreants, and drifters lured by the stunning sunsets and remote environs.
For such a tiny place, Terlingua has a lot to recommend it. Desert Sports offers a variety of rafting trips, from one to twelve days (Tel:432-371-2727, Web: www.desertsportstx.com ). It also leads group hikes, rents rafts and bikes, and provides shuttles into the backcountry. Allow $135 for a full day's guided trip along Santa Elena Canyon. During the first weekend in November, the community hosts its world championship chili cookoff (Web: www.chili.org/terlingua.html ), when the place turns into the "Redneck Mardi Gras."
La Posada Milagro, at the top of the hill, offers four luxuriously rustic rooms (Tel:432/371-3044, Web: www.laposadamilagro.com ) in a restored dry-stack stone building, along with a four-bed bunkhouse. Just down the road is Las Ruinas Camping Hostel. Stop by the Boathouse bar for info. Near Terlingua's fly-blown cemetery, set against a backdrop of evocative ruins, an old movie house has been converted into the welcoming Starlight Theater (Tel:432/371-2326, Web: www.starlighttheatre.com ), which in fact is a bar and restaurant. Just outside the theater, locals linger on the porch to drink beer, gossip, and marvel at the mountains. You can buy six-packs and browse a fantastic selection of local books at the Terlingua Trading Company. There's good food at Rio Bravo, Kathy's Kosmic Kowgirl Kafe and the Ghost Town Café. For rowdy late-night action, head to La Kiva (Tel:432/371-2250, Web: www.lakiva.net ), on Hwy-170 at Terlingua Creek, or the Boathouse in the Ghost Town.