In the 1800's the area around Terlingua was inhabited by a few scattered Mexican herders, living in a precarious relationship with Apache and Comanche Indians who regularly moved through the wild country. Mercury was discovered in 1890, and soon a thriving city of almost 2,000 was devoting its energies to extracting the rich red ore (cinnabar) from beneath barren hills. Millions of dollars worth of quicksilver was marketed before the boom tapered off. The hundreds of wooden shacks are gone entirely; many rock and adobe building stand roofless, with their walls crumbling.
Some modern residents have come of late--leisure homes in the remote desert setting, a country store with grocery staples, souvenirs, and mineral specimens, a few motel type accommodations, and a rustic, home-cooking style restaurant. The ghost town is near the western edge of Big Bend National Park. Located off F.M. 170.
Once a year, on the first Saturday in November some 5,000 "chiliheads"
converge on the desolate area for the International Championship
Chili Cookoffs. The first, started in 1967 as a contest both
of wit and chili between humorists Wick Fowler and H. Allen Smith,
has become a cherished Texas tradition. The other contest includes
individuals and representatives from the Chili Appreciation Society
International; Texas is represented by the winner of an earlier
state chili cookoff in San Marcos. Aircraft from across the nation
crowd the dirt airstrip, and because there are few accommodations
in the desert wilderness, RVs and makeshift facilities are much
in evidence. Zany entertainment coexists with the showmanship
of chili chefs concocting their steaming "bowls of red."
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