After our magical morning at Santa Elena canyon and almost as memorable a night (that story to be shared tomorrow!), Suzanne and I knew the day following would be hard-pressed to surpass our “incredible” Tuesday, March 18th! But Wednesday sure tried its best to be memorable!
It started in the wee hours when an unexpected wind storm began rocking the RVs and pushing around campsite furniture. Winds that wake you up in the middle of the night always seem more dire than those in the daytime—I was sure they were blowing over 80mph, but in reality, I know they probably were “only” half of that! I got out of bed, hit the button to bring the slide-out in, and I could return back to bed with my problems fairly well solved.
Not so restful a night for Suzanne, Sara & Charlie (with their rigs facing the opposite direction against the wind). They were all looking pretty battle-worn by daybreak. Suzanne and I decided to postpone our morning hiking plans, hang out in our respective RVs, and see if winds might die down later in the day.
By mid-afternoon, with chores done, and interesting books and travel brochures all read, hanging around the campground was beginning to get pretty boring with no Internet or TV to further divert our attention. The winds were still gusty, but the sun was now starting to pierce the dusty haze, so we decided to take a drive over to Terlingua ghost town just outside the West entrance of Big Bend National Park.
My RVing friend, Santa Jack, had mentioned driving past a very curious looking restaurant in Terlingua when he visited Big Bend last year. Quick research described the place as a subterranean bar with dinosaur bones, live music, and great barbeque. Sounded like good enough reason to hop in the Tracker and make a 70-mile drive!
Suzanne and I rolled into Terlingua around 5:30 and found La Kiva a few minutes later. But, curiously, this supposedly very popular establishment (with a prominent sign out front saying “Open at 5pm”) had a locked door and empty parking lot on this particular Wednesday night.
Well, now what? We headed up into the ghost town and saw a crowd of cars parked in front of the Starlight Theatre (including this one that looked like it’d been parked there for quite some time!). Now this looked like the place to be!
As legend has it, the Starlight got its name after some locals began using the roofless, abandoned old movie house for their plays, parties, and jam sessions in the 1960s. A couple decades later, the building finally got its roof back when the current restaurant moved in.
A great local duo, The Whitmores, played while we ate dinner. Alex played the guitar with his wife, Marti, strumming an old suitcase. Alex’s song Never Gonna Get Texas Out of You, seemed to ring pretty close to home for Suzanne (who would be leaving her native state the following week). They finished their set with a fun tune called The Opera Singer, which spotlighted Marti’s operatic training and brought a big round of applause. What an unexpected treat!
Before we left, we walked to the back of the restaurant to admire a variety of artwork including this cowboy mural painted behind the main stage,
and this wild Lone Star-drinking antelope!
These days, Terlingua is a collection of a few hundred free-spirits who live in an eclectic mix of small houses, RVs, old school buses, and shacks. It’s current claim to fame is as the “Chili Capital of the World” for its annual Terlingua Chili Cook Off, but the town originally began in the late 1800s as a company town for mercury mining operations in the area. When the mines closed up at the start of World War II, its old buildings were abandoned and Terlingua became a ghost town.
It was interesting to walk around Terlingua’s old church, jail, and even its old cemetery.
Today, while preparing this post, I went searching the Net for more info on why the La Kiva restaurant might have been closed the day we were there. I found my answer.
It turned out to be the scene of Terlingua’s biggest crime in years when the bar’s owner, Glenn Felts, was found beaten to death in the parking lot early one morning this past February. A local river rafting guide was soon arrested for the crime and now awaits trial for felony first degree murder. The restaurant has, sadly, been closed ever since.
A reminder to never underestimate the history and mysteries that lie beneath the surface of sleepy little ghost towns of the wild Western frontier.