I’m sitting in the desert at the edge of Texas, enjoying grilled quail amid an assembly that includes artists, dropouts, backpackers and notable ranchers. Over my right shoulder I can see a stuffed goat that once served as the mayor of nearby Lajitas, and in front of me a troubadour sings a lament to the moon. It’s Friday night at the Starlight Theatre in the Terlingua ghost town.
This rocky village sits about 10 miles from the Mexico border, but it seems more like another universe, one defined by incongruous elements such as a pirate ship and rough metal folk art. When it was founded more than a century ago, Terlingua was defined by a quicksilver mine, but the village faded after the mine went bust. By the 1960s artists and freethinkers found they could thrive there without society’s constraints.
Like many of those gathered here, I’m fresh off the trails of Big Bend National Park. In pursuit of a good meal, I stop at the Starlight for dinner before heading home. The building served as the town’s theater into the 1930s but was abandoned. After 30 years its four walls remained, but the roof was gone. The adobe shell became an open-air music venue. With the West Texas stars for a ceiling, the Starlight earned its new name.
After a few more decades, the owner decided to add a roof and create a proper restaurant. Now the Starlight is possibly the best place west of the Pecos for distinctive dining, boasting creative dishes like chicken-fried wild boar, axis burgers and bowls of classic Texas chili.
After dinner I grab a cold beer from the Terlingua Trading Company next door and join the characters on the expansive porch to enjoy the West Texas breeze and listen to yarns that stretch across the Rio Grande.
Chet Garner shares his Texplorations as the host of The Daytripper on PBS.