In mid 1880s, the location on which this ghost town stands came to life after the discovery of cinnabar from which metal mercury is extracted. Miners thronged the place and soon the area had a town that was home to 2,000 individuals. Insufficient details exist about when the minerals were discovered at Terlingua town and the exact location where they were spotted is still unclear.
It is believed that Native Americans knew about the cinnabar and would exchange it for body pigment. More details indicate that when American and Mexican prospectors located the precious mineral in the 1880s at the town, it was impossible to start mining operations due to the presence of hostile Indians and the other factor was that this was a remote location.
Jack Dawson is said to have produced the first mercury in 1888 from this town but operations did not take off with speed after this. That being the case little was known about what Terlingua had to offer since no details about this were found on the mining industry magazines and newspapers. This continued until mid-1890s when word went round about the newly found gem at the city and soon thereafter, four mining companies had set up shop here by 1900.
This ghost town has now become a popular tourist destination for those who pay the place a visit whenever they are within its vicinity, at Big Bend National Park. Its close proximity to the park is what affords it visitors on various occasions. Some of the activities that visitors enjoy when they drop by include motorcycling, mountain biking, hiking, rafting and canoeing the Rio Grande as well as camping.
Every first Saturday of November, more than 10,000 “chiliheads” take part in two annual chili cook-offs at the former town of Terlingua. These are the Frank X. Tolbert/Wick Fowler World Chili Championships and the Chili Appreciation Society International. This Cook-Off sponsored a “Mexican Fence-Climbing Contest” in the 1970s to spoof what was a planned reinforcement of the chain-link fence by the U.S. government that separated San Ysidro, California from Tijuana, Mexico, and El Paso, Texas from Cuidad Juarez, Mexico.
Undocumented Mexican workers put up the fence that the “chili heads” used for this event and would labor on a yearly basis for those who put together the Cook-Off event for $5 a day, in addition to rustic lodging and meals. Carroll Shelby, a car manufacturer who owned a nearby ranch that was 220,000-acre (890 square meters) was part of the founders of the first chili cook-off. This was in 1967.
This ghost town and its environs played host to the 2015 National Geographic Channel show named “Badlands, Texas.” The show featured the 2014 murder of Glenn Felts. Wim Wenders’ movie Paris, Texas has a scene in which Travis is brought to Terlingua to see the German physician. It is a clear indication that this ghost town will continue to attract many for various activities in the days to come and is a site that has more to offer than a tour of the old mines and any structures remaining here.