Life off the grid in a wild West Texas border town
Words and photos by Daniel Chamberlin
In April of 2009, Arthur contributing editor Daniel Chamberlin got down with the DIY homesteaders and off-the-grid outsiders of Far West Texas at the first annual Terlingua Green Scene.
Part One: No Winners, Only Survivors
The tiny settlement of Terlingua lays in the Big Bend country of Far West Texas, just north of the Rio Grande, a place that remains one of the most remote areas of the continental United States. In the interest of continuing to lessen the town’s ecological impact, in April of 2009 a group of local homesteaders and off-the-grid-types organized the first Terlingua Green Scene, a conference of sustainable living strategies, including demonstrations of cob house construction, solar cooking and desert farming. The events took place in and around the town’s thriving community garden, a refuge for vegetables, sunflowers and other plants that would otherwise quickly expire in the arid Chihuahuan desert climate. A sculpture of St. Francis of Assisi, created by a Vietnam vet named Spider and painted by local folk music icon Collie Ryan, looks on from a small ridge just to the west.
The Green Scene organizers’ aim — at least in part — is to strengthen community ties as well as to establish Terlingua as a hub of homesteading and DIY sustainability, and to give the town’s other legacies a run for their money: Terlingua has been a footnoted way-station in tales of smugglers heading from Mexico into the United States from the days of candellaria wax and sotol cactus moonshine up to the modern era of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and migrant workers. It’s also known for an annual chili cook-off that attracts thousands of Budweiser-swilling “chiliheads;” as a retreat for the Texas country and folk music scene; and of course there’s the world-class river rafting, mountain biking, birding and hiking of Big Bend National Park — over 800,000 acres of mountains, deserts, bears, antelope and alpine forests whose boundary is 10 miles to the east.