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. Find part one “No Winners, Only Survivors” by clicking here.
Part Two: Hot Tubs and Poop Buckets
Green Scene organizers Shannon Carter and Mark Kneeskern—both somewhere in their 30s—met in Terlingua seven years ago. Carter grew up in Baytown, a city located on the humid coastal plains east of Houston, home to several massive petrochemical industrial complexes. She recalls the year that the river behind her house caught on fire and their family had to be evacuated. In high school she got involved with Future Farmers of America, where she worked with calves, pigs, chickens, turkeys and lambs.
After two years at the community college in Baytown, Shannon moved to Alpine, one of the two small towns north of Terlingua—Marathon being the other one—that offer the last chance for ranchers, hunters and hikers to patronize anything resembling fast-food franchises or fully-stocked grocery stores before heading out into the West Texas wilderness. She tells me she wanted to get as far from Houston as she could while still paying in-state tuition, and Alpine’s Sul Ross University satisfied those requirements. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Animal Health Management and Wildlife Biology. She tried grad school for a minute, but soon dropped out and moved to Terlingua in the spring of 1999.
“I’ve lived lots of beautiful places,” Shannon says, and happily recounts an adventure-job-circuit C.V. that includes six seasons of sea kayaking in the Virgin Islands, four seasons as a river guide in Colorado and a year in Moab.
“But none of those places compare to the solitude and vastness of this desert,” she says.
Mark Kneeskern hails from Audubon, Iowa where he had what sounds like a fairly idyllic childhood, adventuring on the East Nishnabotna River and roaming the pastures around his parent’s farm. He got a BFA from a state university that he decries as “worthless.”
Mark first came to Terlingua to visit a friend who was working in the Chisos Mountains, the high country of Big Bend National Park. They hiked and camped and Mark got to see a bear. His friend took him on a tour of the local drinking holes and they had what he describes as “crazy times” that left him “shook up.” He moved to Terlingua three years later to become a river guide.
“Terlingua is a hard place to live,” says Mark. “No running water or electricity on most properties. Flush toilets are rare. At first, these factors seem like obstacles, but when you get used to things, you realize that ‘simple’ is the best and happiest way to live. You learn to make it work if you have the will. When it’s nice, it’s paradise. When it’s not nice, it really is a living hell.”