Some Old Flyguides Stuff

I was going through some old emails after the death of Jim Hart, a dear friend and - among many other things, Flyguides publisher.

You can read just a little bit about Jim here.

In 2002, he and I started Flyguides. It was an online travel site for pilots, doomed from the start by an advertising model without hope of supporting it. But we did good stuff.

Below is a sample of one of the monthly newsletters we at Flyguides made for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.


SUBHEAD: Duelling Chili Fests In Rugged Fly-In Country
Transmission Date: 25 October 2004
Delivery Date: 25 October 2004
Copyright (c) 2004 Flyguides, Inc, All Rights Reserved
Editor: Gwen Sanchirico
Word Count: 2093
fg-aopa feature header v. 0.90.995

Approach to Terlingua

Approach to Terlingua

With winter setting in, you may be thinking of heading to warmer climes. You’d do well to head south to Texas’s Big Bend country on the Rio Grande, where things get really spicy this time of year. Sure, Terlingua is remote (you’re 99 miles from the nearest Ramada Inn), but each November, “chiliheads” travel thousands of miles to attend a contest known amongst gourmands as “the Big One”: the Terlingua chili cookoffs. You read that right: “Cookoffs” - plural.

A private strip at Lajitas is the closest to Terlingua; it’s open to all aircraft but you need to get prior permission. A public strip at Terlingua Ranch, about 40 miles east, is also open to all. See Flying In, below, for more information.

Until the late 19th century, the desolate landscape north of the Rio Grande saw only nomads: Apaches, Comanches, and a scattering of colonial herdsmen. Then in 1890 “quicksilver,” or mercury, was discovered as cinnabar ore underground. The town boomed. But as with so many Western mining communities, prosperity did not last. These days, Terlingua is the prototypical Texas ghost town, all crumbling adobe, tumbleweed, and old rusty shop signs that creak as they swing in the breeze.

Terlingua’s annual chili cookoff contest has been part of local history since 1967, when Wick Fowler and “Soupy” Smith dueled over a hot wok before a crowd of hundreds, only to reach a draw. The following year the ballot box was purportedly stolen by masked gunmen. The event grew in popularity, and each year became more outlandish and debauched: in 1970 a contestant dressed only in chili peppers showed up atop a double-decker bus crammed with scantily-clad C-list Hollywood starlets.

In 1982, following a dispute over some foreign contestants' qualifications for entry, the cookoff split into two rival factions. The dispute got as far as a federal court, which, after gauging the depth of public opinion on the matter, refused to judge which side had the right to brand itself the “Original Terlingua” cookoff. Talk to the Chili Appreciation Society International and they’ll tell you there’s just one official event, their CASI Terlingua International Chili Championship. But head around the back of Arturo White’s general store and you’ll find yourself thronged by participants in the more chaotic - and some would say, more fun - Original Viva Terlingua International Frank X Tolbert-Wick Fowler Memorial Championship Chili Cookoff.

There are many interpretations of what makes a perfect chili (for the record, we’re neutral on the subject). Generally, though, the winning dish features a good consistency, with meat and gravy in “proper” proportions. Cubed meat is preferred to the ground variety, and, here at Terlingua as in much of Texas, under no circumstances can the chili contain “filler” such as beans or grits (they literally made a Federal case out of foreigners, so imagine what they do to bean-adders).

The competing chilis vary in potency: most are quite strong, and some will blow your socks off.

This year, the contests are held from the 1st to the 6th of November; the CASI cookoff at Rancho CASI de los Chisos is on the north side of Highway 170 in Terlingua. The Frank X Tolbert-Wick Fowler Cookoff is also known as the “Behind the Store” cookoff, and runs from the 4th to the 6th. Its festivities include the World Championship Margarita Mixoff Turn-In, whatever that means.

Things don’t start heating up at CASI until Wednesday the 3rd, when a string of parties and stage shows get under way. Festivities include an ice cream social, a somewhat belated Halloween party, and various subsidiary cooking competitions. Saturday is the main event, culminating in the “High Noon Chili Turn-In.” This is serious stuff, more Gunfight at the OK Corral than neighborly backyard barbecue.

Multi-day public admission for the CASI event, starting Wednesday, costs $25. If you’re just coming for the final Saturday, it’ll cost you $10 to get in. Together, the cookoffs draw thousands of participants from around the world, for whom chili is practically a religion.


The most convenient airport to Terlingua is Lajitas Field (89TE), a private strip a dozen miles west in the sleepy border town of Lajitas. This outpost dates from 1916 and boasts a beer-drinking goat as mayor. Today, Lajitas is home to the Lajitas Resort, a fantasy back-of-beyond getaway that bills itself as “the Ultimate Hideout.” Here you can golf on a championship, 7,042-yard course along spectacular the riverbank of the Rio Grande, enjoy some of the best mountain biking in the Western U.S., or go hunting for white-wing doves in a private 650-acre reserve. Put all this in a Wild West, ghost-town setting, add a 7500-foot paved strip, a first-class spa, fine dining, and a fantastic pool, and the result is something of an otherworldly paradise.

Room rates here aren’t cheap ($185-$340 per night and up), but for that you can expect to be pampered and treated like royalty. For those attending the chili cookoff, the resort will provide transportation from the airport into Terlingua.

The airport at Lajitas is privately owned and maintained by Lajitas Resort. It is possible to fly in for the day even if you’re not a guest, but you’ll be expected to at least top off with fuel. In any case, prior approval is requested, by telephoning the airport at 432/424-3544 or the Lajitas Resort at 432/424-5000. The field is unstaffed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

In Terlingua proper, the Chisos Mining Company Motel charges $49-$61 for a room. If you’re looking for something a bit more luxurious, the motel also rents out some houses in the area. These have full kitchens and dining rooms, sleep four plus, and go for upwards of $150 a night.

Big Bend Ranch State Park

Big Bend Ranch State Park lies north of the Rio Grande, upriver from Lajitas. This huge state park occupies 300,000 acres of the Chihuahua Desert, and has its own airport (3TE3). 3TE3 has a paved 5600-foot runway, a tie-down area (bring your own ropes), and not a heck of a lot else. Then again, when you land here you find yourself in the midst of a truly rugged wilderness.

Besides camping, accommodation in the park is limited. Near the airport, at Sauceda, the state maintains a bunkhouse providing dormitory-style accommodation for up to 15 men and 15 women. Beds here come two per cubicle, and cost $20 per night. There’s also a ranch house available for use by up to eight people. It’s $100 per room per night if you’re just taking one of the three bedrooms, or $400 per night for the whole house.

If you’re heading for any of the park’s lodging facilities, note that state park staff say they’ll come and pick you up if you circle the field a couple of times before landing (they may not monitor CTAF but they say they do notice a plane circling).

Two mountain ranges and a wealth of desert wildlife (including 14 species of bat) surround you. East of the field along the park access road lies one of the strangest geological formations on Earth: the Solitario. A dome of once-molten rock measuring eight miles across and fully appreciated from above, the Solitario was formed about 35 million years ago when a huge underground reservoir of magma pushed up through an ancient mountain chain and erupted.

This and other topographical curiosities abound in the state park, making this a perfect destination for hikers and mountain bikers. The trails at Rancherias and Closed Canyon are good for day walks.


Downriver from Lajitas is the even more massive Big Bend National Park. The national park’s 800,000 acres encompass a diverse and sparsely beautiful landscape, comprising the canyonlands of the Rio Grande Valley, the Chihuahuan Desert, and the cool wooded slopes of the Chisos Mountains.

Access to the National Park isn’t straightforward, though, and you’ll need three days to visit, minimum. It’s a couple of days walk just to get to the nearest visitor center at Chisos Basin. But if you’ve got the time and the inclination to get lost in one of America’s most pristine, ruggedly beautiful areas, you won’t regret the investment. Camping in the park is free, but you’ll need to make arrangements through the park headquarters or one of the visitor centers beforehand.

For entry into the western portion of the park, it’s probably best to fly into 89TE and stay at Lajitas Resort for a day or two on either side of any expedition. Public transportation is non-existent, but the folks at Lajitas can facilitate your transportation to the park’s Maverick gate, near the town of Study Butte.

Alternatively, the airport at Terlingua Ranch affords relatively good access to the northern portion of the park.

Terlingua Ranch

If Lajitas is a little high-end for your taste, or if you’re really looking for an area in which you can get out into the thick of things, consider Terlingua Ranch Lodge at the northern end of the Big Bend National Park. With a public airstrip (1E2) right on the property, this ranch is specifically catering to those looking for a rustic getaway. And if its inexpensive motel rooms (just over $50 a night double) are pressing against the budget ceiling, you’ll also appreciate their camping sites, at just $5 per person per night, about a hundred feet from the runway.

The motel rooms have two double beds, a private bath, electricity, heat, air conditioning and hot water. That’s it. Don’t even ask for luxury items like telephone, TV, alarm clock, hairdryer, or coffee pot. But the big Texas skies and stunning views are there for the asking. Staff can help arrange transportation into the Rosillos Mountains region of the park.

For more information about Big Bend National Park, visit the park’s web page at


Lajitas Field (89TE)

Night operations are a very bad idea here unless you’re familiar with both the region and mountain flying in general. If that’s you, by prior arrangement the Lajitas staff will leave the runway lights on for you (there’s no pilot-controlled lighting). There’s no radar coverage in the area below 12,000 feet msl, so flight following isn’t going to help you much; keep a sharp eye out for traffic.

VFR Landmarks

State Highway FM 170 runs between the town of Study Butte and Lajitas and passes directly north of and parallel to the runway. Lajitas can be recognized by its two large side-by-side hangars, which are visible from a considerable distance. If you should come upon a large river, turn around - if you cross it, bienvenido a Mexico, amigo.

Terlingua Ranch (1E2)

As a 4,700-foot gravel strip in the middle of the Christmas Mountains, any arrival at Terlingua Ranch is bound to be spectacular. Just make sure it isn’t too spectacular: the mountainous terrain and high temperatures have been causal factors in several accidents here over the years. Check that density altitude with care.

Of specific concern is the high ground south of the field. Just three miles south of the approach end of Rwy 2 the terrain rises to 2000 feet above the field elevation, and it’s still nearly 600 feet above field level only a mile off the approach end of Rwy 2. There’s another mountain 700 feet above field elevation just a half mile southeast of 1E2.

With all these mountains about, you should also be wary of gusty winds over ridgelines, which can sometimes lop 20 kt off your airspeed in the blink of an eye. Plan your approach with caution.

Newcomers to 1E2 should also be aware that the runway slopes substantially downhill, from south to north. For this reason, it’s advisable to make your departure to the north unless there’s a strong tailwind blowing down Rwy 2.

It’s also a good idea to inspect the strip from the air before landing. Erosion from heavy rainfall can sometimes render portions of the runway less than desirable for use, so try to arrive well before dusk.

Chili Appreciation Society International (CASI)

Original Viva Terlingua International Frank X Tolbert-Wick Fowler Memorial Championship Chili Cookoff

Lajitas Resort Tel: 877/525-4827 HC 70, Box 400 Lajitas, TX 79582

Chisos Mining Co Motel Tel: 432/371-2254 100 Easter Egg Valley Terlingua, TX 79852

Big Bend Ranch State Park Tel: 432/229-3416 P.O. Box 2319 Presidio, TX 79845

Big Bend National Park Tel: 432/477-2251 P.O. Box 129 Big Bend National Park, TX 79834

Terlingua Ranch Lodge Tel: 432/371-2416 H.C. 65 Box 220 Alpine, TX 79830