Contrabando looks so authentic that you’d swear it must be fake – and you’d be right, because it is. The small-but-well-preserved ‘ghost town’ was built in 1985 as a movie set up for the film Uphill all the Way, and has since been used in films like Lone Star and Dead Man’s Walk.
This place looks like it’s in the middle of nowhere, and that’s only because it absolutely is. It’s on the banks of the Rio Grande, which means it’s literally steps from Mexico. On my way there, I was told to get there before dark because everything is pitch black for miles – and to watch out for donkeys sleeping in the road on the 80 mile drive there. If the idea of remote appeals to you, this is your spot.
It’s in Big Bend National Park, about two hours south of Marfa – and if that doesn’t mean anything to you, don’t worry. Marfa is about one decade away from becoming a ghost town itself, and it’s biggest claim to fame is a haunted hotel where James Dean stayed before his death. You may also have heard of the mysterious “Marfa Lights.” If you can’t tell, I think Marfa is AWESOME, not withstanding the undeserved speeding ticket I got there….meh.
But I digress. There are only a few buildings left but they’re very well preserved (probably because they’re only slightly older than me.) You’ll find a church, a saloon, and plenty of tumbleweeds and cacti to please any wild-west fanatic.
My favorite part of Contrabando is actually inside – the saloon below. With actual saloon doors and a bar that you’d swear was actually from the turn of the century, it really makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in history. Even though it’s fake, it harkens back to the wild saloons and who-knows-what-shady-stuff happened before the lawman came into town.
Watch out for rattlesnakes (seriously,) be cool if you see someone trying to get across the Rio Grande, and bring your tripod, like I did above. This is an AMAZING spot, but it really is hours out in the middle of nowhere, so plan accordingly, and bring plenty of water and gas.