Shedding Layers to Find the Core :
Three Decades in Terlingua
by Danielle Gallo
Crystal Allbright considered trading the big city life for Big Bend in the fall of 1990 . Her parents and older sister preceded her here , with her parents retiring and her sister raising a family in Alpine . She recalls watching the sun setting and the moon rising , and how it took her breath away . She wanted to stay .
By March of 1991 she had relocated . One draw was to finish her master ’ s at Sul Ross State University . Another was the idea that one didn ’ t need all the conveniences of urban life . One could simplify and get to the core of things , without all the clutter and the blaring of the TV . She became enamored with the layers of history , of indigenous people , settlers and ranchers , and the natural beauty of the geology , flora and fauna .
Allbright has twice been the featured artist at Alpine ’ s Artwalk festival . She paints in watersoluble oils and creates drawings . She is also an accomplished photographer . Her work was featured in the Big Bend National Park Calendar in both 2015 and 2020 . Additionally , she plays guitar and accordion , and has worked her way up to playing solo gigs at the Starlight Theatre in Terlingua , which she hails as a big personal accomplishment . “ I ’ ve been taking a break from art and music , which is a big part of who I am ,” she says . “ I had a Kodak Instamatic as a child , it ’ s something I ’ ve always done .
“ I hadn ’ t planned to become an educator , but that ’ s what Sul Ross offered at the time .” She studied art in college and earned her master ’ s in education with an emphasis in art from Sul Ross . As a teacher in the Terlingua School , she worked with students
In spite of the challenges , Allbright is heartened to see new adventure companies coming to the area , bringing with them an influx of young people eager to learn about the area and teach others how to protect it . “ There ’ s lots of demand for what we do ,” she says , “ and there are all these new young people here to help visitors enjoy and appreciate this place .”
grades five through eight teaching language arts , computer skills and the Gifted- Talented program . In the course of making a photo essay for the Sul Ross newspaper , she took a river trip and fell in love with South County ’ s adventure industry . She began working for Big Bend River Tours during summers and holidays , learning the ins and outs of river guiding and getting involved with mountain biking . An avid road cyclist back in Dallas , it was a natural segue to exploring the Big Bend . “ I think it ’ s a wonderful way to get out in the desert and see it from a new perspective ,” she says .
Toward the end of her teaching career , she started working for Desert Sports , where she has been for the last 26 years . She is now a co-owner of the business . Interpreting the stunning natural beauty and the complex history of the Big Bend is one of Allbright ’ s favorite aspects of the industry . She views it as an opportunity to teach conservatorship and encourage people , especially young people , to be outside , away from the numbing effects of modern life and technology , where they can hear themselves and the world around them .
Allbright knows firsthand about the injuries , and rewards , the desert deals its dwellers . She and her partner built their home from stone found on their property over the course of 20 years . It ’ s powered by solar and rain catchment . “ It ’ s really just in the last five years that we ’ ve been living comfortably , without being in a work zone ,” she says . “ It has a small footprint . It ’ s hard here when you work full-time in the high season . You have a short window to build , and that is usually in the summer heat .” Like so many Terlingua residents who handmake their homes , it ’ s always a work in progress , but being so in tune with the cycles of nature and every aspect of one ’ s dwelling gives the concept of ‘ home ’ a deeper meaning .
Any business faces challenges , but seasonal tourist industry businesses especially so . Desert Sports closed down in mid-March of 2020 for Covid , except for occasional bike repairs . When they reopened on August 1st of that year , business was non-stop until after Thanksgiving , when the river dropped to extremely low levels . Allbright notes that the winter and spring seasons have still been very busy , though the river is as low as she ’ s seen it in a long
24 Cenizo Summer 2021