Terlingua, Texas
Credit: Witold Skrypczak / Getty Images

In 1967 writer H. Allen Smith published an article in Holiday magazine called "No One Knows More About Chili Than I Do." Well, a few Texans took exception to that claim, challenging Smith to put his beans where his mouth was. The first chili cook-off took place in neutral territory – Terlingua – and it ended in a tie when a judge went into convulsions. Now the former mercury-mining ghost town, a 257-person dot in the Chihuahuan Desert 230 miles southwest of Midland, is known for its two rival cook-offs the first full weekend in November. But Terlingua's profile as an ideal launch pad for hiking, floating, and jeep trips along the Rio Grande is surprisingly low given its location – between Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park. And it's becoming a bohemian desert oasis, thanks to some enterprising locals who are converting the mining company’s abandoned turn-of-the-century stone buildings into a collection of hip cafes, galleries, and single-family casitas. You can also leave the town and take a minute-long boat ride to Mexico. You can't do that anywhere else.

What to Do for Fun: Camp in nearby Big Bend National Park (at the Chisos Basin campground, located at 5,100 feet, then float down the Class I–IV Rio Grande for anywhere from a half day to a week, or take a jeep tour through the desert of Big Bend, which is punctuated by sotol and ocotillo plants. Both can be arranged through Texas River Expeditions.