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Resurrecting a Texas ghost town

In the desert surrounding a mercury mining ghost town, an ambitious band of misfits have built homes and cultivated a modern wild west.

It’s a group brothers Noah and Tim Hussin felt drawn to during their two-year bicycle journey across America. Besides documenting their own experiences on the road, they were seeking out radical homesteading communities that place a high value on self-sufficiency.

After leaving Asheville, North Carolina, they traveled more than 1,900 miles before arriving at Terlingua, their destination in the heart of where a local shopkeeper told them God lives: the Big Bend of Texas.

“People who end up there seem to not quite fit in anywhere else, but in Terlingua they thrive,” Noah said. “It’s a place where you can be yourself, and as long as you don’t get in anyone else’s way, they won’t get in yours.”

The Chisos Mining Co., one of the nation’s leading producers of quicksilver, was established there more than a century ago. But production eventually declined and the company was hit hard, shutting down after the end of World War II.

The local economy collapsed and most residents were forced look for opportunities elsewhere. As of the 2010 Census, there were just 58 people living in Terlingua. Hundreds more live in the surrounding area.

In the decades since the mines closed, some of the ruins have been reclaimed. People looking to live off the grid now inhabit stone structures that were originally built for the miners.

Others choose to construct houses out of cob, an ancient material similar to adobe made of straw, mud and clay. Some generate their own electricity and use roof runoff as a primary water source. Food waste provides soil for a shared vegetable garden in the harsh desert.

“By shedding some light on the way these people live, we hope to illustrate that the great American Dream of cultivating land and living through community is not dead,” Noah said. “At least for those who want it enough.”

The Hussin brothers first heard about the Texas ghost town while they were in Asheville before the beginning of their trip in November 2010. A friend who had just finished working at the nearby national park recommended they check it out.

After stops in Tennessee and New Orleans, they finally reached the far corner of West Texas a year after hitting the pavement. They stayed for three months, making friends they say they’ll have for the rest of their lives.

“Everybody was curious and supportive, open to telling us their story and hearing ours,” Tim said. “The hardest part was leaving.”

While in Terlingua they made use of another tip they picked up in Asheville: how to scavenge and prepare roadkill. On Christmas Eve they came across a fresh coyote on the side of the road. They made a stew and became known as the Coyote Brothers.

Along the way, they also mastered dumpster diving, foraged for edible plants in the wild, and set up camp wherever they ended up after a long day.

Noah and Tim were avid cyclists before heading west for California, but neither had done anything long-distance before. Now they were pedaling 60 to 100 miles a day on bikes weighed down with camera equipment, a tent, sleeping bags and other gear.

“At one point early on I started to realize that this isn’t just a documentary film and photography project,” Tim said. “This is my life.”

He and his brother reached San Francisco last April and are now in the middle of turning “America Recycled” into a film, thanks in part to donations facilitated by the artist fundraising platform USA Projects. They also have plans for a photography book.

Beyond learning how to live off the land, Tim says he was taught how to play the banjo in Terlingua and fell in love with a girl who was visiting from Quebec.

Both brothers attest to the impact the town had on their lives.

“Some people there say you don’t choose Terlingua, Terlingua chooses you,” Tim said. “It seemed like Terlingua chose us from the beginning.”

- Brett Roegiers, CNN