Friday, March 27, 2009

The REAL Texas

Growing up in Northeast Ohio, we always thought of Texas as a land of rugged mountains and deep canyons. After all, that's what it looked like when we watched the cowboy movies that supposedly took place in Texas. As we know now, Texas is mostly an area of flat plains, rolling hills, and low forests; but there is one area that looks as if it could be the home of a Roy Rogers episode, and that's the Davis Mountains of far Western Texas. If you've driven the desolate stretch of Interstate 10 through Western Texas, you've seen the mountains in the Southern distance without realizing just how close you were to a completely different landscape of towering peaks with forested slopes and endless grasslands. In the middle of this area, is one of our favorite places to visit, Fort Davis and the Davis Mountains State Park.
On this trip we spent a week in the park, one of the best we've visited. It's a large park, with spacious, full-hookup sites, hiking trails, and an interpretative center with scheduled programs. At an elevation of over 5000', the campground is still surrounded by higher peaks, and a 4-mile scenic drive takes you to a number of overlooks with views of the campground and the town of Fort Davis. The park also has a large lodge, the "Indian Lodge", built in the 1930's by the CCC in the style of an Indian Pueblo. The lodge has a restaurant and WiFi hot spot, and great views of the surrounding mountains. The park is a great place to spend time, with plenty of wildlife (deer and javelina are campground residents), but is also a good place to stage visits to the many interesting places in the area.
We visited the McDonald Observatory and attended an evening "Star Party". We'd been here for a day tour (Jan 2007 Blog), but had heard many good things about the evening program. We weren't disappointed; it's hard to describe the beauty of the night sky, sitting on a mountain over 6000 feet up, with no ambient light from cities within 200 miles and a perfectly clear night. After a lecture which described and pointed out the visible constellations and stars, we roamed among 10 telescopes of various sizes to see the rings of Saturn, craters of the moon, and constellations. This is a must-do if you're ever in the area.
The town of Fort Davis is also the home of Fort Davis National Historic Site, one of best-preserved calvary posts we've seen, with a large visitor center, restored barracks, housing, and post hospital. It's a large site, with an interesting history; you can read more about it here.
We took a day drive on the Davis Mountain Loop, a 74-mile drive through rugged mountains with elevations over 8000'. Along the way, we were surprised to see a group of Desert Bighorn Sheep sharing an area of grassland along with cattle. This is an area of huge ranches and few people; what most of us picture when we think of the American West. The drive took us to Marfa, home of the "mystery lights" (see Jan 2007 Blog) and from there we detoured to Alpine for dinner at one of the town's many good restaurants.
The town of Fort Davis is one of those small towns with character. Small shops and two hotels make up most of the small shopping area. We discovered one of those special places that we like to highlight; Nel's Coffee Shop, a great lunchtime spot that we visited often since they were also one of the few WiFi spots in town (the Verizon aircard service was unusable in the area). Nel and her husband Jerry made you feel as if you were old friends, and their sandwiches and soups were wonderful. Besides the service and food, an outstanding feature of Nel's is the restrooms - both are decorated as tributes to the military and veterans and their wives are invited to join others who have autographed the walls. It was surprising just how many veterans and active duty miltary have visited - they're going to need another wall soon!
We'd heard about Balmorea State Park and the hot springs and thought we'd take a look. It was a great drive through the mountains north to near I-10, but to us the park was just average. We did come across this rather unusual road sign; looks like wild turkey are making a comeback in the area.
Fort Davis and the surrounding area are one of the hidden jewels of the Southwest. Next time you're driving I-10, take a few days to turn South and visit - you won't be disappointed!
We're off to Alamogordo, NM and Brenda's favorite casino.....donations are appreciated!

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