The Mountains Are Calling And We Must Drive
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As I’ve said before, there is something about mountains that calls to Ren and I. When we get to the mountains, it feels like coming home. I don’t think we have ever visited the mountains without at least discussing the possibility of moving there, and I expect that eventually we will do so.
One of my favorite trips was in June of 2016 when we headed west to Davis Mountains State Park. As you would expect, this is a State Park located in the Davis Mountains of West Texas. There are several attractions in this are that make it worth the trip.
After a long drive our first stop before heading to the park was the nearby, Balmorhea State Park, just outside of Balmorhea Texas. This unique park is in the foothills of the West Texas mountains, built around the San Solomon Springs, it is an oasis in the desert. In the 1930’s the Civilian Conservation Corps took this spring and made it into a huge swimming pool. Up to 30 feet deep in places, the cool, crystal clear waters flow up from the bottom of the spring at a rate of 25 million gallons a day and flow out through canals to irrigate the surrounding countryside. We were both surprised to find it home to fish and other underwater creatures. The waters maintain a temperature of 72 to 76 degrees year round. We expected to find this a refreshing stop, and we did, but we did not anticipate how beautiful the setting was.
After our swim, we headed for Davis Mountains State Park (DMSP), just west of Fort Davis Texas. Located in the Davis Mountain range, Davis Mountains State Park, (DMSP), is actually two Parks. DMSP and Indian Lodge State Park. Indian Lodge is a full-service hotel located within the larger park. Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, (CCC), in the 1930s. It serves as a getaway for those who want to visit this area without giving up their creature comforts.
The Park is between Five and Six thousand feet in elevation, the days were warm, but with the low humidity, not too uncomfortable, and the evenings were downright chilly. We spent the first day exploring the Park. The highest peak in the park is Lookout Mountain. You can drive to the top where there is an observation area with a great view in all directions. From there you can see McDonald Observatory to the west and Fort Davis to the east. You can drive nearly to the top, where there is a small parking lot. Nearby is an old CCC-built shelter giving you cool shade to take time to enjoy the amazing view. One of the hiking trail leads to the top of the mountain, then continues on, out of the park and down to Fort Davis. Neither Ren or I were in shape enough to do much hiking in the heat of the day, but the trail is clearly marked and well traveled.
We spent the next few days exploring the many things this area has to offer. We very much liked the town of Fort Davis. It is a small place and mostly survives on tourism, They do a good job of making you feel welcome. The reason they get so much tourism is that within the town of Fort Davis is the Fort Davis National Historic Site.
This is a well-preserved frontier fort from the era of the Indian Wars, active from 1854 to 1892, Fort Davis was built to protect settlers and freight on the Trans-Pecos portion of the San Antonio-El Paso Road. The Fort, the town, the mountain range, and the county were named for Jefferson Davis, Secretary of War when the fort was established. Much of the housing and several other buildings survive, and there are many exhibits built to help explain life on the frontier. Visiting here you find yourself trying to imagine what it was like to live in this beautiful but harsh country without the benefits of air conditioning and other modern conveniences.
As the day got warmer we took advantage of the air conditioning in our truck and drove through the Davis Mountains Scenic Loop. The Davis Mountains Scenic loop is a 75-mile loop that begins in Fort Davis, heads west into the Davis Mountains on Highway 118, before turning south on Highway 166 which will bring you back to Highway 17 and Fort Davis. The Davis Mountains are an ancient range of volcanoes, with many rugged and beautiful peaks. The Davis Mountains fill a rough square about 31 miles on each side. The Scenic Loop is one of the best ways to appreciate this amazing area of Texas. It takes 2 hours to drive if you do not stop, it took us more like 4 hours as we stopped frequently to take in the views.
Make sure you are well prepared before taking this drive. This is an extremely remote and empty country. Once you leave Fort Davis you will pass the park entrance, and a few miles later, the McDonald Observatory, after that there is nothing but a couple of ranches until you get back to Fort Davis. There is no cell phone service, and we only passed a couple of cars the entire day. The roads are in very good condition, but there are places where you are many miles from help, and you might have a long wait till someone else came along. Make sure you have plenty of gas and plenty of water. That said, this is an experience you do not want to miss. This was my favorite part of the entire trip.
We drove the loop from Fort Davis to Alpine, to Marfa, and back to Fort Davis. While this is not officially a Scenic Byway, it could be. The scenery is beautiful and dramatic, and Alpine and Marfa are both interesting towns, well worth a visit.
We were there during the day, so we did not have a chance to look for the famous Marfa Lights, but we did spend a few hours at an interest resort called El Cosmico. El Cosmico is a resort that is an odd mixture of tents, mobile homes, RVs, tipis, and yurts. It has something of a hippy vibe to it. We relaxed for a while listening to obscure 60s LPs and drinking homemade sangria.
Nearby is the McDonald Observatory. We had not made reservations in advance, so we were not able to get tickets for the evening star parties, but we did attend the daytime tour and solar viewing. If you get in this area I highly recommend it. The tour is very interesting. The telescopes are impressive, and the views from the mountain are amazing. Be sure to reserve a space in advance, they do sell out.
Back at Davis Mountain State Park, they close Lookout Mountain after 10 PM, but for a small fee, you can get permission to stay up there after hours, which we did. This is one of the darkest areas of Texas, and famous for stargazing, but we were only a day or two away from the full moon, so the conditions were not especially good for astrophotography, but I took the camera and setup anyway. Ren brought an air mattress and a blanket and slept in the back of the truck while I, and another photographer we met there, took pictures. I did get some nice photos of all the cars driving back to the park after the star party ended at the observatory. I combined them to make a light trail.
It really was an amazing trip, and I look forward to going back for another visit, preferably when the moon is not full. What is your favorite story about the mountains? Lett us know in the comments.
Travel safe my friends,