We had a breathtaking drive through the Big Bend Ranch State Park on our way to Presidio and, then, Fort Davis, Texas. I tried to upload a video of the drive, but was unsuccessful. If I can make it work, I’ll upload it later.
We now know the basis for the song. When you drive in west Texas, you drive on miles and miles of straight, flat road bordered by tens of thousands of acres of flat ranch land. There are no corn fields or houses and not many trees. There are parched, tan grasslands dotted with cattle, cactus and the occasional deer or prong horn antelope, which sometimes graze on the plains among the cattle.
We spent the last four nights at Davis Mountain State Park in Fort Davis, TX. It’s a nice campground nestled in the mountains with lots of hiking trails and wildlife, but zero cell service and horrible WiFi, which is why you haven’t heard from us.
Fort Davis is a quiet little town with historic buildings that lend it quite a bit of charm. There are no less than four historic hotels here: the Harvard Hotel, the Limpia Hotel, the Indian Lodge and the Ft. Davis Drug Store & Hotel.
The Davis Mountains look like a mass of rocky fingers emerging from the ground and are truly spectacular. One can picture the native Americans looking down from the mountain tops for the buffalo herds.
There is also a historic fort dating back to the 1800’s that is a National Park, so we were unable to visit because of the shutdown … until our last day when they opened the gates of Fort Davis and we were able to go take a look. They didn’t even charge us admission (we wondered if that was a middle finger salute to the government). The displays at the fort were interesting, but in need of some improvement (and it did look as if work was in progress on several buildings). It was not a “living history museum” like Sturbridge Village, but we enjoyed our tour.
Other than that, there isn’t a whole lot to do in Ft. Davis! Plus, it’s been quite cold and windy down here, not really our favorite weather for hiking. But, we did enjoy milkshakes at the old fashioned soda counter at the drug store. They were delicious! We probably should have worked off those calories with a hike after!
We took a drive to the town of Marfa. Marfa’s claim to fame is that the movie “Giant,” starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean, was filmed at a ranch in town and the crew and stars stayed at the Hotel Paisano. We drove through Marfa on our way to the campground and it looked like a fairly bustling little down with a train running right through the center and people out and about. But, when we returned on Saturday morning it was like a ghost town! There is a story online about how some Hollywood film and New York art world folks wanted to make something out of Marfa and actually invested money in the town, but whatever they were trying to create didn’t take off. All that’s left now is an artist’s rendering of the movie set on the side of the road on the land where the movie was filmed.
The highlight of our stay in Ft. Davis was our visit to the McDonald Observatory, which is part of the University of Texas at Austin. It’s quite an active research observatory including collaborations with NASA and colleges around the country. They are home to the 82” H.J. Smith and the 102” Hobby-Eberly research telescopes. We enjoyed a very interesting program about the sun, tours of the two huge telescopes, and an evening star party where we learned about the constellations and were able to view stars, clusters and even the Andromeda galaxy through a half dozen telescopes. It was really, really interesting and we’re very glad we went! (The large rock pictured is a 1500 lb. meteorite that was discovered by a 7-year-old boy in the area in the early 1900’s.)
Another funny story: On our way up the mountain to the observatory, we glanced out the window and noticed an object in the sky. Our first thought was a small jet, like a 737. The sun was setting and it just looked like a shadowy blob in the sky. But, we hadn’t really seen any planes lately as there are no large airports nearby. We hadn’t even seen single engine planes. We kept an eye on it and it did not appear to be moving, it appeared to be hovering in one spot. There also were no lights like on an airplane. We joked that the gathering of roughly 100 people at the observatory was a perfect opportunity for the UFO to gather man specimens. We further joked, as the astronomers directed us down the path outside to the amphitheater, “Just keep walking, folks, everything will be just fine.” We took one last picture of the object:
The next morning, as we were exploring the Marfa area, we suddenly noticed an object in the sky! This one was white, and it looked closer so we decided to chase it and find out what it was. As we were hurtling down the road, Bob searched his phone for “object in sky near Marfa, Texas.” It turned out to be a surveillance balloon for Border Patrol. There are several of them in the southwest, so I guess we’ll be seeing more of these! It sheds a whole new light on the idea of “big brother” watching us! The more time we spend down here, the more we hear about cameras being everywhere, Border Patrol knowing you’re coming 100 miles before you arrive; we drive through checkpoints with multiple armed officers and dogs who sniff our entire motorhome; we see Border Patrol trucks everywhere. Now, surveillance balloons.
As previously mentioned, it has been pretty cold down here. We considered bagging the rest of our trip west and just heading south to Brownsville to warm up. We’ve had nighttime temperatures as low as 22 degrees, had to disconnect the water hookup and put a heat light in the water tank compartment to prevent it from freezing on us. For the nighttime star party, we wore four layers and even found knit hats at the dollar store to help keep us warm. Thanks a lot, Polar Vortex!
In the end, we decided to just continue our progression west and see how it goes. So, today we are moving on toward Carlsbad, New Mexico. Carlsbad Cavern National Park and White Sands National Monument have reopened! Hooray! We’d better get these things done before February 15!