Davis Mountains State Park
Fort Davis, Texas
May 12 - May 20, 2007

 

Please note: We shot lots of photographs on our trip, more than we could have possibly included on this page. We have included only a small amount. Please be patient while all the images load before accessing the page.

San Angelo State Park  - Saturday, May 12, 2007

Terry and I are finally headed out for an eight day adventure to far west Texas. This is an area of the state we've never visited before but have wanted to for years. We are so excited! This is going to be a long trip for us, full of adventure! We originally had the trip planned for the same time in 2006, but had to cancel due to medical issues. Steve and Leslie, our RV buddies, visited the area last year and told us how much fun were were going to have. During this trip, we'll be celebrating our 17th anniversary. We have a special night planned, but more about that later. We are sad about one aspect of the trip. Terry's sister and brother-in-law, Betsy and Hank, were going to meet us for a week of camping. Due to mechanical problems with the slide on their motor home, they had to cancel. Terry was looking forward to having time with her sister who she hasn't seen in a while. What a bummer.

One thing we read when researching our trip was that Fort Davis and the surrounding area was very popular with film makers. It is where the film "Dancer, Texas" was filmed. It will be neat seeing all of the locations we saw in the film. One of the most famous films to be shot in the area was "Giant". It was filmed in the 1950's in Marfa, Texas. It's one of my favorite films and I am really looking forward to visiting Marfa where the film was shot and visiting the hotel where the cast stayed during the filming.

Another aspect of the trip were were excited about is our visit to the McDonald Observatory. Terry and I are very interested in astronomy and have always wanted to visit the observatory. We can't wait. During the time of our visit, the "Texas Star Party" is also scheduled. It's one of the largest gatherings of amateur astronomers in the country. I sure hope we've got clear skies for the week.

Terry and I had spent all week getting ready for the trip. We have our menu planned out and our clothes and food are loaded in the trailer. We're ready to hit the road Saturday morning. We had decided that instead of trying to drive the whole 500 miles in one leg going out, we'd stop in San Angelo for one night. San Angelo State Park is about at the half way point of our trip to west Texas. A good online friend of mine had recommended an excellent local steakhouse for us to have dinner at Saturday evening. We left Fort Worth around 9:00 and headed west on Interstate 20. Around lunchtime we stopped outside of Abilene to get something to eat. Ahead of us, dark gray clouds were building. It definitely looks like we're in for some rain.

We started running into quite a bit of rain as we got closer to San Angelo. We arrived at San Angelo State Park around 3:30 in the afternoon. Of course it was also during the heaviest part of the rain showers. There really wasn't much to the area of the park we stayed in, the sites were pretty sparse. Since we were only staying at the park overnight, we only leveled and hooked up our utilities. I started to un-hitch the truck from the truck and discovered a major problem. The trailer's electric tongue jack had stopped working. I checked the fuse, it was okay. Terry and I got the manual crank out to crank the trailer up so we could disconnect from the truck. I could foresee a major problem, the crank wasn't working too well either and starting to fail. The gears were slipping. Since we were only staying overnight at the park, hookups were fast and minimal.

We got the truck un-hitched so we could go into town for dinner. As mentioned previously, an online friend of mine on the Open Road Forum of RV.net had  recommended a really good steakhouse that Terry and I were going to have dinner at tonight. We asked directions to Twin Mountains Steak House at the front gate. It seemed like a pretty easy place to find. The restaurant was on the "main drag". We were told we couldn't miss it.

We arrived at the restaurant around 5:30. The parking lot was full, so that was a good sign. The restaurant looked to be very popular with the locals. While waiting to be seated we looked over the menu. Oh yum, everything on the menu looked wonderful. After a short 10 minute wait, Terry and I were shown to our table. We were waited on by a young energetic wait staff. Terry ordered one of her favorites, chicken fried steak and French fries. I ordered the 16 oz. KC Strip accompanied by a baked potato. Our salads were delivered very quickly after the waitress took our order back to the kitchen. Terry's chicken fried steak was one of the best she had ever eaten. My KC Strip cut like butter and was cooked to a perfect medium rare. The waitress "twisted our arm" and talked us into sharing homemade peach cobbler a la mode. What a way to end a delicious meal! By the time we left the restaurant around 7:00, the wait had gone to 30 minutes. Next time we're in the San Angelo area, we'll definitely stop at the Twin Mountains Steak House.

On the way to the restaurant, we passed a Wal-Mart. There were a couple of things Terry needed. Yep, it's not a camping trip unless there's a stop at Wal-Mart. After the short shopping trip Terry and I decided to drive to the old downtown area to check it out. We'd heard a lot about the revitalization that was going on. All of the historic buildings had been restored. It was a really neat area. Terry and I headed back to the park. We were both very tired from the long drive. We read for a while before turning in around 9:30. Terry and I slept soundly through the night.

Davis Mountains State Park - Sunday, May 13, 2007

The two of us woke up around 7:00 to a beautiful, bright sun-shiny day. All of the bad weather had passed. We're were going to have great weather for our drive to Davis Mountains State Park. We both took a quick shower and then ate breakfast before hitching up the trailer and getting ready to leave San Angelo State Park and head to the Davis Mountains. On the menu for breakfast this morning:

Our drive out to the Davis Mountains was very interesting. We drove through some really neat towns. One was McCamey, Texas, "The Wind Energy Capital of Texas." Terry and I were fascinated with all the wind turbines. We had never seen them up close before. They are huge, each of the blades is around 80 to 100 feet in length. Seeing all of the turbines turning was almost like "poetry in motion", much like a choreographed dance. They're so cool. We'd always heard how flat it was out in west Texas. It was most definitely true. Guess that's why the wind turbines do so well out there.

Typical wind turbines located on our drive through west Texas

Further down the road we came upon "Santa Rita No. 1". Santa Rita is the "saint of the impossible." Santa Rita No. 1 was also the original well that made the University of Texas system and the "Permanent University Fund" very wealthy. Santa Rita No. 1 was also the well that started the west Texas oil fields. Since Terry was a UT graduate, the well has a special significance to her. It was neat stopping at the site, reading about the history and seeing where one of the major oil booms in Texas began. The rig on the original site is a reconstruction of the actual rig. The actual rig is located on the University of Texas campus. Terry used to pass by it all the time when walking to classes.

Santa Rita #1

From the Texas historical marker at the site:

Santa Rita No. 1 - Discovery well for Big Lake oil field. First gusher in Permian Basin; first University of Texas producer. On land once thought almost worthless. Fruit of the faith of Big Lake lawyer Rupert Ricker. Though in 1919 no oil had been found within 100 miles, Ricker got leases on 431,360 acres of University of Texas land in Crockett, Irion, Reagan and Upton counties. Soon working with him were P. G. Stokes, Big Spring; Frank Pickrell and Haymon Krupp, El Paso; and others. Their wildcat well, 1/2 mile south of this site, on Ollie Parker's Ranch, was drilled by Carl Cromwell. Dee Locklin was tool dresser. Slow and hard drilling made crew name well for Santa Rita, Patroness of the Impossible. 4 years, 2 months and a day after permit was filed, and at 3,055 feet, well pressure tossed the rig's bucket high into the air. Santa Rita was a producer, the date was May 28, 1923. This day the Permian Basin, since acclaimed one of the greatest oil regions in the world, had its first big find. Other spectacular fields were to follow. Multi-millions in royalty dollars have since made the University of Texas one of the world's most heavily endowed schools. Original rig that brought in Santa Rita now is on the university campus.

We spent about 30 minutes at the site before getting back on the road to our final destination. The Davis Mountain area is comprised of 3 major towns, Alpine (the largest of the three and where Sul Ross University is located), Fort Davis (where Davis Mountains State Park is located) and Marfa (sort of a sleepy little town, well known for something supernatural-more on that later). The route we were taking to the state park would take us into Alpine first around lunch time.

Around noon we were rolling into the city limits of Alpine. Since we had a light breakfast we were both getting hungry. One thing you could count on in small Texas towns, the local Dairy Queen. Alpine was no exception. The Dairy Queen was open for business and it looked to be the "center of activity". There was also a huge lot next door with pickups and cattle trailers parked. It looked like we were in the right place. It was easy to pull the truck and trailer in to park at the restaurant.

Yep, we were definitely in west Texas. Everyone in the place knew everyone. There was a mix of "working" cowboys, wearing dusty boots with spurs and dirty straw hats, and cowboys in their starched white shirts and pressed jeans coming from church with their families. Living in Fort Worth, Terry and I were used to seeing cowboys with their spurs on during the Fort Worth Stock Show or the Cutting Horse Futurity. Both are huge events that draw contestants from all over the country. During the events it is common to see lots of cowboys in restaurants with boots and spurs on. We loved looking at the working cowboys and their hats which had so much "character." Even though it was Sunday, cattle still had to be worked. After a nice relaxing lunch it was time to head to the Davis Mountains State Park where we'd be staying for the next week. We were so excited we couldn't wait to arrive at the park.

Wow, what an incredible area! I had to concentrate just to keep my eyes on the road. There were mountains on each side of the road. The whole area is truly wild and magnificent. Terry and I decided we're ready to move! We arrived at the park's entrance around 1:30 and were greeted with a big "Texas Howdy" from park rangers "Jeannie B" and "Bounce." What a warm welcome we received. They told us to enjoy our stay and let them know if we needed anything. That's good ole west Texas hospitality for you. We picked up a map of the park and were told to go pick out our spot and then come back to the office to get checked in. The weather was beautiful and the temperatures perfect.

Davis Mountains State Park Headquarters

We were amazed at the beauty and majesty of the park. What a week of camping we were going to have! Terry was also excited about the bird watching opportunities. The Davis Mountains area is one of the top bird watching areas of the state. We drove around the park for a bit and finally decided on site #5. The site provided full-hookups, water, electricity, sewer and even cable. The site was also a pull-through and right by a dry creek bed. It had a great view. A cable hookup was going to be good since there were mountains surrounding the campground and it may have been a problem getting a satellite signal.

Terry and I pulled into to the site and starting getting the trailer unhooked. Yep, the worse happened, the electric tongue jack was totally shot. We used the manual crank once again and the gears started slipping. We barely got the trailer lifted enough to be able to unhitch the truck. After much effort we were finally able to get the trailer unhitched. Lowering the trailer to level it  was much easier. I knew I would need a "bottle jack" in order to get the trailer lifted in order to hitch up. We'd tackle that problem later on in the week. Right now we were going to enjoy our first day at the park. After getting the trailer settled and hooked up I drove back up to the front gate to get us checked in. I noticed right away there were hummingbirds everywhere. I had never seen so many in my life. There were buzzing all over the place. Jeannie B said yep, there were "lots" in the park and asked if we had a feeder. I told her yes we did. She said to be sure and put it up and we'd have visitors right away.

Our Site - Davis Mountains State Park

The dry creek bed next to our site

As I arrived back at our site, we had our first visitor, a beautiful "Mule Deer". She wasn't afraid of us at all and just turned around and looked when I drove up. I asked Terry to get the hummingbird feeder out. I was being "attacked" as I was trying to fill and hang it. Oh my gosh, the hummingbirds were like kamikaze pilots. I was definitely under attack and had to dodge the incoming birds. What fun!

The first visitor to our campsite - a beautiful mule deer!

After getting set up and settled in, it was time to go and explore our new surroundings for the next week. There was another section of the park we drove through that had some really nice campsites. The sites were also clear of trees and shade so they had a great view of the sky. Guess what, there were a lot of telescopes setup from the "TSP" attendees. We then drove up Skyline Drive to the top of the mountain that overlooks the park. As you can see from the pictures below, the view is indeed incredible! What an area! I can see why folks are drawn back to the area time and time again.

The View From Skyline Drive

The park's communication center Truly an incredible area of Texas

After spending time looking around we drove over to the "Indian Lodge". The "Indian Lodge" was a CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp) project in the 1930's. The original lodge is still being used but has been expanded several times to accommodate additional guests. To this day it is totally amazing to Terry and me the legacy of projects these workers left for all of us to enjoy. The CCC workers built things to last. One of the park rangers that we know very well related a story about the quality of their work. He had to remove one of the slabs that a picnic table was sitting on. The slab was one of the ones that the CCC workers had poured back in the 1940's. The park's workers thought they were going to have to end up using explosives to finally get the slab broken up. They ended up breaking two bits of very heavy jack-hammers. Every time that Terry and I visit one of the parks that the CCC created, we look around at our surroundings and thank them for all their efforts and the beautiful surroundings.

Indian Lodge at Davis Mountain State Park

Indian Lodge nestled in the Davis Mountains

While we were visiting the "Indian Lodge", we walked around a bit to get the "lay of the land." We had also heard that the restaurant at the lodge was wonderful. Terry and I planned on eating breakfast there one morning during our stay. Our next stop was the gift shop which is located in the lodge. It's one of the best stocked gift stores that we've ever visited within a state park. They stocked some awesome bird book titles that Terry ended up purchasing. After shopping and browsing for around an hour we decided to head back to our campsite. When we were visiting the lodge, we noticed lots of folks there with their telescopes. Yep, there were a bunch of folks in town for the TSP (Texas Star Party).

We got back to our site to relax for the rest of the afternoon. There were deer all over the park and near our site. Around 6:00 we decided it was time to start preparing dinner. The sun was going down and we were getting hungry. On the menu this evening for our first meal at Davis Mountains State Park:

Of course our first meal in the park was delicious! How could the food not be good in surroundings like this? Terry and I were sitting outside after dinner when we heard a rustle in the bushes beside our campsite. The javelinas had arrived for their nightly round through the park. We've heard some reports that they can be mean. But we were lucky. During our week's visit to the park, they stayed out of the way and didn't cause us any problems.

Around dusk Terry and I headed inside to watch TV for a while before playing a game or two. Later on in the evening, as a special treat, Terry baked some homemade chocolate chip cookies for us to enjoy. Terry and I turned in for the evening around 11:00 and slept soundly through the night. The temperature was supposed to be in the upper 40's. That would be perfect sleeping temperatures.

Davis Mountains State Park - Monday, May 14, 2007

I woke around 7:15 to a beautiful cool west Texas morning. I put a pot of coffee on and went outside to enjoy a cup and the cool morning temperatures. I was amazed, the hummingbird feeder was empty! It had been drained yesterday. There were 6-8 hummingbirds swarming  around the empty feeder. I guess the word had gotten out that we had some pretty good nectar. I went back inside to mix up another batch of nectar so I could fill the feeder. As I was filling it, one of the Ruby Throated Hummingbirds landed briefly on my hand. Wow, what an experience, so cool!

One of our hummingbirds at Davis Mountains State Park

Terry woke up around 8:00 and soon joined me outside. The hummingbirds were buzzing all over the place. They sounded like a hive of bumble bees. I had never heard them so close to us. Neither one of us was very hungry. We had a light breakfast of pop-tarts, juice and coffee. We relaxed and read for a while longer outside before going inside to shower and strike out on today's adventure. Today we'd be visiting the "Fort Davis National Historical Site". We were looking forward to exploring the National Historic Site.

Before leaving the campground we stopped at the front gate and ask about mobile RV services. They did have one listed in Alpine. We called them to see, if by chance, they stocked electric tongue jacks. Unfortunately they didn't and couldn't get anything in before we were scheduled to leave. There is a Camping World outside of El Paso, but we didn't want to take a whole day out of our vacation for the drive to the store. We'd go back to "Plan B" and just pick up a bottle jack at the hardware stone in Alpine.

Terry and I had a great time exploring the "Fort Davis National Historical Site." We ended up walking the ground, exploring the buildings, and talking to the folks there for a couple of hours. We were really interested in the ongoing hospital restoration project. When the 1876 Post Hospital restoration has been completed, it will be the first such hospital to be totally restored in the National Park System. It was very interesting to see the ongoing work of the volunteers. At the end of the sites' tour, we got to visit a typical barracks. In the barracks there was a volunteer dressed in his "Calvary Blues" telling all the visitors what life was like for soldiers at Fort Davis.

From the NPS (National Park Service) website:

Fort Davis is one of the best surviving examples of an Indian wars' frontier military post in the southwest. From 1854 to 1891, Fort Davis was strategically located to protect emigrants, mail coaches, and freight wagons on the Trans-Pecos portion of the San Antonio-El Paso Road on the Chihuahua Trail.

Our Visit to the Fort Davis National Historical Site

The entrance to the Fort Davis National Historical Site
Not sure what it is, but look how tall! Terry liked this tree; it was very stately

If you're ever visiting the area, the national historical site is a "must see" on your schedule. Since I've got bad knees and couldn't do a lot of walking, the park service does provide free use of a golf cart to tour the grounds. It's needed since the site covers several acres.

After leaving the fort, it was time for lunch. Terry and I were hungry. Fort Davis has several good restaurants. In one of our guide books, a little Mexican restaurant called "Cueva d'Leon" was highly recommended. They were celebrating their 31st anniversary. The food was delicious and cheap. We were amazed at the prices, but we were in Fort Davis, not Fort Worth. Service was brisk and the our server was friendly and chatty. I enjoyed the lunch buffet while Terry ordered the lunch taco plate. One thing really stood out, their hot sauce. Absolutely fantastic.

After enjoying a delicious lunch, we decided to drive the 74 mile scenic loop around Fort Davis. Wow, what incredible sights we saw on the drive. We did get into a little rain. So far, the weather was cooperating for the "Texas Star Party" attendees. The weather was supposed to be pretty dicey all week long. One of our stops on the loop was the McDonald Observatory. We had seen so many photos of it and had never seen it up close. We were also on the highest point in Texas. Wow, absolutely incredible. We're so glad we did stop at the McDonald Observatory because on our return trip the following Friday, the mountain was almost fogged in and visibility was down to less than a quarter of a mile.

Fort Davis' Scenic Loop

We're at the top of Mount Locke View of the visitor's center complex from Mt. Locke

We got to see Mt. Locke (McDonald Observatory), Mt. Livermore, and Sawtooth Mountain, just to name a few of the popular landmarks. We also saw some really neat rock formations. Our drive around the loop took approximately 1 1/2 hours. From where we started in Fort Davis to the top of Mt. Locke (McDonald Observatory) there was a 30 degree temperature difference. We also observed some very interesting rock formations during our drive. Terry and I kept marveling about the force that it must have taken to push these huge rocks into the positions they're in now. Nature is so fascinating.

The end of the loop exited just outside of Fort Davis. We had to go back through town to get back to the park and our campsite. Terry and I decided to drive around town a bit and explore. The county courthouse is very beautiful. We also found the church that was featured in the movie, "Dancer, Texas". We decided that Fort Davis is a wonderful little town.

Fort Davis County Courthouse Church used in the filming of "Dancer, Texas"

Across from the entrance of the Fort Davis Historical Site is a little ice cream parlor call "The Caboose" aptly named since it is in a remodeled caboose. They proudly serve Blue Bell Ice Cream. Terry and I decided that we would stop for a treat before heading back to our campsite. Next door to the ice cream shop is a curio/gift shop that the couple who own the ice cream parlor also owns. We got to visiting with the owners and found out that they used to live in Fort Worth. Several years back they came to the Fort Davis area on vacation, fell in love with the area, sold everything, and moved to Fort Davis. How cool is that? Of course the Blue Bell ice cream treats were wonderful.

After leaving "The Caboose" Terry and I headed back to our campsite to relax for the rest of the afternoon. On vacation, that's what we're supposed to do, correct? We decided to sit outside for a while. In the distance there was thunder and lightning. Terry and I love thunderstorms especially when we're camping. While sitting outside, we started getting plunked on the head by pea sized hail. We moved our recliners under our awning so we could stay outside. The hail storm didn't last long but really cooled the temperatures down. From what we found out, hail storms are a frequent occurrence in west Texas. Before the week was out, we'd have two more hail storms. We kept thinking about the poor folks that were here to attend the "Texas Star Party." With the overcast skies, it didn't look too promising for an evening of sky gazing.

Around 6:00 it was time to start preparing dinner. I had found a light salad that I wanted to try. We were also preparing homemade hamburgers with all the fixings. On the menu this evening:

The salad really turned out very nicely. It went really well with the hamburgers. I've included the recipe below.

Avocado Tropical Salad

Combine all ingredients and let marinate and chill for around an hour before serving.

After dinner Terry and I played a couple of round of Phase 10. This time Terry won both hands. Next time I'll get my revenge! For the rest of the evening both of us sat and read, listening to the sounds of the park and the night that was coming on very quickly. We'd had another wonderful day and we were very tired. Before turning in for the evening, I made sure our awning was angled properly to allow run off from the scheduled rain. We decided to turn in early to get a good night's sleep. Overnight there were lots of thunderstorms and flashes of lightning. There would be no star gazing tonight. What a wonderful sound, rain on the top of the trailer and on our skylight! Terry and I loved lying in bed listening to the rain. We both finally drifted off to sleep after an hour or so.

Davis Mountains State Park - Tuesday, May 15, 2007

I woke around 7:15. After all the rain last night the morning air was cool and crisp. Of course my first task was to make a pot of coffee. I was met outside with heavily overcast skies and a nice cool morning. I sat outside enjoying my coffee and reading for a while. About an hour later, Terry joined me to enjoy the morning cool morning west Texas air. While in town yesterday we stopped by the local grocery store and picked up some cherry turnovers which we were enjoying for breakfast this morning. While sitting outside Terry got to do some bird-watching. We had also put up a regular bird feeder in addition to the hummingbird feeder. We had birds all over the place. So far, Terry has added 10 birds to her identified list.

On taps today was a trip to Marfa, one of the three towns in the triangle of towns close by. I was looking forward to our visit to Marfa since it was the location where the film "Giant" was shot. Marfa is also famous for it's Marfa Mystery Lights. Terry and I were hoping that we'd have a clear night to observe them. So far, the weather wasn't cooperating. Maybe the weather would clear off later in the week.

As I mentioned, there are 3 major towns within the Davis Mountains area. The three towns form a triangle and all of the towns are around 25 miles apart. Each of the towns is an easy 30 minute drive from each other. With that said, Terry and I jumped in the truck and headed out for our adventure in Marfa. Being the first part of the week, we didn't expect much activity in the town. As we were driving to Marfa the two of us kept admiring our surroundings. Wow, what an incredible area of the great state of Texas. Around lunchtime we arrived in Marfa. Yep, we were correct, there wasn't much going on in the town. It was a very sleepy west Texas town. There was supposed to be a real good Mexican restaurant in town. We decided against eating there since we had just had Tex-Mex the day before. We started to get a bit worried thinking we'd have to stop at the local gas station to get some snacks to much on. We did find a Dairy Queen but we really wanted something with more of a local flavor.

We had passed a little gift shop so we decided to stop there and ask about a place to eat. The owner of the shop scratched his head and said there was a great little place on the town square but he wasn't sure if it was open. He immediately picked up the phone and called "Squeeze Marfa" to see if they were open for lunch. Great news, they were! We were in luck, he our new found friend recommended some of the interesting menu items for us to try. He said we were in for a treat. Terry and I were off to find "Squeeze Marfa" right on the town square.

After a short 5 minute drive we pulled up to the front door of the restaurant. If you're not looking for it, you'd probably miss it. The restaurant's entrance is through a wrought iron gate with seating inside and a delightful seating area outside. Since it was such a cool overcast day out, Terry and I decided to eat outside. What a wonderful menu of smoothies, Panini and specialty sandwiches, teas and coffees. It was really hard to make a decision. We both finally decided on what we were going to order off the menu.

The entrance to "Squeeze Mafra"

Terry was going to have the "The Pollo Mumaypé". The sandwich consisted of Chicken, apple, celery, raisin, tomato, and the chef's special sauce. Terry loves chicken salad and is very particular about the chicken salads she likes. She took one bite and smiled real big. She said the chicken salad was one of the best she had ever tasted. I had decided on "The Flying Dutchman". My sandwich was made with smoked turkey, gouda cheese, spinach, mayonnaise and mustard. Oh my gosh, my sandwich was ever bit as good as Terry's. Before our sandwiches arrived, we each had a cup of the soup of the day, "Jalapeno Potato." Wow, it was incredible. It wasn't a thick soup, but more of a broth. Accompanying our delicious lunch was one of "Squeeze Marfa's" flavored iced teas. When Terry and I return to the Davis Mountains area again, we'll definitely pay another visit to "Squeeze Marfa". When we went into the restaurant to pay our bill, we were met with another surprise. One of the owners of "Squeeze Marfa" also has family that owns the Swiss chocolate factory "Vollenweider". They had a delectable selection of chocolates for us to buy and take with us. We were even offered a sample.

After finishing up our delicious lunch, Terry and I headed to the "El Paisano Hotel" Why the interest in visiting a hotel. It's the hotel that the stars of the movie "Giant" stayed at during the filming of the movie in the middle 1950's, Within the hotel they had a mini-museum setup to honor the film and it's stars. After the stars and film crew left, the hotel gradually fell into disarray until the family who owns the "Hotel Limpia" in Fort Davis purchased it and did a complete restoration. The hotel has now been restored to its former glory of days gone by. Terry and I had a wonderful time exploring the hotel and its courtyard. It was neat to know you were walking in the same hallways that Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson walked over 50 years ago.

A Visit to the "El Paisano Hotel"

Chuck in front of the El Paisano Hotel
The beautiful courtyard at the El Paisano Hotel
The hotel's sitting room, fully restored to its glory The hotel's indoor pool

Our last stop in Marfa was the "Marfa Book Company". What a great local bookstore. They also offer free wireless Internet access. Since I didn't have access at the park or in Fort Davis, I took advantage of the access point and caught up on my personal and business emails. We're really glad we stopped in when we did. All day long the skies had been grey and threatening. While we were in the store they finally opened up. All of the sudden there was another on of those west Texas hail storms followed by a thunderstorm. After around 30 minutes the rain and hail subsided and we were able to head back to Fort Davis and Davis Mountains State Park.

We arrived back at our campsite around 4:00 in plenty of time to be able to relax a bit before starting dinner. Terry and I sat outside, read and watched all of the birds and mule deer that were all around us. Terry got to add a couple more birds to her identified list. Tonight we were doing a simple dinner. On the menu:

Dinner was delicious and easy to cleanup. For the rest of the evening Terry and I relaxed, watched TV and played games. We'd had another good day in west Texas. Tomorrow we'd be going to Alpine for shopping and exploring. A little later we looked out the window of the trailer and saw the javelinas were out and scouring for food. This was a nightly sight for us while we were staying at the park.

Javelinas Everywhere!

The only disappointment we've had during our trip is finding out that Balmorhea State Park’s pool was closed the week we were here due to its annual draining and cleaning. Terry and I were looking forward to swimming in one of the top pools in the country. Well, we'll just have to return to the area again at a different time so we can visit the park. Balmorhea's pool is huge, around 77,000 square feet. 22 to 28 million gallons of water flow through the pool each and every day. After the evening news was over, Terry and I turned in. We'd had another day full of adventures. Again overnight showers were in the forecast. Are we ever going to have a clear night for all the astronomers?

Davis Mountains State Park - Wednesday, May 16, 2007

We both woke around 8:00 to a very overcast but cool morning. It was nice sleeping in. Terry and I watched the morning news and the weather as we enjoyed our coffee. The cloudy and rainy forecast was supposed to continue throughout the week. They said possibly by the weekend skies were supposed to clear. Again Terry and I thought about all the folks that were at Prude Ranch which is TSP's headquarters. So far the whole week has been a bust for star gazing. Maybe it will clear off by the end of the week.

A cloudy day at the park

One the menu this morning for breakfast:

Terry and I hung around our campsite until around noon when we headed out for Alpine and today's adventure. While we were sitting outside our trailer Terry identified some additional birds for her bird watching list. In Alpine, we'd be visiting the "Museum of the Big Bend", "Apache Trading Post" and the local True Value Hardware store. After a short 30 minute drive Terry and I rolled into Alpine, the largest of the towns in the area.

Alpine was totally different from Fort Davis and Marfa. Alpine is a college town where Sul Ross University is located. Sul Ross University was named for Lawrence Sullivan Ross, governor of Texas from 1887-1891. Being a college town, Alpine has many of the chain restaurants and shops that the other two towns don't. Alpine also is home to the original Reata Restaurant. That's where we'll be eating Saturday night, our 17th anniversary.

As we pulled into town, we were in luck, the True Value Hardware store was right on the main road. We had to stop there to get a bottle jack and doing some shopping and browsing. Terry and I both love going up and down the aisles of hardware stores. The hardware stores in the smaller towns are the most fun because they've got everything, a larger variety of products than the hardware stores in the Dallas/Fort Worth area carry. I immediately found the bottle jack that I knew would lift the tongue of the trailer and put it into our basket. We also found a few more item that we needed plus gifts for our friends back home. After finishing up our shopping at the True Value we decided to head out for some more shopping. We found out the museum we were going to visit was closed for renovations. Oh well, maybe next time. Terry saw a Beals Department Store. She needed a few more items for the trip so she decided to run in and see what they had. I decided to sit out in the truck and check email since I had a great AT&T signal on my Aircard.

Around 30 minutes later, Terry came out with her booty. She had made some incredible buys. She bought around $160 worth of merchandise for right at $60. The store was having a huge sale. She had also picked up some really nice flannel shirts for me at dirt cheap prices. I had neglected to pack any long sleeved shirts and the evenings were pretty chilly. One of the shirts would be perfect for our "date night" on Saturday evening. We drove around a little bit more looking at the various shop but nothing caught our fancy and made us want to stop.

Our last stop before stopping for dinner was the Apache Trading Post. Our reason for visiting the trading post was to watch the free film on the Marfa Mystery Lights. The shop also featured the typical tourist type souvenirs and local gifts. Terry and I did pickup a few items including a couple of nice Christmas ornaments and a book written by one of the local Texas Rangers. After spending around an hour browsing, shopping and watching the Marfa Lights film, it was time for dinner.

In one of our guides, "La Casita" was highly recommended as a great Tex-Mex restaurant. Terry and I searched and searched and finally found the little restaurant. It was located in a residential area of Alpine. In fact "La Casita Mexican Restaurant" is in an old house. Wow, I am so glad we took the time to find the restaurant. The food and the portions were unbelievable. We couldn't believe the prices on the menu. I thought they had to be wrong. If I remember correctly the highest priced combination plate was under $7.00. The food and service was great. It's nothing fancy, just good solid home-cooked Mexican food. We noticed many college aged kids eating there as well, so it must be popular with the Sul Ross crowd. If you go, take cash; they don't take credit cards.

After dinner it was time to head back to camp. On our drive back to Fort Davis, we got to see our first pronghorn antelope. They looked so graceful out on the prairie. Terry and I stopped to take some photos of them. While we were on the side of the road, an SUV from the United State Border Patrol stopped to make sure we weren't having car trouble. We told them we were just sight-seeing and we were fine. Terry and I were both impressed that they stopped to offer help. There's a lot of wide open spaces our here and it could be a while before help arrives if you do have a breakdown.

It was early evening when we arrived back at our campsite. We sat outside until it started getting dark watching all of the mule deer and javelinas rummaging through the underbrush. The hummingbirds had emptied their feeder again so it was time to refill the nectar and also refill the birdseed in the other feeder. We definitely had a bunch of hungry critters visiting our campsite. Terry and I headed inside to rest and relax before turning in for the evening. Terry and I read for a while before turning in for the night. And yes it rained most of the night once again. Again, Terry and I felt sorry for the TSP folks, another night without clear skies.

Davis Mountains State Park - Thursday, May 17, 2007

Terry and I didn't wake again until after 8:00. The sound of the rain on the trailer's roof all night long was very soothing and relaxing. It was a very grey and damp day outside but there were a few patches of sunshine trying to break through. Today we were going to stay in the park and hang out. No adventures were scheduled, we'd just be enjoying a relaxing day at our trailer. I'd be doing some reading and napping and Terry may be doing some hiking and bird watching. Later on this evening, the camp hosts would be presenting a musical program at the park's interpretative center. But, for right now, it's time to get a pot of coffee brewing and breakfast started. On the menu this morning:

For the rest of the morning, we did a whole lot of nothing. I played a couple of logic games I have, one is "River Crossing" and the other is "Rush Hour". Both help you think logically and are great at developing problem solving skills. Terry took a walk through the park searching for more birds to identify. Around lunchtime we were both getting a bit hungry so we made ham sandwiches, chips and cokes.

Bird Watching At Our Campsite

This afternoon, we were going to have a "movie afternoon' and watch a DVD that we had brought us, "I Robot" with Will Smith. We even popped a bag of microwave popcorn. Terry and I had a great time on our "movie date," I did take a break from the movie to put dinner on in the crock-pot. Tonight for dinner we were having one of Terry's favorite meals. On the menu tonight:

The dish is so easy to prepare. You take boneless chicken breasts and seasoning them with salt and pepper. Put them in a crock-pot and pour a bottle of medium Pace Lime Picante Salsa over them. You let the recipe cook 4-5 hours on low, that's all there is to it. We serve the chicken with rice and a salad to make the perfect meal.

After dinner Terry and I drove up to the park's interpretative center to attend a program that was being hosted by the park's camp host. The evening's festivities were scheduled to start around 7:00. A fair crowd had gathered to attend the concert and program. Another couple was there to lend a hand and they looked very familiar.

The camp host is a huge Elvis fan and has a pretty darn good voice and plays the guitar very well. Paul Derrick and his wife also joined in singing and playing the guitar and banjo. What a fun evening. We were also mesmerized by the big picture window in the interpretative center. Behind the center is one of the park's bird viewing area and the hummingbirds, finches and all sorts of other birds were flying around outside the window. Terry and I had never seen so many different birds in one place. At times it was hard to concentrate on the musical program that was going on. What a fun program and evening. Terry and I really enjoyed it.

An Evening of Music At Davis Mountain State Park

Elvis is in the building!

Paul Derrick and his wife entertain us with guitar and banjo music

After the musical portion of the program was over, Paul Derrick put on an incredible program concerning astronomy and the history of the solar system. Of course Paul was in town to attend "TSP". Terry and I had the pleasure of hearing Paul speak at one of the Fort Worth Astronomy Club meetings that we attended, which is why he looked familiar. He's a very good speaker and his program held the interest of the audience.

It was a little after 9:00 when the program completed so we headed back to our trailer to relax for the rest of the evening. Boy, doing nothing is really hard work! But it felt really good to relax all day long. Terry and I watched the news and then turned in for the evening. Another night, another overcast sky, will it ever end? Tomorrow we're going to the McDonald Observatory, rain or shine!

Davis Mountains State Park - Friday, May 18, 2007

Terry and I both woke up at 8:00 to, yes another, cloudy overcast day. Today we'd be spending most of the day at the McDonald Observatory. This was going to be the highlight of our trip. This is what Terry and I've been waiting for. There were three programs we were going to attend, the day program, the twilight program and, of course, the night program. Rain or shine the McDonald Observatory was going to have a program for us to attend. Terry and I showered and got dressed.

We decided instead of cooking breakfast this morning, we'd be eating at the Indian Lodge's "Black Bear Restaurant." The restaurant was managed and staffed by state park employees. What a wonderful delicious breakfast and incredible service! Terry had breakfast burritos and I had over-easy eggs, hash browns and sausage. The biscuits were incredible almost 3" tall. Terry said her breakfast burritos was awesome. While we were visiting the lodge, we stopped in to pick up a few more things at the park's gift shop.

After leaving the lodge, we headed to Mt. Locke and the McDonald Observatory. Terry and I were so excited to finally be visiting the observatory. The day was very overcast. We knew actual solar viewing wouldn't be on the day's program. We were assured, rain or shine, there would be a program for us to attend. After a short drive to the McDonald Observatory we arrived just in time for the Daytime Program. The new Frank N. Bash Visitors Center is really beautiful. Terry and I decided to take advantage of the combined ticket price. We purchased our tickets for all 3 programs, Daytime, Twilight and Night Star Party. The Twilight program is held about an hour before the Night Star Party. I have included some photos we shot, plus photos, mainly of the telescopes, that come from the public area of the McDonald Observatory's website. These photographs were "professionally" shot.

Entrance sign to the McDonald Observatory

McDonald Observatory Visitor's Center

Terry says "Hook'em Horns!"
Chuck by the McDonald Observatory's Huge Sundial

The McDonald Observatory Telescopes

Below is a summary of the Daytime program highlights from the McDonald Observatory website:

Terry and I got to do all of the above except for the live solar viewing. Once again it was a very overcast day. We attended an excellent multimedia presentation at the start of our program. Our guide took us on a virtual tour of our universe and our solar system.

We also got to see an incredible film entitled "The Power of 10." After seeing it you begin to see, in the scheme of things, you're pretty small.

The film called "Powers of Ten" was made in 1977 by Charles and Ray Eames. The film teaches us about scale and  the relationship between all things big and small. Every time you add a zero  to a number it becomes ten times greater, or a new power of ten. This is shown by the exponent, or the small number to the right of each "10". The  film starts with a sleeping man at a picnic and every ten seconds, the  camera moves ten times further away, measured in meters. When we get to the  edge of the known universe (10 +25), the journey reverses and we get ten times closer with each image. We enter the sleeping man's hand and go deeper and deeper until we finally reach the level of a quark(10-18).

After attending the programs at the visitor's center it was time to go on the tour of the telescopes.  Mark Cash was our guide for the day. He was very good and took the time to answer our questions thoroughly. It was so cool getting "up close and personal" with the telescopes that we'd heard so much about. We toured the observatories that house the Harland J Smith 107" and Hobby Eberly 300" telescopes. We're glad we had already paid the area a visit earlier in the week. Looking down from the mountain, we could barely see anything since the clouds were so low.

Our Tour of the McDonald Observatory

Our tour guide, Mark Cash, explaining the history of the McDonald Observatory
Fogged in on the top of Mount Locke
Looking at the back of the 107" telescope
The dome doors opening on the 107" telescope
The dome of the 400" telescope

After the tour was over, our bus dropped us off back at the visitors center. It was lunchtime so Terry and I ate at the "Stardate Cafe". The menu offers a nice variety of items. Both of our sandwiches were delicious. After finishing our lunch, it was time to go shopping at the gift shop. The visitor's center has an incredibly well stocked gift shop. Terry and I purchased lots of neat stuff including a couple of University of Texas sweatshirts that will feel really good when we return for the Star Party this evening. It was supposed to be quite chilly. I also picked up some astronomy software that I had heard very good reviews about, "Starry Night Enthusiast". I had been wanting to get a copy of it for quite a while now. It allows you to study the night time sky anytime from the comfort of your computer.

Just as we were getting ready to leave, you guessed it, another thunderstorm hit. The rain was really coming down hard. Terry and I decided to sit and wait it out a bit instead of making a run for it. After around a short  20 minute wait, the rain subsided enough for us to make it to the truck without getting too soaked. We headed back to our campsite to relax and hopefully take a nap before heading back to the observatory for tonight's "Star Party." Maybe, just maybe, it'll clear off. Even it it doesn't, we've been assured there will still be activities at the McDonald Observatory for us to take part in this evening.

For the rest of the afternoon Terry and I relaxed, read and napped. Both of us did manage to get a little snooze in. We knew we were going to be up late this evening. We wanted to be "refreshed" so we would enjoy this evening's programs. Around 6:00, Terry and I decided to get dinner prepared. On the menu this evening:

The temperatures were dropping. The chili was a good choice for the evening. Around 7:30 it was time for us to leave for the McDonald Observatory and the twilight program which was scheduled to start at 8:00. After a short drive, we arrived at the visitors center and took our seat in the multimedia theater. After another informative program, we headed outside to the center's amphitheater to construct a visual model of our solar system using the participants. The program was entitled "Modeling the Solar System." It was pretty cool. The best news was the skies were starting to clear a bit.

McDonald Observatory's Amphitheater

After a short wait, it was time for the evenings "Star Party" to begin. Our sweatshirts felt really good since the temperatures were really starting to drop with nighttime coming on. The "Star Party" made use of a 16" Meade LX-200 and a 22" classic Cassegrain. There were also several scopes of various sizes set up and manned by volunteers of local astronomy clubs. What was amazing to Terry and myself was the spontaneity and knowledge of the "Star Party" volunteers. The nighttime events are held three times a week and the volunteers view the objects in the sky all the time. Still they were genuinely excited when showing the "Star Party" attendees what objects they had spotted in their scopes.

Meade LX-200 22" Classic Cassegrain

Wow, is all we can say. The skies cleared just as the "Star Party" began. I also thought about all the TSP folks, they were going to have a great night of star gazing. Terry and I walked around from scope to scope with our mouths open. We saw some incredible object. We actually got to see Saturn and its rings! Oh my gosh, it was a phenomenal experience. Below is a partial list of some of the objects we got to observe through the scopes that were set up:

M3 and M13 are Messier objects. Messier objects were identified and cataloged by the French astronomer Charles Messier. The original list identified 45 objects. The list has now grown to 110. M3 and M13 are globular clusters of stars. One of them contains approximately half million stars. Wow! What was really hard to grasp was the distance the objects were from the earth. The light we were seeing had traveled 33,000 light years to get here. It's hard to imagine or even comprehend. After a couple hours of viewing, it was time to call it a night. What an experience and what a night! Terry and I looked at each other and exclaimed "We've got to come back here again soon!" We'd never look at the stars in the same way again. Before heading to the parking lot, we both looked back up to the night skies with wonder and amazement. We arrived back to our trailer after midnight worn out and ready for bed. It had been a very long day and we were ready to get in bed and go to sleep. When we wake in the morning, it will be our 17th anniversary.

Davis Mountains State Park - Saturday, May 19, 2007

Since we were up so late attending the "Star Party" we slept in until 9:00. It felt great to do so. We woke to a beautiful day. It was a cool west Texas morning. I immediately put on a pot of coffee. It was definitely one of those mornings that required a fresh pot of hot steaming coffee. Terry and I exchanged anniversary cards and started breakfast. We decided to eat outside this morning since it was such an incredible morning. One the menu for our anniversary breakfast:

Celebrating our 17th anniversary with a delicious breakfast

What an awesome breakfast we had! The setting was perfect, the hummingbirds and other birds were everywhere. What a perfect day and place to celebrate our anniversary. Today was a "campsite day". We were not doing anything but relaxing. Right now it was clear, but there was a chance of bad weather moving in this afternoon. Terry was planning on doing some more bird watching, hiking and exploring the park. I was planning on sitting in the recliner, reading and just enjoying our last day at the park. Tonight we were headed back to Alpine to have dinner at Reata Restaurant. Yum! We couldn't wait to eat at the original Reata. We had dined at the Reata in Fort Worth and loved it.

Chuck relaxing after breakfast

Since we had such a late breakfast, we knew we wouldn't be hungry for lunch. We have early reservations, 6:00, for our anniversary dinner at Reata in Alpine. While we were outside enjoying the late morning, we heard thunder in the distance. There was still sunshine so we decided to relax for a while longer before starting to pack up all of our outside stuff. After reading for around an hour we decided to take a break and start stowing everything. We wanted to get everything put away today so we wouldn't have to worry about it tomorrow morning. We have a long, 500 mile, trip home ahead of us and we wanted to get on the road as early as possible.

After stowing all of our outside stuff, Terry decided to take a walk, explore and do some more bird watching. I decided to run inside and take a shower so Terry could shower when she returned. As I was showering, I starting hearing a "plinking" on the roof and the skylight. Soon the "plinking" got louder and louder. It was hailing! It just wasn't hailing a little bit, it was really hailing! I jumped out of the shower, dried off real fast, put on a pair of jeans and bolted out of the trailer to go find Terry. I didn't even take time to put a shirt on. I hoped she was okay. She was out walking in the park and had no protection. The hail was really coming down. I drove around a bit and finally found that Terry had taken refuge underneath a big tree. She said she was just walking down the road when she heard some rustling in the tall grass. She is really scared of snakes and was afraid she was being stalked by a herd of snakes! All of a sudden she started getting hit on the head and realized that what she was hearing was hail, not snakes. What was really weird was it was just hail...no rain! There were a couple of folks tent camping nearby and they had jumped in their vehicles and drove under the trees where Terry had taken shelter. Just then she saw me coming around the corner. She was very happy to see me. She had been using one of her bird watching books to shield her head and was starting to get scared. Those hail stones were getting big! Thank goodness she was okay.

Hail Storms Move In!

Storm clouds moving in
Yep, the white stuff on the ground is hail!

By the time we got back to the trailer, the hail storm had passed and it looked like we had had snow. That makes the third hail storm we've been through since we've been in the area. We both sat and calmed down a bit before Terry went in the bathroom to shower and get ready for tonight's anniversary dinner. Around 5:30 we were both dressed and ready to head to Alpine and our celebratory dinner. On the way into Alpine, we pass the famous "CF Ranch". This is the ranch where the beef comes from that is served at Reata.

We were greeted promptly at Reata and seated. I'm sure most of the servers attended Sul Ross University. They all seemed to know all of the patrons personally. The original Reata in Alpine is very different from the one we've dined at in Fort Worth. From what we've been told, the restaurant in Alpine, is the size of Fort Worth's kitchen. The steakhouse is located in one of the historic homes in Alpine and very homey and informal. It's definitely a "boots and spurs" type of establishment. Our dinner was incredible. The menus of the two restaurants are exactly the same. Terry had the pepper encrusted tenderloin with the port wine sauce. This is one of Reata's signature dishes. I opted for the carne asada with two enchiladas served on top. Yum! For dessert, we choose Reata's famous Apple Crisp a la mode. What a wonderful anniversary dinner and week we have had. This was an anniversary that we'll never forget.

Our Anniversary Dinner At Reata Restaurant

A toast to our 17th anniversary!
Yep, the apple crisp was incredibly delicious

We decided to drive through Marfa just in case it was clear enough to stop and see the Marfa Lights. Unfortunately, there was a dense fog covering the viewing area. We wouldn't get to try and view the Marfa Mystery Lights this time. We'd have to wait until one of our return trips to the area. We understand why the McDonald Observatory is here in the area. When it's dark, it's really dark! There is so little light pollution in the area. Below are some pictures of the Marfa Mystery Light viewing area.

Marfa Mystery Lights Viewing Area

We arrived back at our campsite around 8:00. The javelinas were out routing around trying to find something to eat. We played a couple of rounds of Skip Bo before turning in for the night. We went to bed early so we'd both be refreshed for the long drive home tomorrow. The skies had also cleared off so the TSP folks were going to have another night of star gazing. We slept soundly through the night without stirring a bit. What an incredible week we've had culminating with a wonderful 17th anniversary day and dinner.

Davis Mountains State Park - Sunday, May 20, 2007

Terry and I woke around 7:30 after a very restful night's sleep. We were ready to head for home. It's always great to get away, but it's even better to get back home. Since we were still full from the big dinner we had the night before we decided to have a light breakfast of oatmeal, toast, juice and milk. After showering I headed outside to dump and flush our tanks while Terry worked on the "inside stuff" so we could get hooked up and head for home.

Around 10:30 we were hooked up and ready to bid farewell to the Davis Mountains State Park. We made a vow to each other to return very soon. The bottle jack we had purchased in Alpine was just what we needed in order to lift the trailer's tongue up enough to get it hitched up to the truck. The trip home down Interstate 20 was very uneventful. It was interesting driving through the Midland oil fields. One the way home we stopped for lunch and dinner. We made great time on our trip home arriving at our storage facility around 8:00. We were glad to have arrived safely at home. Below are some parting images of the Davis Mountains.


Authored by Chuck and Terry Mencke

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"Davis Mountains State Park - May 12-20, 2007" was last modified: July 27, 2008

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Chuck and Terry's Pilgrim 281 RB-S Adventures