As we exited Big Bend we went through Study Butte, Terlingua, and in turn stopped at the Terlingua Ghost town. We first stopped at the Terlingua cemetery which is from 1902 and is listed on the National Register for Historic Sites. Many of the stone graves were for the miners that died in this area from working in the Mercury mines. The ghost town area is now more of an artist location as you can see from the art work we saw. We also stopped to see the Starlight Theatre but it was closed when we were there. Note the interesting Bar Stools in front of the place;-) Next door was the gift shop which had lots of interesting things like Grass Flip-flops!
We proceeded down to the Big Bend State Park Visitor Centre and the ranger indicated that the campgrounds were all full (which we expected due to Spring Break) but they had an excellent museum and garden area that was free with our SP pass. They had a cool map and statistic board showing the 4 desert areas in the US. The drive through the Big Bend SP was a spectacular drive with Hoodoo type formations and one hill that had a 20% grade up and then down again (the steepest road in Texas). Some rocks had fallen so they had a jack hammer rig breaking up the fallen rocks part way down the Big Hill. This road was featured in the National Geographic as one of the top ten Motorcycle roads in the US and we could understand why with all the twists and turns. Once we exited the SP we drove north to the town of Marfa where we stayed at the primitive Tumble In RV Park (note the vintage trailer used to self register). Marfa is known for the Marfa Lights which are strange flickering lights over the mountains outside of town but we went out at night and had a great star gazing but did not see the Marfa Lights, only car lights coming into Marfa.
Our next stop was Alpine Texas (designated as a Cultural Art community) where we stayed at the Lost Alaskan RV Park and looked around the town for a day. We had lunch at a local Mexican Restaurant called Los Jalapenos , no dinner needed that night after the huge lunch. They had a historic walking tour where we saw the colourful wall murals, Mike Murphy’s store on Murphy St., the Gypsy Rebel Boutique with “Man Parking” out front, and the historic Holland Hotel which has been operating since 1928 and has Spanish Colonial Revival architecture.
The next day in Alpine we went back to the visitor centre to post a blog since their internet access was far better than the RV park. Then we went to see the Kokernot Park baseball field built in 1947, styled after the famous Wrigley field, home of their semi-pro team called the Alpine Cowboys. For those that have been to Wrigley field you can let us know how it compares?
Our last stop in Alpine was at the excellent Big Bend Museum. They had information on the wildlife in the area, the fossils, the rock art in Davis Mountains, the Native American time period, the Spanish expeditions, the mining, the Mexican/Texas border history, the cowboys and ranching, the early trade in the towns, the impact of the railroad, Buffalo Soldiers and the Cavalry, an art exhibit, and the history of movie making in the area. I’ve included a few shots from the museum.
When we arrived in the town of Fort Davis (the highest town in Texas at 5050’) we walked around town and saw the Hotel Limpia and the famous drug store where you could get Blue Bell Ice Cream milkshakes in a diner style setup. Then we checked in at the MacMillan RV park where we had booked a dry camping spot, however when we arrived someone had cancelled so he gave us an end site with full service (which was great because we needed our AC) overlooking the foothills and we could see the sunrise each morning. The next morning we knew they were doing a guided ranger talk at Indian Lodge which we thought would be more about the lodge but the volunteer gave us tons of information about the Civilian Conservation Corps – CCC and in turn how they built the lodge. The talk was supposed to be about 1 hour but we had a small group so he talked for almost 2 hours. The CCC was established during the depression as a way of employing young men from 18 to 26 to build park infrastructure projects and Indian Lodge in Davis Mountain SP was one of the projects. The men got room and board (with amazing meals), clothing, and $30 per month of which $25 was sent back to their families and they got to keep $5. The original Indian Lodge had 16 rooms (expanded now to 39 rooms) and was completed in 1935 when vacationing by car was starting to become popular. The building was done with 40 lb Adobe bricks and had 18” thick walls. The lodge was finished with locally hewn pine floors and river cane latilla ceilings and had hand carved cedar furniture. The guide showed us the central gathering room, one of the guest rooms, and the view of the pool area (added later). The lodge was fully booked up for Spring Break. Some of the photos on the wall were interesting because it showed that during the CCC time segregation was in full force as the Black workers had to sit at one end separated from the Whites so that side of the photo could be cut off!
After the talk was over we decided to pack our lunch and go for a hike on the Skyline Drive Trail and return on the Old CCC Trail. Since it was the hottest time of the day and the trails have very little shade we were feeling quite sluggish. Since we left our RV at the lodge we ended up doing an 11 KM hike with 833’ of elevation gain. The trail had a spectacular view (after the straight up climb) of the Davis Mountains, the campground and Indian lodge and we could even see the McDonald Observatory in the distance. We also saw several of the structures that the CCC had built along the trail.
The next morning we went to the Fort Davis National Historic Site and after drove the 120 KM scenic loop with a stop at the MacDonald Observatory. Fort Davis is one of the best remaining examples of a restored frontier military fort in the US. The fort was established in 1854 to protect travellers and mail on the San Antonio to El Paso road heading for the California gold rush from the Indian raids. The fort was abandoned in 1861 and then rebuilt with Adobe brick structure from 1867-1869 and then deactivated in 1891. The morning we were there they happened to have a 5 KM Cannonball fun run starting at 10 am so we got to watch the cannon being fired and the runners setting off on the grounds. Then we went through the museum and then walked the grounds to see the Commissary, the Officer’s Quarters, and the Post Hospital.
Next we started the scenic loop drive and stopped at the McDonald Observatory. We would have liked to come back for the night time Star Party but it was sold out (870 people) for Spring Break. We had to settle for our own star gazing at the RV Park. We opted to go through the Museum, attend a Solar Viewing and take the guided tour of the 107’ telescope. The museum had several exhibits that weren’t working so it wasn’t that great but the Solar talk was really good. He explained that the surface of the sun was 10,000 F and the core was 26.000 F. When the sun expels plasma and it comes towards earth and hits the magnetic poles you get the Northern Lights with the Green colour from the Oxygen in the air and the Red colour from the Nitrogen in the air. They have a telescope setup to show you the sun’s surface and they are looking for sun spots which are cooler locations and protrusions when the plasma bursts out of the sun and arcs due to the magnetic fields. By the time he was ready to show us the live telescope feed clouds had settled in so instead he showed us past photos they had taken of sun spots and protrusions. Apparently the sun goes in 11 year cycles of high activity and low activity and currently it was low activity with zero sun spots in the last several weeks so there wouldn’t have been much to see during the live viewing. Next we took the guided tour of the 107” telescope on the top of the mountain (Mount Locke is 6791’ elevation and is the highest Texas maintained road) and also saw the outside of the 82” telescope. It was cool to learn how they make the massive mirrors and how every two years they have to recoat them with a very thin layer of aluminum. He also spun the 107” telescope around on its axis and showed us how he would adjust the wind flaps for the opening. Very interesting place to visit!
We carried on with the scenic loop drive and reached the Junction of 166 to head south and then east back to the campground. Along the way we saw: the Sawtooth Mountains (an intrusion of magma that solidified underground and joints formed as it contracted when it cooled and then it was exposed through erosion), some cactus with yellow fruit, the backside of the Sawtooth Mountains, several piles of large rocks, a rainbow in the distance, and some antelope grazing in a field.
Our next stops are Balmorhea SP and Guadalupe NP.