Davis Mt SP/Fort Davis/McDonald Observatory

Trip Start Feb 09, 2013
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Trip End Jun 30, 2013


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Flag of United States  , Texas
Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Tuesday/Wednesday – March 26 & 27    We left Alpine and Lost Alaskan RV Park and drove 22 miles north to Fort Davis.  Checked into our campground Davis Mountains State Park around 10 in the morning and had no problems.  Nice campground and I reviewed it below.  We had tickets today for the McDonald Observatory that the University of Texas owns and runs situated just 11 miles up the Davis Mountains on the highest elevation in the state of Texas.

  Davis Mountains State Park was developed by the CCC projects in TX.  They built the campground, portions of scenic Skyline Drive and the lodge.  This area has cooler temperatures because it is at a higher elevation and more rain so you find more oak, junipers and grass than in other parts of west TX.  This area shows that years ago there was a lot of volcanic activity and when you look up you see cliffs or rocks everywhere.  There seems to be huge populations of javelina's (look like small pigs) and they are not very nice.  There is a lodge in the park, Indian Lodge built by the CCC.  The lodge was built with pine vigas and river cane latilla ceilings that add rustic charm.  Cedar furniture was hand carved.  This lodge has been expended to a 39 room full service hotel and restaurant.

  McDonald Observatory is amazing.  McDonald was a banker who left his whole estate to the University to Texas to build an observatory even through the university did not even have an astronomy department.  His heirs challenged this in court for years to no avail.  Mountains were donated in the Davis Mountains for them to build the Observatory and to build a huge telescope.  The University of Chicago professors helped to start this program and to guide the building of the Observatory during the first thirty year period.  Then the University of TX took over with their own dynamic department head, who was able to get another big telescope built and develop an international reputation.  Now there are three domes with huge telescopes, a number of small ones, a village at the site where housing is found for scientists visiting and staff and a Visitor Center.

        A new visitor center was built in the last ten years and it is one of the top tourist’s sites in Texas.  Scientists fly in and stay from all over the world.  The Visitor Center has exhibits, gift shop and restaurant.  There are tours ($) twice a day that last close to three hours with a guide starting with a talk, video, and a shuttle ride to see the huge telescopes on the top of the mountain.  The tour was excellent!

     We also took the Twilight Tour about the moon in the early evening before we had our last tour their infamous Star Tours at night.  They have a big area to sit down outside at night explaining the stars with lights highlighting them and then there are telescopes set up to see close ups of specific stars and then a movie in the Visitor Center.  This last tour always has a huge turnout of over a 1000 people.  It was cold the night we were there but it was a full moon and it was stunning.  We left after ten and drove back down the mountain well lit by the moon.  Great day!  This is a must stop if you are in this region and one can get tickets the day that you are there but the day tour should be reserved online before you come especially if you need the shuttle like we did since RV’s are not allowed to drive up to the highest point beyond the Visitor Center because it is too difficult to drive and no parking.

   

   On Wednesday we drove into Fort Davis for gas and then went to the Fort Davis National Historic Park.  This is also a must see and it is situated with cliffs of rocks behind it in a box canyon near Limpia Creek where wood, water and grass were plentiful and it was close to the Comanche War Trail that they used in their raiding of Mexico villages.   This Fort was one of the key defense forts to protect the Overland Trail and in pursuing the Comanches and Apaches until 1881 (It is still hard for me to believe that my grandparents were alive when this was going on).  After the Indian wars, soldiers then escorted railroad survey parties, repaired roads, telegraph lines and bandits.  June 1891 Fort Davis was ordered abandoned. 

   The Fort is in the process of being restored but much of the fort was still standing.  This is one of the best examples of a frontier post (no walls) and it shows the role the military played in the settlement of western Texas.   There are a number of buildings with furniture such as the home of the head officer, barracks, hospital, Commissary and Officers Quarters.

We were there for over three hours and really enjoyed it.  This fort was also the home for the famous Buffalo Soldiers – the black regiments that fought in the Civil War.  They were excellent soldiers and were the ones that helped to rein in the Indians especially Victorio the last Apache Chief of the band of Indians causing problems to the settlers, wagon trains and stagecoach runs.  The Apache chief was finally killed in the Battle of Tress Castillos in Mexico.  In reading about their daily life they were still discriminated against by white soldiers, officers who were white and settlers.

  We really enjoyed our stay here in Fort Davis and at the state park.  Tomorrow we head over the mountains to head for New Mexico.

   Tuesday/Wednesday – March 16 & 17 – Davis Mountain State Park.   This park sits in a valley with the Davis Mountains surrounding it.  Fort Davis is about three miles down the road with restaurants, gas and the Fort Davis National Historic Site.  It cost us $25 for full hookups and cable for the first night and because we had a TX State Park Pass we did not have to pay the entrance fee and our second night cost $12.50 (you get about 4, 50% off coupons for camping when you buy the pass).  The campground looks up towards the mountains and it is an easy ride of about 11 miles up route 118 to the University of Texas McDonald’s Observatory.   There are 94 sites for tents, w & e, and full hookups.  Bath houses were OK.  Sites for full hookups 17 to 28 did not seem to be level but the area we were in 1-16 were very level and great sites.  There is the Indian Lodge just up the hill with a restaurant but there seems to be concern that they recently changed the menu with higher prices and took out a number of favorite items.  It is a great place to camp and when it is hot in Texas this area seems to be comfortable.  There is an amphitheater, wildlife viewing, scenic overlook drive, playground, bike trail, hiking trails, primitive equestrian camping, interpretive center and dump station.  We would come back!
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Comments

Lois Salome on

Hi Karen,
I'm enjoying your travels very much, even if only vicariously! Just wanted to tell you and George that Jules Gadoury died. Hope you have a great Easter weekend.

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