Another one of our off the beaten path places to visit was Fort Davis, Texas. We spent a couple of hours there on our way to a tour of McDonald Observatory, which is about 30 minutes “up the hill.”
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 and on the Chihuahua Trail.
Many of the buildings have been restored to close to their original condition, and for others only the foundations remain. We’ve enjoyed visiting these different forts, understanding the role they played in American history and in the expansion and settlement of the west.
When people ask us what the highlight of our recent trip was, it is easy to respond that it was the Grand Canyon. But Big Bend National Park was probably the most unexpected. It is a beautiful park with rugged mountains, deep valleys and a wide variety of plant and animal life.
Other than the scenery, we were not prepared for how dry it was there. It’s a desert climate, and we knew that. And while it was not hot – upper 80s to low 90s during our day there – the dew point was in the teens, and you could practically feel the moisture being sucked out of our bodies. We had plenty of food and water with us, and we never strayed too far from the car. But by the end of the day we were thirsty and exhausted. It just wore us out!
The Rio Grande River runs along the southern border of the park, and it was interesting to look across and realize that it was another country – Mexico – on the other side. Signs warned against crossing the border illegally, but that didn’t stop people from wading across to the other side for a photo. The Rio Grande, after all, isn’t all that Grande. At least for most of the year!
Big Bend is an example of a park where you really need multiple days to truly experience it. And to do that ideally means staying in the park, either by camping or staying in one of the many privately operated lodges in and near the park. We stayed in Alpine, TX which is about 1.5 hours away. That was not a big deal since we only visited one day. But if you wanted to see more, or photograph sunrise or sunset, it would be worthwhile to be closer. On a return trip we may decide to do just that. Although we probably wouldn’t consider camping. That just isn’t our thing. 😉
Probably because I started to become “world aware” in the mid to late 60s I had always associated Texas with Lyndon Johnson and The Alamo. I remember hearing references to the “Texas White House” on the news and it conjured up images of a place far away and quite foreign from western Pennsylvania.
We didn’t get to The Alamo this trip, but we did visit the LBJ Ranch, which is a National Historical Park, operated by the National Park Service. None of the buildings were open, and we got there pretty late in the day, but we did have a chance to drive the loop road, stop at the house and view some of the exhibits, including a former aircraft nicknamed “Air Force One Half” because of its small size. It was used to shuttle Johnson and company between the LBJ Ranch airport and Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio.
Visiting the ranch gave us a little taste of US history, and made real something I had only heard about and had seen only on television.
In 1978 a couple of Waco, Texas locals were searching for arrowheads and came across a large bone. They took the bone to a scientist at Baylor University, who identified it as a mammoth bone. A Baylor undergraduate started an archeological exploration of the site in 1979, uncovering 5 mammoths over a 2.5 year period. In the following years, another 16 mammoths were discovered.
The area is managed by the National Park Service in cooperation with the City of Waco and Baylor University, and became a National Monument in 2015 under President Obama.
The site is much smaller and much less dramatic than Dinosaur National Monument in Utah that we visited last fall, but interesting nevertheless in that it is one of only a few places where prehistoric remains in situ can be easily viewed by the public. A building erected over the site provides viewing access while providing access to students and scientists for further study of the area.
The place was also practically deserted on the day of our visit, making it even more attractive to us! 😉
On our way back through Texas we made this required pilgrimage to the Cadillac Ranch, on Historic Route 66 near Amarillo. We didn’t paint, although there were plenty of people who were painting (I got lucky that they all happened to be hidden in this shot). We had to be careful and stay upwind of the overspray!
We’re home now, but I’m a few days behind in processing photos.
We stopped for breakfast at the Midpoint Cafe in Adrian, Texas. It is purported to be the halfway point between Chicago and L.A., and who am I to argue? Great breakfast and interesting memorabilia make it a worthwhile stop.
It was quite an eventful day and it’s late. But here is one tidbit from first thing this morning.
Prada Marfa is a permanent sculptural art installation by artists Elmgreen and Dragset, located 1.4 miles northwest of Valentine, Texas, just off U.S. Highway 90, and about 26 miles northwest of the city of Marfa. The installation, in the form of a freestanding building—specifically a Prada storefront—was inaugurated on October 1, 2005. The artists described the work as a “pop architectural land art project.”
I’m skipping a few stops but this one was too good to wait on. Kathy & I visited Big Bend National Park today. What a spectacular place – we had no idea! This is just one photo that hardly represents the entirety of the place, only just one part. But since (for us) the point was getting to the Rio Grande, it represents that goal. I’ll post more once we get home, but it has been a busy trip so far!
Kathy & I visited the LBJ Ranch National Historical Park near Johnson City. This is the “Texas White House,” home of President Lyndon Johnson and used as an offsite location for Johnson during his presidency.