West Texas Mountains: Guadalupe Mountains NP, Fort Davis, Alpine and Marfa

Leaving Hueco Tanks for the mountainous region of West
Texas was like moving to a different house in your neighborhood … same terrain,
same feeling, and yet totally different and exciting.  

Guadalupe Mountains National Park is one of the most remote
and least visited.

You can “walk the line” down the center of the highway for 20 minutes before anyone comes by.

Its namesake peak, Guadalupe Peak, juts skyward as the
highest point in all of Texas, at 8,750 feet elevation.

Other people were scarce, due to the national government
shutdown, but we entered anyway and explored plentiful hiking trails, including the remains of a Overland Butterfield Line stage stop.

Davis Mountain State Park, though only 140 miles south from
Guadalupe Mountains, is perched a mile above sea level on a “sky island” above
the surrounding deserts, offering gorgeous views and a plethora of flora and
fauna.

It was here that we saw our first spindly, ugly, cactus-munching javelina.

Skyline Drive winds to the park’s highest ridges (and only
location for cell service), providing breathtaking views of the surrounding
areas.

From the top of Skyline Drive, you can see down to our RV campground.  Can you spot the Lucky Charm?

You can also spot the distant, historic Indian Lodge Hotel, a pueblo-style building
from 1933 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, organized to provide work
opportunities through the U.S. during the Great Depression.  For $30 month (most of it sent back home),
the men of the CCC molded 40-pound earthen blocks from water, straw and soil
excavation on-site, and muscled tens of thousands of them into place to form
18”-thich walls, 3 stories high, to create this architectural jewel.

Nearby McDonald Observatory is one of the world’s leading astronomical
research facilities, under some of the world’s darkest skies.  In fact, the local high school was the last in football-crazy-Texas to install football stadium lights, to help preserve this darkness.

 On certain nights when the moon doesn’t rise until after
midnight, McDonald Observatory hosts “star parties.”  We were treated to a “tour” of the night
sky’s many stars, planets, constellations and galaxies, and got to look through
seven of their high-powered telescopes at specific astronomical objects.  It was fascinating, but it was freaking COLD! We **think** those are planets in the dark sky behind me below, but not entirely sure, and if they are, it was an accidental photo capture.

Fort Davis is one of the best surviving examples of a
frontier military post from the days of the Indian Wars, in this case 1854-1891.  When we arrived, a familiar tale … CLOSED due
to the government shutdown.  Foiled
again!  But then, a minor miracle, the
shutdown was postponed for three weeks and the following day we were able to
get it.

Fort Davis was an important strategic location to protect
emigrants, freight wagons, and mail coaches going hundreds of miles between San
Antonio and El Paso, from Indian raids.

There are more than 100 ruins in various states of disrepair, and five buildings that have been fully restored and refurnished to the 1880s.

The Enlisted Men’s Barracks offers a view of 1884, when it
was occupied by Buffalo Soldiers of Troop H, Tenth Cavalry, an all-black
battalion.  Some historians think it was
the Indians who named them, comparing their hair to Buffalo hair and finding
them worthy adversaries.

The post hospital could accommodate 24 of the sickest
patients, but most ill or injured were sent to their barracks to recuperate, or
were discharged from service and sent home. 
Soldiers suffered mainly from injuries and disease, and rarely from
battle wounds.  We learned of one officer and his wife, whose 7 children all died within a 2 week period from
dysentery.

A day trip to Alpine, TX was guided by Philip’s work
colleague Hillary, who had excellent suggestions.  The charming downtown has several paintings on the sides of
buildings, similar to those we enjoyed in Silverton, Oregon, and a lovely, artsy flair.

Kokernot Field is a fine example of a classic, small
baseball stadium, circa 1947, which Sports Illustrated has called “The Best
Little Baseball Field in the World.” The
local Sul Ross State University team was holding a scrimmage when we stopped
by, and it is home field for Alpine’s professional team, the Cowboys.

 

We also attempted (unsuccessfully) to locate a desk, with a notebook in which to sign your name, which
was hauled to the top of Hancock Hill on the Sul Ross University Campus.  Perhaps it was just a hoax and students are
laughing their butts off, watching from their nearby dorm windows, as hapless strangers tromp around the mountaintop in search of that which no longer (or
never did) exist.  But it was a nice hike
with beautiful views of the campus and town below anyway!

Marfa is a quirky town best known for the “Marfa Lights,”
seemingly sourceless lights which randomly dip and dance on the horizon from
time to time.  It was also the filming location of the epic 1950’s movie “Giant” starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean in his final performance.

Fascination with the strange and unexplained phenomena of the Marfa Lights began during the 19thcentury and
continues to such a degree today, that an entire building devoted to its
viewing has been built roadside, including telescopes, a huge parking lot, and
surprisingly nice restrooms.  

We were not there at night to verify their existence, and supposedly they only appear once every few months, but the show goes on for those with an open mind.  Here is what we saw (cue the disappointment):  Nothing.

 Marfa’s downtown is like so many small Texas towns, a whiff
of hopefulness mixed with a tinge of disrepair, as beautiful old buildings
surrounded by sagging downtowns attempt to breathe new life into their tourist
economies with local shops and galleries, and a homegrown, hipster vibe.

This area boasts several breathtakingly beautiful old hotels
which have been restored to glorious grandeur. Here as examples, the lobbies of the
historic Holland Hotel, built in 1912 after a fire leveled downtown Alpine, and Hotel Paisano in Marfa.

As the Lucky Charm pulls away from this mystical, beautiful place, we leave with with some unanswered questions, courtesy of an abandoned Marfa building-side.  If you come up with some deep thoughts on these issues, please let us know!

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