Winter in the Davis Mountains

Moon rising over the Davis Mountains as seen from Skyline Drive, Davis Mountains State Park
Moon rising over the Davis Mountains as seen from Skyline Drive, Davis Mountains State Park

There are a few very special places that I’ve visited in my lifetime that I would go out of my way to convince others to visit at least once in their own lifetimes, and far West Texas is one of these places.  We recently visited this area again, and I want to share a little more about our trip and this area in today’s post.  To say this place is remote is a vast understatement, so just getting there is part of the whole unique experience.

After Christmas, we took off in the motor home with our dogs for an entire week of vacation to the Davis Mountains of far West Texas, which is quickly becoming one of our favorite places on earth to visit.  When traveling, there is “getting away,” and then there is really “getting away.”  Fort Davis and the Davis Mountains definitely fall into that second category of really “getting away,” and we just love visiting this area largely for that reason.  It is literally in the middle of nowhere, and it has a very special and unique beauty that we have not seen anywhere else, with the possible exception of the Big Bend National Park area.  We also have a little family history in this area from my parents’ generation, but nothing that I remember myself.  I loved to hear the stories of my parents’ visits out west, though.  Perhaps that is one reason this place means even more to me, especially when I envision those big family reunions that they spoke of at the big ranch on the hill.

This year’s trip was marvelous once again.  While the weather was quite nice during our visit, we were fortunate to get out just before a huge snowstorm hit the area two days after we left.  While it would be neat to be there for a big snow event like that and take lots of gorgeous snow pictures there in the desert mountains, it would also be tough to deal with the motor home in those conditions, especially if we had to drive in it.  So, while we missed the big storm, it was neat to see some great pictures online from others that were there for it.

What I won’t do in this post is go into all the detail about our trip, mainly because it was just a great week of camping, hiking, riding the motorcycle on some nice sightseeing ventures, camp cooking and lots of relaxing.  What I will do is share some of my pictures that will hopefully convey the unique beauty of this area.  A few pictures are from our cell phones, as I don’t always take my big camera along for the ride when we are on the motorcycle.

Driving to Fort Davis through the Davis Mountains at sunset is one of the best driving experiences ever, and pictures will never begin to do it justice.  There is also a great little state park in Balmorhea, which makes for a quick rest stop for us, since we have our Texas State Park Pass that allows us to get in for free to any state park.  In the winter, Balmorhea State Park is pretty much deserted, but in the summer, it stays full much of the time.  We didn’t visit the Fort Davis National Historic Site in town on this trip, but it is certainly one of the highlights of the area for a new visitor, along with the famous McDonald Observatory and the stunning 75 mile Scenic Loop Drive.  But, you certainly don’t have to go to the observatory to see the stars here, especially on a moon-less night.  It is worth a trip to this area just to see the amazing night sky alone, since the Fort Davis area is one of the darkest places in our hemisphere with little to no light pollution.  You will likely never again see stars like you will see them here on a clear night with no moon.  I was literally stunned the first time I witnessed it myself.  We had a full moon on this trip, though, which was beautiful on its own.

Driving in West Texas with sunset coming soon
Driving in West Texas in the middle of nowhere with sunset coming soon
Sign on I-10
Sign on I-10 for the turnoff to the Davis Mountains
Entering the Davis Mountains at sunset
Entering the Davis Mountains at sunset
The drive from Balmorhea to Fort Davis through the mountains is beautiful
The drive from Balmorhea to Fort Davis through the mountains is beautiful
Davis Mountains at sunset
Davis Mountains at sunset with a golden, pink hue covering everything in sight
Mountain sunset
Davis Mountains drive at sunset
Gorgeous colors at sunset
Gorgeous colors at sunset in the Davis Mountains
Davis Mtns SP a
Our “pet” mule deer at our campsite, Davis Mountains State Park
Davis Mtns SP b
Another deer at the top of Skyline Drive, Davis Mountains State Park
Davis Mtns SP d
Amazing sunset seen from Skyline Drive with the Indian Lodge below, Davis Mountains State Park
Davis Mtns SP e
Wonderful pink hues grace the mountains and sky at sunset, McDonald Observatory in the distance
Davis Mtns SP f
The sun is almost gone for the day, Davis Mountains State Park
Davis Mtns SP g
Courtyard view at the Indian Lodge, Davis Mountains State Park
Davis Mtns SP h
From the Skyline Drive Overlook, you can see forever, Davis Mountains State Park
Davis Mtns SP i
Old CCC structure on Skyline Drive, Davis Mountains State Park
Davis Mtns SP j
View of the Indian Lodge and the campgrounds from Skyline Drive, Davis Mountains State Park
Davis Mtns SP k
The world-famous Hobby-Eberly Telescope at McDonald Observatory
Ft Davis a
Fort Davis is a great little town with historic hotels and fun shops

There are a few things that are good to know for first time visitors to this area.  If you ever decide to visit Fort Davis and/or the state park there and plan to spend the night in the area, be forewarned that you need to have a reservation in advance.  I learned this the hard way on my first trip to this area a few years ago and had to drive about 35 miles before eventually finding a room for the night, and that was even on a weekend in February, not in the height of summer travel here.  Also, make sure your vehicle is in good working order any time of the year.  Having car trouble or running out of gas in this unforgiving country could be a really bad experience.  Camping at the state park is such a great experience, but there are a few javelinas that roam around, especially at night.  We always make sure to keep our dogs away from them as best we can.  One of our fun memories was taking a “star walk” on our first night of camping in the state park last year when it was pitch black, and hearing a pack of javelinas “snort” at us as we walked by, never once seeing any of them until we were right on them. 😉

Javelina, Davis Mountains State Park (2011 photo)
Javelina, Davis Mountains State Park (2011 photo)

Mountain lions and snakes are sometimes spotted, too, although we have never seen one.  Don’t let these few cautionary things keep you from visiting this area, though.  Like I said, this is now one of our most favorite places to visit.  There are many, many Texas treasures to see, and this one has to be toward the top of anyone’s list!

Our state park RV adventures will continue in April when we plan to take a full week of vacation and visit yet another new park!

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New Samsung Galaxy S3

Samsung Galaxy S3 in Blue
Samsung Galaxy S3 in Blue

February 1 was my upgrade day with my long-time cell provider, and I headed out last Friday morning to buy my new phone.  I have enjoyed my HTC Evo 4G better than any previous cell phone, for sure, but after two years, that upgrade was just calling my name and had been since Christmas when I started looking at new phones in earnest.  Even though I actually debated buying the iPhone 5 for a little while, I gave that idea up after reading several glowing reviews online about the Galaxy S3, especially on its battery life.  I still have my iPod Touch of many years, so getting yet another similar Apple device just didn’t seem like a smart thing to do for the money.  And honestly, I’m just not all that fond of the Apple stuff, I guess.  I started with Android phones when they came out, and I will likely stay with them for the near future unless some significant changes are made to the iPhone offerings.  I like to customize my phone in ways that currently cannot be done on an iPhone.

I won’t attempt to go into all the bells and whistles of the Galaxy S3, as there are some really nice reviews about the phone online to read (head-to-head iPhone 5 comparison here), but I will just say that after spending some time learning this new phone over the weekend, I am very happy with my decision, at least for now.  In fact, I am absolutely thrilled with my choice!  Right now, I cannot think of one thing that I am not pleased with on this phone, except the fact that I realized that I need to work on editing and updating my ever-growing Google contact list once again.  That certainly is not the phone’s fault.  Sigh.  My area still does not have 4G LTE either, but again, that is not the fault of the phone.  Hopefully we’ll get that sometime later this year.

Here are a few features that I want to mention that I really like about this phone and related Android offerings.

Screen Size – At 4.8 in. (1280 x 720 pixels), this is bigger than the screen on my HTC Evo 4G, and I’m just fine with that.  I can still easily hold it in one hand, although I will say that anything larger, at least for me, would probably require me to use both hands much of the time.  I also looked at the Samsung Note 2 but decided it was definitely going to be a “two-hands” device for me if I bought it.  It is an impressive phone/mini-tablet, but ultimately, it was just too big for me for a phone.  I just couldn’t see holding that big thing up to my ear for longer than a couple of minutes at a time.  The Galaxy S3 is a great size with ease of handling while also making it much easier to see what is on the screen.  My eyes are not getting any younger, and this is such a nice feature.  Watching movies and videos is just awesome on that bigger screen, and the HD video quality is great.  I took my first video on Sunday afternoon of our big spoiled poodle puppy intently watching the Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet… what a hoot and in HD (1080p), too!

Speed – So, so, so fast!  The difference between the speed of this phone and my HTC Evo 4G is definitely noticeable – and very impressive.

Android 4.1.1 (Jelly Bean)Here is the summary – some neat features

Play Music – I am now sold on Google’s new music platform, even though I will still keep my songs in iTunes, too.  (I still have my iPod.)  Before I bought my new phone last week, I knew very little about Google Music.  But after reading about it a bit more, I am now happy to say that all of my music is uploaded to Google Music, just under 4000 songs.  Even though I could just stream my tunes from the Google “cloud,” I also put my favorite playlists on my phone for convenience and times that we are out of cell range when we travel.  Oh, I forgot to mention that I added 32G of memory to the phone, too!  😉  That should easily take care of my songs, photos and videos for quite some time, especially since the phone also has 16G of internal memory.  The 32G Sandisk card was about $20 at our local Radio Shack – not a bad price at all.  I also like the Play Music player a little more than the stock player, but I will probably go on the hunt for some other players to try out, too.

S-Voice – This is similar to Siri on the iPhone.  I’ve never “talked” to Siri, but I’ve been talking to S-Voice a bit and with good results.  It is a feature that seems to work very well for me at this point, and it has not missed a voice command yet.  S-Voice is a feature that I need to consciously start using more, since the accuracy seems to be really good and much faster than typing out a message or search myself.  I visited with a friend this morning who has a new iPhone 5, and we had a bit of fun talking to our respective phones and comparing results.  (I won’t even mention a few of the strange looks we got from some of the other customers at Starbucks either.)  Siri is a little more fun on occasion, but S-Voice gets the job done, too.  So, I’m good with that.  I really don’t think I need that many conversations with my phone anyway. 😉

Lighter Weight – This phone is lighter than my previous phone, and that is a good thing as far as I’m concerned.  Some reviewers thought the plastic rear cover gave it a cheaper feel, but I beg to differ.  Here’s why.  How many people carry their phone around these days without a protective cover?  I honestly cannot think of one person.  I purchased the metallic blue phone and found a nice metallic blue case to match, and with the case, it looks very elegant and has a perfect weight in my opinion.  It is also well-protected with the case on it, and I likely won’t even see the phone’s back again until I need to get to the battery or the storage card.  If I want extra weight to lug around, I’ll just fire up my old Evo.  Not.  Lighter is good.

Display – Stunning!  Just stunning.  😀  Yes, it is.  This makes me happy, happy, happy!

Battery Life – This feature is blowing my HTC Evo 4G out of the water.  Even though I recently replaced the battery on my Evo, the battery life was just terrible.  Battery life was always a pretty big issue with my Evo, but the Galaxy S3 battery life seems pretty amazing at this point.  Even playing with the phone a lot right now, the battery is holding up well.  And, if necessary, the battery can be removed and replaced with a fresh one.  Right now, I’m thinking that battery issues are hopefully not even going to be an issue going forward.  Hurray!

Hand Gestures – I’m still learning some of the commands through hand gestures, but right away, I figured out how to take a screenshot, something that I have not been able to do on my previous Android phones.  A simple swipe with the side of my hand across the screen captures the screenshot.  This is a fun, if not sometimes extremely helpful, thing to know.

Fonts – I can’t say for sure, but I don’t recall being able to change the phone’s font on any of my previous phones.  While this isn’t a must-have feature for me, I must say that I’m really enjoying the new font that I downloaded for free.  It’s called “Percirk,” and it has a slightly rounded appearance.  When I think about spending the next two years with this phone in my hand, the ability to change things up and refresh them keeps the experience fun and interesting.

Swift-Key Keyboard – I installed the free version of this keyboard to try for 30 days on the recommendation of one online reviewer, and I like this keyboard a lot!  At the end of my 30-day trial, I will definitely pay the $2.99 to buy this one.  You can visit their website for more information.

Price – As I mentioned, my upgrade date was February 1.  I was well prepared to pay up to $199 for this phone on that day, since most stores were offering it for that price at the end of January.  I opted to go to Radio Shack to do my upgrade this time because of their more affordable storage card and the fact that I had some other errands to run in that area on that day.  To my happy surprise, though, the price had dropped that very morning to just $99!  My final price with the 32G memory card was only $129, too.  That is a total of 48G – for $129.  What a deal!  I know the next Galaxy is due out in short order, but after having a not-so-great experience with a brand new phone on the market three upgrades ago, I’m just fine in going with one that already has the initial bugs worked out.

I could go on about some other little things here and there, but these are the highlights for me.  If I had to pick one primary reason for selecting this phone over others on the market right now, it would be the battery life.  It really is impressive and nice to have for a change.

I’m off to clean out kitchen cabinets now.  I would much rather be playing with my new phone.  😀

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