Wrapping Up 2016

A camping Christmas trip with our family ended 2016 in a delightful way!

2016 is now in the “books,” and 2017 has already seen our first snow of the winter season and of the new year.  Thankfully, it was nothing like the mega storm that introduced 2016 to us, and we only received about an inch this time.  My back starts hurting just looking again at some of the photos from last January and remembering all the snow Hubby and I shoveled for three straight days.  Ugh!

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Girly Girl had lots of fun in the foot of snow we received the first week of January in 2016.
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The foot of snow caused lots of issues for the next two weeks in our city and area, but it was so very pretty, too.

It’s been several weeks since my last post, but all is well, good in fact.  I just took a little break to enjoy the Christmas season and take a few things “off my plate” for a bit.  I also had more holiday prep work to do this year, due to our ten day Christmas and New Years trip to the mountains of far West Texas.

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Spending “golden hour” at the top of Skyline Drive on Christmas Evening with my family is a precious memory now.  We captured some great photos of family and scenery here.
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Sunset at Davis Mountain State Park on Christmas evening with historic Indian Lodge in the distance was absolutely gorgeous.  We had the view all to ourselves, something I will always remember fondly.  This was literally the last ray of sunshine on Christmas Day. 😉

 

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The Belt of Venus is always so beautiful in this area, and it was lovely once again on Christmas evening.

All our kids joined us for a long Christmas weekend in the Davis Mountains, and they all departed for home on Tuesday afternoon after lunch, driving to El Paso together then catching their respective flights.  It was a most enjoyable holiday for me, and I think for all of us.  After all, what mama doesn’t like to have all her kiddos with her for the holidays?

We secured our daughter and son-in-law a room at the historic Indian Lodge (see photos below) during their stay, which was just a mile away from our RV in the state park, and our son stayed with us in the RV.  With all the additional space inside now, as compared to our previous RV, we were all quite comfortable, even with the dogs who slept on their nice, new beds next to him.

By cooking some dishes ahead of time, I was able to serve all our favorite holiday foods in the RV… tamales for Christmas Eve, sausage toasts and eggs for Christmas morning, and ham, turkey, cornbread dressing, black-eyed peas, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and yeast rolls for Christmas dinner.  We even enjoyed a Christmas morning picnic together at our site for breakfast, which was a real treat!  Truly, the weather was gorgeous the entire week we were there.

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Our festive picnic table at our site for Christmas.  Snoopy and Woodstock helped to light up the holiday nights at our site, along with three mason jar lanterns on the table.

 

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It was a real treat to have a visit from several mule deer late each afternoon during our vacation week, with our first visit on Christmas Day!  We also saw several javelina at our campsite on our first night, as well as some great birds all over the park during our stay.

Following our picnic breakfast, we opened gifts inside the RV in our comfortable living area, which was so much fun.  As usual, the dogs each had a gift of their own to start things off, and I can say that we all received some very nice gifts.  My family was especially good to me, but the real treat for me was just having everyone together for a few days of fun.

The weather was gorgeous in far West Texas the entire week we were there, which certainly helped make our trip more manageable and truly enjoyable.  We even ran our air conditioner for a bit on a few afternoons, too.  I’m sure some friends may think we’ve lost our minds spending the holidays in our RV, but we enjoyed our time in the Davis Mountains with our family more than anything we’ve done for the holidays in many years.  With all the cooking done ahead of time, meals were easy and tasty with minimal clean-up needed afterward, leaving quality time for visiting, hiking and playing games together.

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My long, long shadow during a walk in the park late on Christmas afternoon.  I feel so at home here now and have even entertained the thought of retiring in this very remote area that holds some family history for me.

After the kids left, Hubby and I enjoyed a few days all by ourselves, followed by two days with two friends who made their first trip to the area for the New Year’s weekend in their RV, the same friends we’ve started traveling with a bit over the past year.  We enjoyed showing them around, and they also spent some time on their own at the McDonald Observatory, which we have seen many times on previous trips.  Hubby and the friends hiked from the state park to the national park, and I picked them up there after we all toured the fort area together on New Years Eve.

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We always enjoy a quick visit to the national park in Fort Davis.  Just before our trip, I also learned that a family member, now deceased, actually lived at this fort for a time when he was a young boy!

Our holiday trip was pretty much perfect for us, spending time both with family and friends, as well as quality time alone.  We even made new friends, a couple close to our age that just recently started their full-time RV journey, and we exchanged contact information with them.  It was delightful to visit with them off and on all during our vacation week.

Hubby and I opted to dine out a little more on this trip because there are some really good restaurants in town.  Rumor has it we dined at our favorite Mexican food restaurant three times during our week in the area and that our waitress knew what we wanted to order as soon as we sat down on our second and third visits.  We dined there on the evening we arrived with our son, for lunch with all the kids on Tuesday before they left, and again with our friends on New Year’s Eve.

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Cueva De Leon is our favorite restaurant in the area with the best chips and salsa and chile rellenos to die for! 🙂

We also dined at three other restaurants in town during our stay, which was a nice treat for us.  All were very good, and two were new to us.

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We ate lunch at Poco Mexico for the first time… yummy!
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We made a return visit for burgers at the Fort Davis Drug Store and Hotel.  My green chile and Swiss cheese burger with homemade onion rings was awesome!
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We enjoyed delicious panini sandwiches at The Porch, a new restaurant for us that serves breakfast and lunch and is part of the historic Hotel Limpia.

(On a side note, I couldn’t disagree more with the Trip Advisor restaurant ratings for Fort Davis restaurants, especially the #1 pick listed right now.  We’ve tried that place twice and are not at all impressed with it.  We won’t try again.  In our opinion, after many trips to the area, Cueva De Leon is by far the best in town.) 

Hubby and I also drove to both Alpine and Marfa on separate drives.  We had to make a quick trip to Alpine with our son on Christmas Eve morning in search of a new coffee pot, after ours unexpectedly died on us.  Thankfully, we found one at the big hardware store, the last one on the shelf, because we would have had a crisis on our hands without a coffee pot!

Our scenic drive to Marfa on an overcast day after the kids left was nice, and we saw the pretty courthouse there, along with the historic Hotel Paisano and the whimsical El Cosmico campground south of town.  On their drive back to El Paso, the kids stopped for photos at Prada Marfa, too.

Hubby and I also enjoyed a Thursday evening presentation at Indian Lodge where the hotel manager told us all about the history of the lodge from the CCC era to date, and she also pointed out several of the original furniture pieces from that time period, marked by the metal strappings at the bottom of each one.  It was a nice evening with other hotel guests and campers, complete with hot cider and cookies by a warm fire inside.

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I’ve seen this beautiful table at Indian Lodge on each trip to the area, but it was interesting to learn that it is one of the original pieces from the CCC era.

She also shared that Indian Lodge will close in September 2017 for four months for exterior resurfacing, just in case anyone is planning a trip to the area and would like to stay there.

The week prior to our trip was a fun and busy week, too.

Prior to Christmas, I also hosted my second annual cookie swap on the Monday evening before Christmas.  It was a big success once again, with two new participants this year, in addition to those returning from last year’s swap.  This year, we actually decorated cookies together for the first time, and it was so much fun, even though it was more prep work for me.  I think we will have to keep doing this in future years, if only for the laughs… which were many!  Those ladies pretty much destroyed my kitchen decorating cookies, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

After the cookie swap, I was able to provide some awesome cookie platters to my elderly neighbor, to Hubby’s side of the family during our evening together the next night and to the state park staff on Christmas Eve morning, while also saving lots of cookies for my family to enjoy during our trip, too.

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Christmas cookies are a tradition with us, and swapping cookies with friends makes the tradition even more special.  This tray included cowboy cookies, snickerdoodles, holiday thumbprints, peanut butter with chocolate kisses, cardamom cream cheese cookie press cookies and decorated star sugar cookies that we all decorated together.  I also made a few other types of cookies not shown here, including oatmeal with fresh cranberries and chocolate chip, and I totally hoarded the white chocolate and cranberry cookies that one of the new ladies brought to the exchange!

Just before we departed on our Christmas trip, we spent a delightful evening with Hubby’s side of the family on Tuesday evening, including some family members from the Dallas area.  The big home-cooked meal was a real treat for all of us during those last busy days before Christmas, with meatloaf served as the main entrée.  It was our first opportunity to gather together in our nephew’s new home with his precious wife and girls, and they were good sports to host everyone while still in the process of moving in.  They wouldn’t have it any other way.

I didn’t have an opportunity to celebrate a friends Christmas with my two special friends here before we left on our trip, but we are hoping to finally get together one evening this week.  I have grown accustomed to this fun tradition over more recent years and definitely missed our fun gathering.

I trust you all had a wonderful Christmas and wish you all the best in 2017!

 

The Desert in Bloom – Part 2

Over the past three years since we began to travel primarily by RV, we have discovered that we need to spend a night in a particular park to fully appreciate it.  Seeing a park in the softer golden morning and evening sunlight helps to see any location at its best, and this was certainly our experience at Balmorhea State Park on our most recent trip, not to mention how wonderful it was to finally see this little oasis in the desert when everything was green from recent rains.  After several day visits here over the past few years in the winter, we finally spent one night here last week for the very first time, in hopes that we might also be able to swim with the fish in the world’s largest spring-fed pool, but the cool and rainy weather on Friday morning changed our swimming plan.

The RV sites at Balmorhea State Park are great.  We were surprised at how many other RV campers were there on a weeknight like we were, and several of them were likely winter Texans spending a bit of time in this area before heading further south.  We opted for a site with water, 50 amp electric and cable television.  Yes, this tiny little park offered several channels of cable television with our $17 site.  Since we had cable television here and at our next destination, we were able to just leave our satellite dish at home this trip.  While we were not terribly impressed with the restroom and shower facilities in the campground, the showers in the building by the pool were much better.  I suspect that is where most campers shower anyway, and it is an easy walk to the pool area from the campground.

We arrived at the park in the early evening hours just before the pool closed for the day, and we took a nice sunset walk with the dogs around the entire park before enjoying a late dinner back at the RV.  The next morning, we also enjoyed a magnificent sunrise from our campsite, just before breakfast.  And even though the weather did not cooperate for a swim, we enjoyed one last walk around the park in the morning to take a few pictures before we left on our short drive to Fort Davis for the rest of our trip.

I will let the photographs tell the story of this unique little park for us on this particular trip.

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The Davis Mountains and some impressive storm clouds to the south of the park
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A beautiful sunset over the cienega
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Canal by the historic cabins in the park
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Canal by the historic cabins in the park
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Gorgeous trees in the park
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Entering the San Solomon Springs, the world’s largest spring-fed pool
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San Solomon Springs sunset
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San Solomon Springs sunset
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Historic pool building with showers at San Solomon Springs
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San Solomon Springs sunset
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Davis Mountains to the south at sunset
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Sunrise from our campsite
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Sunrise from our campsite
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San Solomon Cienega
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Trail to San Solomon Cienega
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A cute little cotton-tail bunny at our campsite

 I previously wrote about this park at Springs in the Desert at Balmorhea, if you would like to also read that post.  While this park is small as compared to most Texas state parks, it is full of history, beauty and fun for those that like to swim or scuba dive in the clear spring waters of San Solomon Springs.  We enjoyed our overnight stop here very much and hope to stay here again and again as we return to this area in the future.

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The Desert in Bloom – Part 1

When I think about visiting a desert location, I do not think about seeing green landscape everywhere I look, and I certainly do not think of beautiful flowers that are so prevalent in the landscape that they literally change the color of it as you gaze across it from a distance.  This was our experience as we visited the Davis Mountains of far West Texas for the first time in a non-winter month this past weekend.  We had such a fabulous time, and I will share more about our brief time there in a series of upcoming posts soon.

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Wild yellow daisies turned the Davis Mountains into carpets of green and gold.

We had the happy task of introducing two of our favorite state parks, the quaint town of Fort Davis and the famous McDonald Observatory to two special friends for the first time this past weekend, and I believe they fell in love with this area just like we did three years ago when we made our first visit in our new-to-us RV in the last week of December in 2011.  Honestly, it would be hard to not fall in love with this place when it is absolutely gorgeous like it was during this trip, especially since the fall monsoon rains were quite generous to the area this year.

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The hills were alive with yellow daisies near the entrance to Davis Mountains State Park.
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On top of Skyline Drive, the scenic and colorful views were just amazing.
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It feels like you can see all of far West Texas from the top of Skyline Drive.

Over the past few years, my love and appreciation of this mountainous desert area has grown as we have spent more and more time there, and seeing God’s unique handiwork in this region is always such a treat.  It is a very popular place to visit, and we have to plan further out to reserve a spot for the RV now than we did just three years ago.  If visiting by car, having a hotel reservation in advance is an absolute must most of the time, especially on weekends and holidays.

I have previously written about this unique part of Texas, even though both of those posts told about our experience in winter months.  We love this area even in the winter, and those first posts have a lot of good information in them for potential visitors, which I will try to not repeat in this post and upcoming posts.  I would still encourage everyone to make this area a bucket list destination at least one time in the appropriate season of your choice.

Winter in the Davis Mountains (2013)

Springs in the Desert at Balmorhea (2014)

Normally, we escape chilly winter weather in the Texas Panhandle for the more moderate climate in this area in the winter months, but I suspect we will now likely add yet another yearly visit in the fall.  We may even try a spring trip sometime, as the scenery is supposedly beautiful then, too.

Seeing the Davis Mountains region at a peak time of beauty really cinched my love of this place, for sure.  And as strange as it may sound, a few views on this trip reminded us of the mountains of Kauai from our trip back in May, especially on Friday morning when the weather was very cloudy and a bit rainy as we drove across Wild Rose Pass between Balmorhea and Fort Davis.

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It felt like we were back in Kauai for this beautiful drive over Wild Rose Pass.

If there was a slight disappointment for us on this trip, it was the fact that we saw very little wildlife as compared to the winter months when mule deer and javelina roam freely around the campground every day.  It was only a small disappointment, and the beautiful scenery more than made up for it this trip.

Visiting two iconic mountainous areas in four weeks has certainly been a blessing for us this year, as we just visited Rocky Mountain National Park for the first time over Labor Day weekend and loved every moment of our time in that area, too.  In fact, I think we may likely look back on this particular travel year as one of our best ones ever, even though the year started out quite rough in that respect due to bad weather and my mother’s bad fall in late January.  I can already feel that “look back” post coming later on after the year is done, too.  😉

In my next post, I will share more beautiful detailed photos of Balmorhea State Park.

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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
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Our “pet” mule deer at our campsite, Davis Mountains State Park
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Another deer at the top of Skyline Drive, Davis Mountains State Park
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Amazing sunset seen from Skyline Drive with the Indian Lodge below, Davis Mountains State Park
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Wonderful pink hues grace the mountains and sky at sunset, McDonald Observatory in the distance
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The sun is almost gone for the day, Davis Mountains State Park
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Courtyard view at the Indian Lodge, Davis Mountains State Park
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From the Skyline Drive Overlook, you can see forever, Davis Mountains State Park
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Old CCC structure on Skyline Drive, Davis Mountains State Park
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View of the Indian Lodge and the campgrounds from Skyline Drive, Davis Mountains State Park
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The world-famous Hobby-Eberly Telescope at McDonald Observatory
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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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