Wordless Wednesday – Bluebonnets

2016-03-24-16.48.05afivefs
2016-03-24-16.47.25afivefs

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Heading West

Mostly, I want to encourage you to just drive from Alpine to Fort Davis to Balmorhea, as it is some of the prettiest and most unique scenery in the state.

West Texas Route

I just put this suggested itinerary together for a fellow RVer who was interested in a possible alternate route as they are planning to leave south Texas soon, but thought I would also share it here for others as well.

I have nothing against I-10 once you leave Kerrville headed west, but there is really nothing all that special to see on the way either.   If taking I-10, though, I recommend a stop at South Llano River State Park for a night or two.  It is a small but very scenic state park on the Llano River and is quite popular for RVers.  If you have the time and take I-10, stopping in Fredericksburg would be nice.  The Nimitz Museum and Becker Vineyards are great places to visit.  Becker is a few miles outside of town.  Fredericksburg is just a neat place.

Here is the route I would personally take, though.  (Additional information: If you plug the route in from Harlingen to El Paso, Google Maps will show about a five hour time savings by taking I-10 vs the route I shared.  However, there is a good stretch of I-10 leaving the hill country and into far West Texas that is 80 mph on I-10.  No RVer is going to drive that fast, I hope, so there really is not that much time savings by taking I-10.  It’s great if you’re driving a car, though, and as far as interstates go, it is pretty nice, although remote.)

Garner State Park – one of the oldest and most scenic state parks we have visited in Texas, on the beautiful Frio River.  Just avoid it on the weekends, if possible, especially in the summer months.  It is extremely popular on weekends but very nice any other time.  We camped right on the river, and I am more than ready to go back there again.  Lost Maples State Natural Area is nearby, but I don’t recommend driving a large rig there from Garner.  It is akin to driving over a steep mountain pass on a two lane road with no shoulder.  Just take your car over from Garner instead, if you have time to drive over there.  Garner is one of the few state parks that allows winter Texans in the winter months because it is a huge park as far as RV sites, and visitation is much lower in the winter.

Amistad Reservoir and National Recreation Site – this is still on our “to visit” list, but since it is on the way to the mountains of far West Texas, it would be a nice stop.  There are boon-docking sites in the national recreation area or RV parks in town nearby.

Late addition: Seminole Canyon State Park –  Mona Lisa of The Lowe’s RV Adventures also recommends a stop at Seminole Canyon State Park on this route, too.  I have not yet visited this unique park, which is located west of Amistad Reservoir, but she highly recommends it and enjoyed their visit there recently.  She recommends camping here instead of Amistad, too.  Thanks for that recommendation!

Alpine – The Museum of the Big Bend – yet another place on our “to visit” list after we visited Alpine on our most recent trip to the area.  There are also several RV parks in town, but I recommend heading on to the state park in Fort Davis to camp, if possible.  This is a good place to refresh groceries, gas, etc., too.  Far West Texas is a remote place.

Mostly, I want to encourage you to just drive from Alpine to Fort Davis to Balmorhea, as it is some of the prettiest and most unique scenery in the state.  You will be just fine in a large rig, as it is good two-lane road the entire way.  Please don’t drive this as night and miss this pretty scenery.  Watch out for “suicide pigs” – javelina that sometimes can be found on the road in morning and evening hours.

Note: While not on this route, the eclectic little town of Marfa is a very popular tourist destination these days, and the official Marfa Lights viewing platform is located on this same highway between Alpine and Marfa.  Marfa may or may not be for you, though, so before traveling there, just do a little research ahead of time.  Prada Marfa is also much further out past Valentine and probably not worth the long drive there and back.  But, if you should continue directly on this highway to Van Horn and El Paso, you will see these sights.  I highly recommend taking the scenic drive listed above from Alpine to Fort Davis to Balmorhea instead.  The drive between Marfa and Fort Davis is just not as scenic.

Davis Mountains State Park – obviously one of our favorite places to visit each year in any season!  50 amp sites are highly coveted but the 30 amp sites are also nice and are often available when the 50 amp sites are booked.  We have stayed in both.  Fort Davis National Historic Site, 75 Mile Scenic Loop, McDonald Observatory, the neat little town of Fort Davis, the historic Indian Lodge (built by the CCC), and the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center are just some of the things to see here.  The 75 miles scenic loop is especially impressive.  Bird watching and hiking are big activities here, but it is also just a beautiful place, even in the RV sites.  In town, there is a decent grocery store where you can also buy gas.

Balmorhea State Park – a nice place to camp or to just make a quick stopover to see the world’s largest (and very historic) spring-fed pool, built by the CCC.  Only 45 minutes from Fort Davis.  There is one nice convenience store for gas.  Recommend having a full tank when you leave Fort Davis or Balmorhea headed west.

Cattleman’s Restaurant – on the way to El Paso, one of the most memorable places we have ever dined.  I remember the views are just extraordinary at sunset.  It is about 30-45 minutes east of El Paso, just off of I-10.  It’s been quite a while since we’ve dined here, but I believe it is still as good as ever.

White Sands National Monument – if you’ve never been here, it is a must see at least once!  I can’t help with a recommendation as to where to park the RV, though, since we have not RV camped in this area.

We have spent a lot of time in the Ruidoso – Cloudcroft – Alamogordo area (especially Ruidoso) and have RV camped in the national forest at Cloudcroft.  If you have more time in this area, it’s a great area to visit and spend some time.  You cannot drive the RV directly between Alamogordo and Cloudcroft, unfortunately.  There is another way to get there that circles up closer to Ruidoso, then cuts back into Cloudcroft.  You can drive a car directly between Alamogordo and Cloudcroft, though, and it is a great drive as long as your brakes are in good shape.

Of course, diverting down into Big Bend National Park is certainly another possible addition, if time permits.  Driving Big Bend is a great road trip in the car, and you could leave the RV in Marathon, Alpine or Fort Davis for the day and take a picnic lunch along.  We’ve considered doing that many times while in Fort Davis and will probably do it at some point ourselves again, hopefully soon.  Big Bend is just an amazing place.

Hope this helps, if you’re interested in possibly taking a more scenic route west and seeing some great sights!

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The Desert in Bloom – Part 3

Our final destination on our long weekend trip during the last week of September was to the Fort Davis area, specifically to go camping at “the top of Texas” in our RV at Davis Mountains State Park once again.  This beautiful and historic state park has become one of our favorite places to visit over the past three years, too.  We have previously visited this area three times in the RV in winter months, but this was our first trip to the area in a non-winter month.

I posted about this area almost two years ago at Winter in the Davis Mountains, and there is some good information there that I will try to not repeat here, especially for first-time visitors to the area.  I also shared a pictures post from this area at Wordless Wednesday – Vacation Pictures back in January.  However, I truly wanted to share pictures while the park was a bit more green, and happily, I am finally able to do that.

It was such a treat to visit this unique area that was so gorgeous after recent rains, and the pictures really do not do justice to the beauty.  The seasonal monsoon rains helped to create a wonderful display of Goldeneyes that blanketed the mountains almost everywhere we looked, and their rich color helped to create a “carpet” of green and gold across most of the landscape in this area.  The floral display this year was apparently one of the best in the history of the area for this time of year, and we were so fortunate to see it on this trip.  In fact, I’m not sure we will ever see this area as beautiful as it was on this trip, so I will count that as a wonderful blessing.

Davis Mountains State Park
A “carpet” of green and gold blanketed the hills around the park, thanks to the many beautiful Goldeneyes in bloom.

We also enjoyed introducing two of our good friends to the area for the very first time, and we had a great time showing them around in the two days we had there together.  We also attended both a twilight party and a star party together at McDonald Observatory on Saturday evening.  This time, we saw several Messier clusters (11, 13 and 17 that I recall) and close-up views of the moon and Saturn, including Saturn’s rings.  But perhaps one of the most surprising and memorable sightings for our star party group that did not even require a telescope was seeing a discarded rocket stage that is in a long-term earth orbit that passed overhead at dusk just as the party started.

The employees at the observatory do such a fabulous job with their star parties.  My inner space nerd was so happy, and our friends had a great time, too.  It was also interesting to hear that the big telescopes were shut down for the evening, as the humidity was over 90%, which adversely affected their operation.

McDonald Observatory
View of the Harlan J. Smith telescope on top of the mountain on the left, the star party viewing area in the center, and the visitor cafe at McDonald Observatory
McDonald Observatory
The famous Hobby-Eberly telescope at McDonald Observatory

While we typically enjoy camping in parks that are out of cell range, our friends required a cell signal several times each day for business reasons.  So, we found ourselves at the top of Skyline Drive inside the park several times on this trip, as everyone was able to get full cell and data signals there from Fort Davis.  We even made a trip up the mountain around 11:30 pm on Saturday night after the star party for two reasons – to check messages and do a little more star-gazing.  We discovered this little trick to see some fabulous stars on our previous trip, so we purchased the $3 after-hours pass for Skyline Drive and made the trip up there once again.

We pulled up to the highest observation point and turned off all of the lights, and even though the clouds were starting to move back in, we were once again so impressed with the many bright stars in the sky. However, we also heard something rustling around in the brush nearby, which quickly got our attention because it sounded like it might be pretty large.  It was so dark that we could hardly see where the car was nearby, and since there are signs posted all over the park to watch for mountain lions, we all agreed that our star-gazing adventure would just have to be cut short as we bailed back into the safety of the car to finish checking phone messages.  Experiencing the thrill of a surprise close encounter with a mountain lion was definitely not on our agenda for the evening.

We all hoped to make the hike down from Skyline Drive to the Fort Davis National Historic Site, as it is an easy hike downhill that takes less than an hour, but time did not permit us to make this hike on this trip, unfortunately.  It works quite well to leave a vehicle in the parking lot of the fort and catch a ride back to Skyline Drive to make this downhill trek, ending with a tour of the historic fort area, as the trail is well-traveled and well-marked.  The hometown Thriftway is also just across the street from the fort area, if visitors need groceries while in town.

We also did not have time to drive the 75-mile scenic loop with our friends, which is one of the most beautiful drives in Texas.  I’ve driven it twice, and it would have been a gorgeous drive on the trip.  I suspect we will all be returning to the area again sometime and will catch-up on some of these great things to see and do while in the area.  Highway 118 from the park to the observatory is actually part of that scenic loop, so at least they were able to see that portion of the drive, which also happens to be on the highest state-maintained road in Texas at 6,791 feet at the McDonald Observatory.

 I will let the pictures below tell more of the story about this memorable trip.

Balmorhea to Fort Davis
A foggy drive from Balmorhea to Fort Davis
Wild Rose Pass
Almost to the top of Wild Rose Pass
Goldeneyes at Davis Mountains State Park
Goldeneyes in the campground at Davis Mountains State Park
Davis Mountains State Park
The park was so green on this trip.
Turkey Buzzards
Turkey buzzards hanging out on a picnic table in the park
Davis Mountains State Park
Our Saturday morning walk in the park
Davis Mountains State Park Bird Blind
The new bird blind in the park is so nice, built by the friends of the state park group.
Davis Mountains State Park
View of the historic Indian Lodge and the campgrounds in the valley
Davis Mountains State Park
Wildflowers on Skyline Drive
Davis Mountains State Park
A beautiful view from Skyline Drive toward the historic Indian Lodge
Davis Mountains State Park
Another view of the Goldeneyes on Skyline Drive with mountains in the distance
Davis Mountains State Park
Historic structure on Skyline Drive – the subject of many photos by visitors over the decades
Davis Mountains State Park
A “window on the world” view of the town of Fort Davis from Skyline Drive
Davis Mountains State Park
Beautiful “secret” picnic spot on Skyline Drive – find it when you visit!
Davis Mountains State Park
The beautiful hidden picnic spot on Skyline Drive
Davis Mountains State Park
Sunbather on a picnic table on Skyline Drive
Davis Mountains State Park
One of my favorite views in Texas – historic and beautiful on Skyline Drive
Davis Mountains State Park
Observation tower on Skyline Drive
Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center
The Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center, just south of Fort Davis on the road to Alpine, was a new stop for us on this trip and a great place to visit while everything was green from recent rains.
Fort Davis to Balmorhea
The drive from Fort Davis to Balmorhea is unique and beautiful.
IMG_6030
Another favorite Texas view, coming down from Wild Rose Pass toward Balmorhea

The Davis Mountains region of far West Texas is such a great place to visit any time of the year, and we look forward to returning again for more fun times with family and friends in the future.

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Wordless Wednesday – Vacation Pictures

Astro Photography

Balmorhea State Park

Campfire Cooking

Davis Mountains State Park

Fort Davis National Site

Fort Davis Texas

Geocaching Travel Bug

Hiking

Hotel Limpia Restaurant

Hotel Limpia

Indian Lodge

Joyriding

Marfa Texas Courthouse

McDonald Observatory Frank Bash Visitors Center

Mexican Food

Monahans Sandhills St Park

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