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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.
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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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.

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.

The hills were alive with yellow daisies near the entrance to Davis Mountains State Park.
On top of Skyline Drive, the scenic and colorful views were just amazing.
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.

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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