Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Davis Mountain State Park, Texas

sites viewed from the Davis Mountain SP overlook (circled in white)

sites 60 and 61 closeup

We arrived at Davis Mountain State Park early afternoon on Sunday the 15th. At a mile above sea level the park’s flora and fauna were in sharp contrast to the surrounding Chihuahuan Desert. Our sites, 60 and 61, were somewhat isolated and sat along Keesey Creek, a tributary to Limpia Creek, which bisected the park east to west. Although this was the tail end of the rainy season, the creek bed was dry owing to a shortage of rainfall. Overnight lows were noticeably cooler (low 30’s). A few mornings we had to scrape frost off the windshield (once we remembered where the scrapers were packed).

Developed between 1933 and 1935 the park was one of the earliest Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) projects in Texas. Nearby Fort Davis had a library where we went to get online since our location in the park (in a valley) had no cell signal. Betty, the librarian on duty, made us feel welcome and extended every courtesy one would expect from a small town.

A local grocery, a very nice and fairly newly remodeled post office (where we received some of our forwarded snail-mail), a few good caf├ęs (Nel’s in particular with free wi-fi and killer soups) pretty much rounded out the town of 1050 inhabitants.

Mule Deer

Jerrry and Karen travel with a number of bird feeders, which they set up whenever they’re parked for any length of time. One thing about bird feeders is that they attract more than just birds. After the first night, marauding Javelinas, raccoons, and Mule Deer plundered the place. Our hummingbird feeder disappeared – we found it across the road in tall grass about 50 yards from our site (fortunately all in one piece). On the other hand we added a number of yard birds to our list while we sat and watched the birds come and go: Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Black-throated Sparrow, and Bushtits to name a few.

During our week at the park we took day trips to various locations around the area. A drive to and around Lake Balmorhea (a privately owned lake) netted some water birds including Clark’s Grebes. The nearby Balmorhea State Park, although not nearly as diverse in habitat as Davis Mountain SP, has the largest artesian and gravity fed springs in the area. Nearly 20 million gallons of water flows through the spring each day. Not too shabby for a desert environment. The springs are home to two endangered desert fishes (desert fishes – sounds like an oxymoron, yes?), the Pecos Gambusia and the Comanche Springs Purpelfish (for you ichthyologist enthusiasts, we observed both). The park also has an extraordinarily inviting two-acre swimming pool.

Sawtooth Mountain along scenic Hwy 166

Carol at the Madera Canyon trail head

Found along the Hwy 116 and Hwy 166 scenic loop was Madera Canyon, a Nature Conservancy property with an extensive hiking trail. The creek bed that cut through the area was dry and it was too late in the season for birds that otherwise might be found. Perhaps on another swing through the area at a different time of year?

The Fort Davis National Historic Site, located on the outskirts of town (hence the name of the town no doubt) was a step back in time to the 1800’s when the fort served to protect travelers who used the San Antonio-El Paso Road. Built on the east side of the Davis Mountains, in a box canyon where water and grass are plentiful, it is one of the best remaining examples of a frontier military post. At one time the fort swelled to over 100 buildings and housed over 400 soldiers including at various times members of the Eighth U.S. Infantry and the 10th Calvary (“Buffalo Soldiers”).

view from McDonald Observatory

107-inch Harlan J. Smith telescope

Tom outside the Hobby-Eberly telescope structure

Located 12 miles northeast from the state park was the McDonald Observatory, a world-class major astronomical research facility. We participated in an afternoon solar viewing and guided tour of the facility. Evening hour tours are also available, however, Carol is not a night owl and to be honest, the nighttime temps were not exactly conducive for comfortable nighttime viewing regardless of how spectacular the night skies were. Still, the facility is well worth a stop if for no other reason than to tour the visitor center.

view from atop the scenic overlook at Davis Mountain SP

Davis Mountain SP boasted several miles of hiking trails and another CCC project, the Indian Lodge. The original 16-room structure was built in 1935 with a southwestern building design. It incorporated locally harvested and hand-hewn vigas pine and river cane latilla ceilings. It has been expanded to currently offer 39 rooms along with a restaurant and gift shop.

A week later on the 25th we departed the park on our way to our next overnight at a private RV park in Del Rio, Texas, inching our way ever closer to our winter home near Mission, Texas.

1 comment:

  1. You are hitting so many spots I've long heard about to bird but never have seen, so I am definitely living vicariously through your visits. Our winter birds are returning here...juncos, the chickadees are in large number (albeit no mountain chickadees yet, but they'll come) and all 3 of the jays that I get (Eastern, Stellar's, and Scrub). Cindy and I were in the hottub this morning, and had the gazebo window open watching the birds at our feeders, and a flicker almost joined us in the tub. Keep having fun...