Our final days in Texas – the Davis Mountains

After gazing into the night sky and peering through telescopes while star-partying, it was time to come back to earth and move on.  Our home base at Davis Mountains State Park was nestled in the foothills of the beautiful Davis Mountains, with the historic town of Fort Davis only 4 miles away.  The total absence of internet and phone connectivity, along with many days of nice weather at the campground, made outdoor exploration the perfect pastime while we were here.

Davis Mountains State Park

Under those trees in the foothills is Davis Mountains State Park

Davis Mountains is a mountain range that rose from the Chihuahuan Desert floor, isolating it to form a “sky island.”  Rising above 5,000 feet to cooler and moister climates, the mountains provide area residents and visitors a retreat during the hot Texas summers.   We’re glad that Laurel (Raven and Chicadee) and DK (My Five Fs) had scouted this place out, allowing us to enjoy a wonderful time here.

Grasslands

Wide open grasslands of the Fort Davis flats

As we took hikes or drove around the mountains and the town of Fort Davis, evidence of intense volcanic activity millions of years ago could be seen.  Park brochures indicated the mountains we see now consist of layer upon layer of ash (hardened lava).  Massive eruptions built up shield volcanoes composed of rhyolite lava flows and ash-flow tuffs.  The weathered formations show a peculiar feature, more common in basaltic lava flows, called columnar jointing.  It has created “palisades” characterizing such landmarks as Sleeping Lion Mountain (the backdrop to the town of Fort Davis) and the walls of Limpia Canyon.

Sleeping Lion, Davis Mountains

Can you make out a sleeping lion in this formation?   It’s just one single lava flow!

Sleeping Lion

Homes have been built in the shadow of the Sleeping Lion formation

Limpia Canyon Davis Mountains

Limpia Canyon viewed from the park’s CCC Trail

Basaltic Lava flows- Limpia Canyons

Basaltic lava flows – we’ve seen this kind of rock in several other places during our travels

Hiking at the State Park

The excellent weather allowed us to follow every hiking trail in the state park; Skyline Trail, CCC Trail, Montezuma Trail and the Indian Lodge Trail.  We enjoyed a variety of vantage points during every trek.  The canyon walls, composed of unmistakeable igneous rock, were evident everywhere as we followed the ridge on Skyline Trail.

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Montezuma Trail

This trail provided a 221 ft. elevation gain, and it seemed like all of it was at the beginning of the hike!

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Big Horn Sheep

We spotted not one, not two, but eight Bighorn Sheep walking around and perching on the rocks at the summit

Javelina

A camera-shy Javelina runs for cover

Cow at Davis Mountains

The area surrounding the park is still owned by private ranchers

Skyline Trail

Not a bad way to spend the morning!

Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute

This institute sits on 507 acres of semi-desert grasslands, surrounded by igneous rock outcrops with a riparian canyon and spectacular views.  I arrived during their membership meeting and got a free pass to explore the botanical gardens.  Wanting to get my “money’s worth”, I also followed their hiking trails and viewed samples of historic artifacts and ore displays which highlighted 19th century mining in this area.

Chihuahuan Desert Institute

The Chihuahuan Desert Institute as seen from a nearby overlook

But my favorite activity here was hiking up to Clayton’s Overlook, where I spent time reading 10 plaques about the surrounding  dynamic landscape – its  geology , culture and history.  One explained in detail the characteristics of the Davis Mountains.  Despite their stunning beauty, they are a hard land filled with wildlife and people that have adapted to these highlands located in the heart of the Trans-Pecos part of Texas.

Geology Exhibit

My “selfie” for the day

The town of Fort Davis

Fort Davis is known as the highest town in Texas – located at a mere 5,050 ft. of elevation. Established in 1854 on the San Antonio-El Paso Road through west Texas, the town, the fort and the surrounding mountains were named after Jefferson Davis, who was the Secretary of War at the time.

Fort Davis, Texas

The town of Fort Davis at the base of the Sleeping Lion formation

It was in town at the Jeff Davis County Library that I checked email and my all-important FB account.  This historic adobe building was a store during the 1870’s, changing hands several times.  By 1891 it had grown to serve as the town’s general store, temporary jail, telephone exchange and post office.  It became a library in 1999.

Going inside and comparing the original and current pictures, nothing much has changed, especially the ceilings and floors.

Checking out the town of Marfa

On one morning we drove to the nearby small town of Marfa.  This quirky old West Texas cowtown has turned into a hip cultural mecca.  The first thing we noticed upon our arrival was the most prominent building in town, the historic Presidio County Courthouse.  Built in 1886, it is designed of brick and stone quarried right here in Marfa.

Presidio County Courthouse

Presidio County Courthouse

We went inside this beautiful building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The original pecan wood throughout the interior was gorgeous and had really withstood the test of time.

Presidio County Courthouse

Grand Jury courtroom still in use today

On our way back home, we saw what we at first thought were white-tailed deer, but after stopping for a closer look we discovered they were Pronghorns, the first we had ever seen.

Pronghorn

What the heck is that?

The Pronghorn Antelope is not really an antelope, but rather the sole descendent of an ancient deer-like animal.  It’s the second-fastest animal on land (Cheetah being the fastest), able to achieve and maintain speeds of 53 miles per hour for up to 1.5 miles.

Pronghorn

These guys were unafraid of me as I snapped away.  We saw them grazing along the highway in several spots

Can’t forget the birds!

This particular state park made it very clear that they didn’t want bird feeders in campsites. So to lure my feathered friends to our site, I “accidentally” dropped some birdseed on nearby boulders – shhh, please don’t report me, I can’t help myself!  In just a few hours the “word” had spread, and one by one they came for a free lunch at site #11.

Black Crested Titmouse

This Black-crested Titmouse was jumping for joy!

Black-throated Sparrow

A Black-throated Sparrow waited for his turn

Acorn Woodpecker

An Acorn Woodpecker just sat on a branch, watching the show below

Western Scrub-Jay

Even a Western Scrub-jay made an appearance

Sparrows

But as usual the Chipping Sparrows were the mainstays, not leaving until all of the goodies were gone

We had been in Texas for the past five long months, our longest winter in a single state, and I must say we were glad to finally be moving on!

Davis Mountains State Park

Goodbye Texas!

 

Next up:  Hello New Mexico!