And now, we continue our series on Far West Texas …
After only a few days we’d become quite attached to Marfa, but there was a lot more of Far West Texas to explore!
Highway 17 runs up through Fort Davis, just twenty-one miles to the north. If you’re not in a hurry, take the 75-mile scenic loop out Route 166 / 118 just south of town. It’s definitely worth the drive – not only for the mountain vistas, but also for the spectacular views of McDonald Observatory.
Perched at 5,050 feet in the Davis Mountains, Fort Davis takes its name from the military post established there in 1854 to protect travelers making their way along the San Antonio-El Paso Road. Stretching just one mile from one end to the other, this quaint little town and the surrounding hills offer plenty of activities to keep you busy for a few days.
Stolling down Main Street, past the buildings dating back to the late 1800s and early 1900s, you can still feel of how life might have been here a hundred years ago. There’s an appealing practicality and authenticity about the place. Clearly tourism contributes significantly to the economy – travelers will find everything they need, from accommodations and restaurants, to a natural foods market. But the souvenirs are a little different than you’d get in most places …
Making our way past the hat maker’s shop one morning, Ty and I wandered into the building where Ron Cox crafts 1800’s style brooms and walking sticks. With one arm in a sling from recent surgery, Ron showed me around and encouraged me to test the merchandise by sweeping the the floor. Did I mention he’s very clever? We chatted about the differences between round brooms and a flat ones – even after all these years he and his wife still differ on which is better. When I couldn’t decide which broom I liked best, Ron used his good hand to make the oval broom that now sweeps the floors of the Winnebago, and cleaning has been more fun ever since.
If you like architecture, stop in at the Fort Davis Drugstore and pick up a walking tour map of downtown, which highlights twenty-two historic buildings. A stage coach stop back in the day, tourism has always been a focus in Fort Davis and many of the buildings are still in use.
The Fort Davis Drugstore is right in the heart of downtown and is now a hotel, gift shop, restaurant serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and old fashioned soda fountain.
For pet friendly dining, cross the street to Blue Mountain Bistro’s gorgeous courtyard. Connected to the historic Limpia Hotel, which was built of pink limestone by the Union Trading Company in 1912, lunch and dinner are served here.
A trip to Fort Davis wouldn’t be complete without stopping in to see the fort! Pets are welcome to join you for a walk around the grounds and on the trails as long as you keep them on leash and clean up after them.
At it’s peak Fort Davis had more than 100 structures and quarters for over 400 soldiers, and today it is one of the best remaining examples of a frontier military post. Some of the buildings have been restored and furnished with period appointments, and there are plaques describing what life was like for the men that served here.
When you’ve finished looking around the buildings, there are several hiking trails around the fort grounds and one trail crosses the property line and connects with the trails in Davis Mountain State Park.
Four miles outside Fort Davis is the 2,700-acre Davis Mountains State Park and Indian Lodge, an inn built in 1933 by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Though the rooms at the lodge do not allow pets, all nine miles of park trails, the campground, and the RV park are pet friendly. Tenderfeet that they are, Buster and Ty’s didn’t care much for the rough stones on the trails here, so we stuck to the shady park roads and then drove up Skyline Drive for a view overlooking the town.
One of the major astronomical research facilities in the world, McDonald Observatory, sits atop Mts. Locke and Fowlkes sixteen miles from Fort Davis. Benefiting from some of the darkest skies in the nation, this is the perfect place to observe the heavens.
The visitors center is open daily, and solar viewing and guided tours are scheduled for 11am and 2pm. Even at an elevation of nearly 6,800 feet, the daytime temperatures were quite warm and the tours take more than two hours, so pet travelers might want to consider a pet sitter for the day.
Every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday evenings the observatory offers a Star Party, giving you a tour of the most recognizable constellations and the opportunity to view different celestial objects through several telescopes set up in the outdoor amphitheater. The Star Parties cost $12 per person and the time varies depending on the time of the year. I suggest you dress warmly – it gets cold up there on the mountain!
Here’s a picture of the Star Party we attended. You can see the red lights lighting the paths between the telescopes, the moon with the very bright star (actually the planet, Jupiter) above and to the left. And to the left of the moon, you can just make out the constellation, Orion. See how much I learned!?
Tune in next week when we’ll continue our tour of Far West Texas with a look at the towns of Alpine and Marathon, followed by coverage of Big Bend National Park, Big Bend Ranch State Park, Terlingua, and the River Road to Presidio.
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