The Winding Road to the Davis Mountains
It’s Time to Leave Terlingua
Not long after starting our drive, we arrive at the small community of Lajitas. I had expected something very similar to Terlingua, but it’s actually quite different. We see hints of refinement here, which is maybe not so unexpected since this is the home of Lajitas Golf Resort and Spa. I’ve known that there was a resort in this area, but have felt that it was too far away from Big Bend National Park. As it turns out, it sits halfway between Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park, so you might actually say that it’s more centrally located to the wilderness areas most visitors are interested in seeing.
As much as the thought of staying at a resort is tempting, I suppose I would feel a need to question the authenticity of the Big Bend experience if I were to stay here. I’m not sure that I want to take the opportunity to disconnect from that all-encompassing sense that this ancient landscape is now in control, not me. In some ways, it’s a little jarring to realize that the modern world has found a foothold out here after all. In any case, I do enjoy taking in the idyllic setting as we make sure to fill the car with fuel before making our way into the state park.
The Big Hill
Our Airbnb hosts encouraged us to drive west at least as far as The Big Hill. The drive on FM 170 is nothing but hills and curves as we're carried along next to the Rio Grande. We’ve already stopped the car a couple of times to experience the river up close when, up ahead, we see the road traverse quite the dramatic incline. There’s no doubt we’re approaching our planned stop. Considering the peaks we’ve already seen, I’ve been thinking a hill won’t quite compare. It turns out that I shouldn’t have focused so much on the word Hill, but rather on the word preceding it.
Pulling over to the side of the road at the top of the hill, I’m so ready to let the scattered glimpses we’ve caught merge into one spectacular view. As I look out at the landscape and see the green band that follows the winding Rio Grande far below, I’m struck by how different this seems from what we’ve seen in Big Bend. From this viewpoint, the rocks look so dark that they almost appear black and the plant life seems sparser.
Big Bend Ranch State Park
FM 170 follows the southern boundary of Big Bend Ranch State Park. In this area of the park, I see none of the sweeping views I’ve grown to expect in the National Park, and I wonder if they exist. I realize I’ve been remiss in not having looked up anything about the state park. Researching whether or not there are any major differences, after our return to the Woodlands, it seems there really aren’t. Big Bend Ranch doesn’t have as many hiking trails and relies more on gravel roads but otherwise they’re similar. What Big Bend Ranch does have, in the way of something different, is grazing longhorns. I think that might be worth a visit, if there’s a good chance of actually seeing them.
Gradually, the mountains begin to scale down and we find ourselves returned to a flat landscape. The band of green that follows the Rio Grande makes itself at home here, spreading out and following a more geometric pattern. We certainly had not expected to find farmland! This region certainly has a talent for delivering surprises.
We’ve become used to seeing homes situated far back from the road, but gradually, they seem to be inching closer to us and each other until we realize that we’re on the outskirts of Presidio. I don’t know what I expected, really, but it certainly wasn’t this far-spreading, low-slung town. As a border town, it’s clearly a center of activity in this region.
US Route 67 turns to the north just past Presidio, and we seem to be heading back into the mountains. Again, the road becomes hilly but tends toward inclines rather than descents. Suddenly, we seem to have reached a plateau upon which all color has been stripped down to a light gold. The grasses of the prairie bend gently to the wind as we pull out our chairs to enjoy a picnic lunch.
After following the road through more mountain scenery, we again find ourselves on level ground as we near Marfa. I’m tempted to stop and have a look around in this town that to me looks like something I would have expected to find further east. There’s a very pretty courthouse surrounded by a number of two story buildings.
The town seems to enjoy a reputation as a center for modern art and is also known for the Marfa lights. Observations of these mysterious dancing lights that appear at night were first made in the late 1800s. I begin to tell my Mom about this unsolved mystery and she thinks we should have considered spending the night here in hopes of seeing them. As I look up more information about the sightings, it’s clear that we wouldn’t have had much of a hope of seeing them if we had stayed; on average, they seem to make an appearance only 5 nights a year.
The next planned stop is in Alpine. It’s a small town; home to Sul Ross University. I’ve read that there are exciting things taking place in town. Stores and restaurants capable of attracting people have opened up and I’m thinking this would be a place to learn something about life in West Texas. We drive up and down the downtown area but don’t really feel we’re seeing anything of interest. After a quick run through a grocery store, we continue on to Fort Davis.
I know, I know. Please don’t feel the need to tell me because I’m all too aware. I do talk about the need to support small towns, yet once I arrive and realize there’s not much going on, I make a quick beeline for the nearest road out of town. Maybe part of the problem is that I arrive from the big city expecting similar things; I want stores selling new and useful things and restaurants that serve less sugar and fat and more flavor. Maybe I’m looking for things that the people here don’t want or need, in which case, it’s ridiculous for me to present my expectations. I will admit that I very rarely find what I’m hoping for, but it does happen from time to time. Maybe those rare surprises are made that much more special by their rarity.
On to Fort Davis and the Davis Mountains
We leave Alpine and head for Fort Davis. We’ll be spending the night at Indian Lodge in Davis Mountains State Park. On the way there, we pass through Fort Davis where we once made a stop at Fort Davis National Historic Site. We won’t stop there this time, but for anyone who hasn’t visited, I can highly recommend it; there’s much to learn by taking a guided tour. Afterwards, you can wander among the buildings while taking in the desert outpost quiet you always imagined while watching old John Wayne movies.
Fort Davis is a very small town. There aren’t many stores but there is a decent selection of restaurants. Despite its small size, there seems to be more energy here than some of the other places we’ve been through, which may have much to do with the constant comings and goings of visitors to Davis Mountains State Park and the McDonald Observatory.
The drive from Fort Davis to the State Park is short but beautiful. Before long, we see the iconic white buildings of Indian Lodge appear up on the hillside.
To be continued…
Please come visit next week as we arrive at Indian Lodge and explore the Davis Mountains.