We left Tonopah, AZ, with temps in the 70's heading for southwest Texas hoping the weather forecast for highs in the upper 60's would hold. Our destination was Davis Mountain State Park, elevation 5-6,000 feet. Similar to our travels west earlier this year, we ran the gambit of weather. Going across the Sonoran Desert, we were captivated with the clouds and weather we could see in the distance.
As we climbed in altitude crossing New Mexico on I-10, we encountered lumpy "rain."
As we approached El Paso, TX, the Rio Grande River becomes the border between the United States and Mexico. This 1,885-mile river which begins in the San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado flows south through the middle of New Mexico and then southeast as the border between Texas and Mexico emptying into the Gulf of Mexico at Brownsville, TX.
It's not exceptionally wide as it passes between El Paso and Juarez, MX, and Mexico is easily seen from I-10. "So near and yet so far" came to mind as we thought about the many people who risk so much to enter the US.
Davis Mountain State Park was our homebase for four days while we explored the area. This full-hook-up campground is in the most extensive mountain range in Texas, and we were captivated by its rugged beauty.
While we were setting up, a herd of mule deer grazed freely and were not at all shy. Mule deer have larger ears than the white-tail deer found in Pennsylvania.
The state park is just 4 miles north of Fort Davis, a military post from 1854 - 1891. Abandoned during the Civil War by Union Forces, it was re-occupied and re-built in 1867 for the newly organized Ninth U.S. Cavalry. The standard of living in this 1867 re-built frontier outpost seemed to us to be rather sophisticated. These furnishings were ordered by Commanding Officer Benjamin Grierson's wife specifically for their move to this residence.
Leisure-time diversions included a band, a library, a chapel and a school. Because many officers had their wives and families with them, the women organized social events, i.e., balls, charades, and dinner parties.
Fort Davis is 30 miles north of the town of Marfa, home of the Marfa Lights. These orb lights have an unexplained history. Ten miles of the road to Marfa was dirt while it's being re-constructed, so we put an excursion to see the lights on our "to do" list in the future.
However, we did attend a Star Party at the McDonald Observatory which is part of the University of Texas at Austin. The night was clear (with temps in the low 30's) which enabled us to see an incredible array of stars. We viewed the sky through several telescopes but the most captivating and memorable for both of us was seeing Saturn complete with rings. It was an amazing experience. The observatory could be seen from a distance.
Not far from Ft. Davis is the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute where we toured the outdoor exhibits and botanical gardens. This is a great view of Mitre Peak which saw when we were on the Hummingbird-Butterfly Trail.
There was an excellent and educational mining exhibit. What a thrill to find this MSA Mine Spot mine lamp on display. As a manufacturing engineer for MSA, Paul oversaw the building of quite a few of the molds used to make this very lamp.
Leaving Davis Mountain SP, we continued south to Seminole Canyon State Park. Home to Native American rock art, The Fate Bell Shelter Tour is a rugged hike to the bottom of the canyon to see the pictographs first hand led by members of The Rock Art Foundation. The rock overhang in the distance is the Fate Bell Shelter. Although it's hard to tell from the photograph, the floor of the canyon at this point is at least 100' below the rim.
Unfortunately, because of the ruggedness of the trail and Margery's bad knees, we were unable to take the tour, but the state park headquarters had an outstanding interpretive center.
Wondering where the canyons that crisscross this area come from, we learned that hurricanes which hit the lower southwest edge of Texas can dump up to 20 inches of rain in this area helping carve out the canyons.
The area around Semiole Canyon is one of those diamonds in the rough. A short distance from Langtry, TX, we toured Judge Roy Bean's Saloon and home. Known as "The Hanging Judge," there's no evidence that he ever hanged anyone. One or two were taken to the gallows, but were allowed to escape.
This colorful character was self-named "the Law West of the Pecos." Only in the old west could a murderer known for dueling, gambling, and swindling by selling watered-down milk and stolen firewood be appointed a Justice of the Peace.
Here is a sample of Judge Bean's "law."
Between Langtry and the state park, there were some great observation points. Here in the foreground you see the Pecos River. Right beyond the cliff at the end of the far bank it flows into the Rio Grande River. The hills in the distance are in Mexico.
One of the benefits of keeping a loose travel schedule, is the freedom to change plans on a moment's notice. Seeing an advertisement for Alamo Village, "the most active and versatile outdoor movie set," we put it on our itinerary.
Located in Brackettville, it was built by John Wayne and ranch owner Happy Shahan in the late 50's for John Wayne's movie, Alamo. This working movie set includes no false fronts and everything needed for a western film, i.e. hotel, bank, sheriff's office and jail, undertaker's shop, blacksmith, and livery among many other buildings including, of course, a replica of the Alamo.
Today, the real Alamo in San Antonio consists only of the restored mission building. When defended by the famous freedom fighters, however, the Alamo was a sprawling mission-fortress covering nearly four acres of ground. John Wayne and Happy Shahan constructed two distinct areas: the Alamo mission complex and the western/Mexican town.
Rich was a wealth of information about the movies and stars who are part of the Alamo Village history. He had great stories to share about Jimmy Stewart, James Garner, John Schneider and Matt Damon; but his all-time favorite was Mary Stuart Masterson who stared with Drew Barrymore in Bad Girls filmed in 1993.
More than 200 major motion pictures, music videos, commercials, and documentaries have been filmed here including Lonesome Dove and James Michner's Texas. The next filming is scheduled for early May, and the Village will be open to tourists during filming. Marshal Curilla helps tourists find the best viewing locations without disrupting the filming.
Rich told us about some ambitious plans on the drawing board for Alamo Village, and we look forward to returning in the future.
Historic Fort Clark Springs was our "home" during our visit at Alamo Village. Fort Clark was established on the banks of Las Moras Creek by the U.S. Army in 1852 to protect a segment of the "lower road" from San Antonio to El Paso as well as frontier settlers from Indians and bandits. Virtually all cavalry units including the the 9th and 10th "Buffalo Soldiers" were stationed here before it was decomissioned in 1946. General George Marshall, US Chief of Staff, and General George Patton, famous for his operations in North Africa, both during World War II, served here in the late 30's.
Today, Fort Clark is a gated resort and leisure-living community. Over 80 historic buildings, many still in use for their original intended purposes, are preserved in this unique community which includes an RV park with full-hook-ups and Texas-friendly residents.
Lake Casa Blanca International State Park is located in Laredo, TX; and it was our "holding" location until it was time to check-in to our March destination.
This was a busy, suburban park that saw a lot of activity during the week and on the weekend. The Mexicans are a fun-loving people who enjoy spending time together as a family.
Laredo was a charming city with a shopping district down by the Laredo International Bridge to Mexico that reminded us of "The Strip" in Pittsburgh...full of colorful, ethnic stores. We were struck by the architectural appeal of the area.
We had made reservations for the month of March in Bentsen Palm Village in Mission, TX, so our transient travels through southwest Texas came to an end all to quickly. We didn't have time to visit Big Bend National Park but we've put it on our list for another time. However, we were looking forward to staying planted in one place for month, the longest we will have spent in one place since we went on the road last July.
Check out the Photo Album: 014: Journey to South Texas for pictures of the campgrounds we visited and more pictures of our adventures.