Thursday, May 07, 2009

Davis Mountains

After my stopover at the Guadalupe Mountains last month, I originally was going to check out Big Bend Ranch state park. In this trip I was taking a week and a half to visit some state and national parks for Photography and also to get in some trail runs as part of my Jemez race training. After a long scenic drive I saw the signs said the highway was closed just east of the border town of Presidio. I stopped in the town to see if I could inquire if the park could be accessed before the road closure, but for all the signs indicating that the tourist information office was ahead, none of them identified the office. I stopped for gas and intended to ask the attendant if he knew where I could find info on the park access, but then while I was filling up watched some guy stumble out of the hotel next door and then collapse in the middle of the road. Wasn’t sure what was the cause, but he was soon surrounded by Police. I decided it best just to get out of there and go to my next stop for an extra day in the Davis Mountains.

After a stop for wine tasting at the Luz de Estrella Winery, I found a “camp room” in Ft. Davis that worked well. One wall was screened and open to the elements, with decent beds, sink with running water, and shared bathrooms. The room was a little more than a campsite but way less than nearby hotels so I took it. Then I went to the Davis Mountains state Park for a late afternoon run. At the entrance the ranger reviewed the trails around the park. When he was done I asked about the trails on the other side of the road that he didn’t mention. He explained those trails required a special permit and they don’t recommend them because they were so rough and rugged. How to I explain I have run at places such as Bandera and such trails are what I am there for. I decided immediately those would be the trails for the next day’s adventure and tonight I would run some of the more established trails and then get the camera setup for sunset pictures somewhere. Since I missed the hilly workout that my training group prescribed from the day before, I picked the hilliest looking trail and took off. After climbing some 400 or 500ft in ½ mile, I got to the top of a ridge and found myself running through a forest of desert plans that were taller than me. The late afternoon sun was perfect for pictures, though I only had the small camera for the run. Some of the trails were a bit overgrown and fading. I turned back on one that seemed to disappear but there were plenty of places to run for the time I had allotted to this workout.

Forest of desert plants

After the run I went over to an observation point to take pictures around sunset. I drove back and forth between a couple of observation points as the sun went down. This park is on the edge of two different types of terrain. To the west are the Davis Mountains, and to the east and below are the town of Ft Davis and flat desert terrain with a few more mountains in the background. Some of the cacti were flowering. In the distance, there was a huge indoor farming complex, the size of which became more apparent from this viewpoint compared to when I drove past it earlier. After the sun went down, I stopped off at the local BBQ place which was the only restaurant that still looked open. Despite being the only one there and arriving a couple of minutes before they closed, the staff was extremely hospitable. I ordered the food they recommended since I figured they were recommending it because it was the easiest for them to fix (so their cook could go home), I paid in advance (so the cashier could go home) and enjoyed a good BBQ mix of shredded chicken, pork and beef while the waitress mopped the floors.

The next morning I did a quick tour of the Ft. Davis historical site, and then went to get a permit for the “rough” trails in the state park for my next run. This time there was a different ranger who was much more enthusiastic about visiting that part of the park. Along with the permit I got the gate code for entry and went over there to start my run. There was one other car in this restricted access parking lot with a horse trailer, but I never encountered anyone on the trail. The trail was nice and secluded, but it did not live up to the reputation that the first ranger had indicated. While it wasn’t necessarily a “smooth” trail, the sotol was trimmed where it was growing across the trail, making this seem manicured compared to some of the places I have been running. After the initial climb to get up on the ridge, I got to a section where there was an earlier fire. The trail turned into the fireroad that separated the burned section from the un-burned. The trail eventually ended at an overlook point with views of the desert to the east. Overall it was a 7 or 8 mile round trip with a good climb in the middle.

The sotol was trimmed!

The trail separated burned from non-burned ground.

Overlook at the end of the trail

At night I went to the MacDonald observatory after sunset. My visit happened to coincide with the “Star Party”, which is a festival where they set up a bunch of telescopes at the observatory for the public viewing. Most of the crowd appeared to be locals, so I don’t think this happens very often. First, everyone gathered at the outdoor amphitheater for a brief talk. The presenter had the most powerful laser pointer I have ever seen. When he would talk about a star, the pointer would shoot a strong beam of light that appeared to go all the way to the star. I have a new appreciation for the concerns of pilots about being blinded by such devices. We also got to see an Iridium Flare predicted for that time. When Iridium was part of Motorola, I had a few occasions to talk to those involved in the development, but this was the first time I really got to see the results.

See more pictures in the online photo album HERE

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