West Texas

You must, if you live in Texas, visit the Fort Davis area.  Who knew there were so many riches a mere (ahem) 10 hours' drive from Dallas?  Most of the drive is either boring or hideous, but there's something pretty neat about seeing bumps, and then hills, and then high mountains rise out of the plain. By the time you get to the far west end of the state, the landscape has become truly beautiful, in a stark sort of a way (that I adore). You're also hundreds of miles from the nearest Starbucks, Barnes and Noble, or Panera--how refreshing!  You'll be at the mercy of the locals for food, coffee, and books, but you won't be deprived.

Night One--attend a star party at the McDonald Observatory. Do make reservations ahead of time, and try to schedule your trip when there's no full moon.  We went the day after Christmas, which made the crowd pretty reasonable ("just" 400 people, compared to 1000 a few nights later!).  Even with the full moon, we had some amazing views: Jupiter plus four moons, the orion nebula, and (of course) the moon in all its glory. Plus assorted star clusters. There's a cafe on the premises where you can have dinner and warm up with hot chocolate.

We stayed in tiny Fort Davis at the oldest hotel in West Texas (according to the proprietor)--a very charming B&B called The Veranda.  Another option would be staying in Fort Davis state park a few miles from town. At least from the outside the Indian lodge looks delightful.

Day One--The Fort itself has been restored to its former glory, so you can see how officers lived at the end of the 19th century. You can also see the hospital, complete with instruments and explanations of medical procedures.  Behind the fort there are trails up to a bluff with splendid views. Then drive back for the afternoon tour at the observatory--you'll get to see the biggest telescopes up close and learn about the research going on there (exoplanets...dark energy...wow).

Day Two--Marfa, 20 miles away, is another dust mote of a town, but (believe it or not) it's a major art mecca.  Make reservations ahead of time to tour the collection of the Chinati foundation, which houses major works by Donald Judd, Dan Flavin and 10 others, in abandoned military buildings.  You can't see the collection without a tour, and never fear--the tour guides maintain a low profile. They mainly just guide you around the premises and give basic information.

The town accommodates the art crowd with an appropriately elegant book store, restaurants, and the smallest NPR radio station in the country. Remember: dust mote.  Marfa ain't Santa Fe. But in a way, it's better.  Talk about totally quirky and unexpected. 

Alpine is the third point on the Fort Davis-Marfa-Alpine triangle. It's worth the trip for the bookstore, museum, and a few restaurants, but mainly because the drive is dramatically beautiful. Another beautiful 20 miles takes you back to Fort Davis. The Bistro is a pretty little restaurant with good food (even a vegetarian special!).  Mexican food is down the road--with chile rellenos to die for.

Day Three--Now you have to visit the Chihuahua desert center, which has some lovely trails--one into a canyon, and another to a hilltop with a terrific geology exhibit.

Next question--should we open our own little bookstore in Fort Davis, since it doesn't have one? Can we? Can we? The family says No, which means we'll just have to plan another visit. There's actually much more to do--more hikes, drives, more astronomy, more art, and even more in the way of performing arts. I hear Grizzly Bear performed at The Ballroom in Marfa last year. I'm already starting to plot and scheme .... there must be a trip #2.


Brett Hetherington said...

Well, I don't know about West Texas but Bob Dylan put it nicely about the east of the state:

“I seen the arrow on the dartboard
Saying, “This land is condemned
All the way from New Orleans
To Jerusalem”
I traveled through East Texas
Where many martyrs fell
And I know no one can sing the blues
Like Blind Willie McTell."


I recognize that landscape you describe in your post. It sounds a bit like some of the area around Utah and Nevada. The desert itself is such a beautiful thing. It's dull to many people but to me truly inspiring - the Sahara especially so.

For the first time I recently saw the “outback” of my native land near Broken Hill in Australia. The land is so flat and wide at Mundi Mundi Point that you can see the curve of the earth – a rare sight anywhere on the planet.

Your experience of the stars at night must have been wonderful. The last photo you posted could easily have been captioned with words from Australia and can relate directly to your interest in the good and meaningful in life.

ianbargain said...

I drove through West Texas once in a cross-country drive and did visit some of the places you mention. But I remember little of them.
I stopped at a local bar in the middle of nowhere and started chatting with a local yokel who had a nice Dogo Argentino dog.
So, he invited me to go "hog hunting" with him and his dogs. For reasons, I can't fathom in hindsight, I accepted. I didn't stop anywhere in Texas after that nor return again.

Interesting state - Texas.

Anonymous said...

I have been wanting to make this same trip for a long time. Is this the itinerary you talked about? It's so nice to have someone else plan it all out! I plan to take the kids to the new Perot Science Museum today... should be fun! Bought tickets online yesterday.

Jean Kazez said...

Arts, NOW I know who you are! I think! Yup, that's the itinerary. Super fun, want to go again. I think we'll hit the Perot museum this weekend. Looks scrumptious on the outside.

Ianbargain, Hog hunting. Hmm. We did encounter a pot-bellied pig in Fort Davis, plus signs on stores encouraging people to carry guns. Great!

ianbargain said...

Well, these were feral hogs and probably hybrids of some introduced wild boars. Many guns were present. Unfortunately, none were used. Only dogs and knives.
Let us skip the details :-(.

Jean Kazez said...

Sounds gruesome!