If you are looking for a quiet place to regroup from a stress filled life this is the place to visit. Bring your hiking boots, comfortable layered clothing and a mountain bike to enjoy the serenity and beauty Southwest Texas has to offer. I think the best time of year to tour the Chihuahuan Desert region is in the spring while the desert is in bloom. One would be amazed at the diversity of flora in the spring and the opportunity to commune with nature or meditate is abundant.
The Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center and Botanical Gardens is a non-profit nature center located on the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute grounds near Fort Davis, Texas. It contains over three miles of hiking trails featuring springs and pools, an assortment of remarkable wildlife, Madrone trees, interesting desert plants, cactus and wildflowers as well as unusual rock formations and mesas. It offers many beautiful places to enjoy the tranquil surroundings that we need to release stress.
There are several points of interest in the Fort Davis area; they include the Fort Davis National Historic Site, Davis Mountains State Park, The McDonald Observatory of the University of Texas and the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center and Botanical Gardens.
The town of Fort Davis was primarily developed after the installation of the military fort which was named after Jefferson Davis who was then the Secretary of War. The fort was installed as a safeguard against the Comanche and Apache Indians in the west Texas frontier until about 1881. Soldiers protected pioneers as they traveled on the San Antonio-El Paso road. It was abandoned in June 1891 and but wasn’t authorized as a national historic site until 1961. Fort Davis is considered the best remaining example of a frontier military post in the southwest. It is located in a box canyon near Limpia Creek in the Davis Mountains. William R. Shafter better known as “Pecos Bill” commanded Fort Davis in 1871-1872 and again in 1881-1882.
Today, there are self-guided tours of the re-furnished buildings, a 15 minute video explaining all the history of the Fort and hiking trails that connect with trails of Davis Mountain State Park which lies adjacent to the Fort. The park sponsors Living History events to enhance your walk back in time and they change periodically throughout the year.
Fort Davis State Park encourages kids to visit and explore the history of the area by creating special events that are sure to interest them called Junior Ranger Days during the summer months. There are many activities offered like camping and hiking. For those who have their own bikes there are mountain bike trails. For those horse lovers that travel with their own horses on vacation there are horseback riding trails as well. The Indian Lodge is located within the park offering thirty-nine rooms, a swimming pool and a restaurant. It was built in the 1930’s by the Civilian Corps. It has been updated recently but hasn’t lost its rustic appeal or peaceful atmosphere.
The McDonald Observatory is located atop Mount Locke and Mount Fowlkes in the Davis Mountains. The area offers one of the darkest night skies in the US allowing the opportunity to view the stars without the clutter of modern lighting. There are several telescopes to view the stars, planets, galaxies, black holes and even exploding stars! The Hobby-Eberly Telescope, dedicated in 1997, is one of the world’s largest optical telescopes. Its purpose is to decode light from stars and galaxies allowing us differentiate between them to better study them. The Harlan J. Smith Telescope, constructed in 1968, is still used every clear night of the year. The Otto Struve Telescope, constructed 1933-1939, is also still in use today and was the first telescope to be built at McDonald Observatory. The Observatory offers public tours, star parties and student activities. The view from on top the mountain is stunning and tranquil. The altitudes of the Davis Mountains are between 3,500 to 8,400 feet and were created by volcanic activity many thousands of years ago.
The time of year will greatly enhance your experience according to your preference but each season brings its own special kind of beauty. With the desert in bloom in the spring or the cooler more temperate climate in the summer, the fall colors or the snow covering on the mountains in the cold of winter, you can’t really go wrong with a visit to this corner of Texas. No matter when you visit the ability to be stress free in this environment is a wonderful experience we could all use a little more of these days.