Monthly Archives: June 2017
Mesilla is border town with wild west history
Along the 245-mile route from Fort Davis, TX to Las Cruses, NM, our camping destination for tonight, we drove through hundreds of acres of pecan orchards, passed a tethered Aerostat Radar System Balloon and saw glimpses of the Rio Grande River.
Mid-day traffic was heavy driving through downtown El Paso on Interstate 10 but we arrived without incident at Las Cruces KOA west of town. The campground is high above the city, making for interesting nighttime views from our site.
We had dinner at LaPosta, a one-time cantina in historic old Mesilla frequented by the famous outlaw Billy the Kid. Other well-known personalities to visit the border town included Pat Garrett and Pancho Villa. The cantina was a stop on the old Butterfield Stage Coach Line which ran from St. Louis to San Francisco. Across the street from the restaurant is the Billy The Kid Gift Store, the former Mesilla Jail, which housed Billy the Kid after his capture and before his extradition to Lincoln, NM.
LaPosta was featured in a USA Today newspaper
Billy the Kid was jailed in this building briefly while awaiting extradition to another town where he was charged with murder.
story as one of the top ten Mexican restaurants in the country.
This huge tethered Aerostat radar balloon was anchored at a base outside Marfa on Highway 90.
Like most small towns in the southwest, Mesilla town square is surrounded by shops and restaurants. We bought fresh harvested pecans, grown in a nearby orchard, from one local store.
We took an early morning hike through Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park, some of which borders on the Rio Grande River and later in the afternoon, enjoyed a visit with campground neighbors from Maine who had wintered in California and were heading east.
For those following this blog, the air conditioner is still ailing and yesterday, the roof air in the RV quit working.
Town square in Mesilla, NM.
We decided to end the trip and head home for repairs, over-nighting in Fort Stockton and Leander, TX; Scott, LA; and Marianne, FL,
The entire trip from North Florida covered 4,053 miles and covered 28 days.
Overlooking Las Cruces, NM from the KOA Campground.
Cavalry fort and star gazing in Fort Davis, TX
For a couple hours this morning, it was cool enough to roll down the Winnebago Aspect motor home windows and smell the sagebrush as we drove across the desert in southwest Texas headed for Fort Davis.
An old Army freight wagon on the grounds at Fort Davis. The fort once housed 800 soldiers who provided protection for settlers, freight and travelers heading west to California.
Like most of this huge state, this is cowboy and Indian country and no small town in Texas says it better than Fort Davis and the nearby original army fort by the same name. Locals wear boots and hats and wide belts with big buckles. They are real, not the drug store cowboy types but the real working models. Most are long and lean, sport heavy sun baked tans and smile when they say “hello” passing on downtown streets. They wave to passing strangers from their dust colored pickup trucks which all carry at least one rifle racked in the back window and “Don’t mess with Texas” bumper stickers. It’s flat desert country with the Fort Davis Mountains in the distance and known as the highest town in Texas at just over 5,000 feet. Most every ranch flies an American and Texas flag.
The parade grounds at U. S. Army Fort Davis in southwest Texas.
Our campsite at Davis Mountain State Park near Fort Davis, TX.
Having grown up in an era when youngsters played cowboys and Indians, Fort Davis feels almost familiar after seeing replicas of the old army forts on local movie screen western movies. The fort is the largest and most well-preserved cavalry post in the west.
Fort Davis was built in the 1850’s along the fabled San Antonio to El Paso route in an effort to provide protection for westward bound settlers, mail, and freight through the dangerous Pecos region of West Texas. Seven forts were established along the route to protect travelers from frequent Comanche and Apache raids.
Records show that “In 1850 the largest supply train to use the road” left Fort Inge for El Paso with 340 wagons, 4000 animals, 450 civilians and 175 soldiers.
Some original fort buildings have been restored and open to the public. Foundations of others were also preserved, giving visitors a better understanding of the fort’s original layout.
McDonald Observatory, near Fort Davis, TX., houses the world’s third largest telescope.
Later in the day we drove the 74-mile Scenic Loop Road through the nearby mountains and canyons. The road begins and ends at Fort Davis.
On the second day of our stay, we visited the McDonald Observatory, which is less than 15 miles away from Fort Davis. Built on top of Mount Locke in 1939, the observatory at one time had the second largest telescope in the world. It is operated by the University of Texas. We took a tour of two of the 10 large telescopes at the facility, including the world’s third largest Hobby-Eberly Telescope, and heard an interesting presentation on ongoing observatory research including planetary systems and stars.
Visitors touring the McDonald Observatory.
One of the telescopes from the McDonald Observatory Visitors Center.
Scenery along the 73 mile Scenic Route Loop road through the Davis Mountains, near Fort Davis, TX.
Visitors to the area should not miss the Observatory tour. The high and dry peaks of the Davis Mountains make for some of the darkest and clearest night skies in the region. We visited during daytime when the observatory showed live photos of the sun but special nighttime viewing of star and planets visits are available.
From our campsite at Davis Mountain State Park, we watched a family of deer grazing alongside a nearby creek and mountain goats on a hill overlooking the campground.
NEXT: Las Cruses, New Mexico and Billy the Kid
Spook lights and Hollywood stars in quirky Marfa, TX
Presidio County Courthouse, Marfa, TX
The drive from Big Bend National Park to Alpine, a 72-mile-trip, provided scenery straight out of a western movie. Martha noted in her trip diary that it would have been a perfect backdrop for one of Clint Eastwood’s early cowboy films. One side of the highway is flat land as far as the eye can see. On the other are mountains near and far, endless canyons and landscape best described as hostile, she wrote. No wildlife. Not even road kill. We are traveling through the desert, again.
Alpine, population almost 6,000, has green grass, the most we have seen in a week; a nice college campus and a hospital, the only one for miles around. And our destination for the next couple nights is here—Lost Alaska RV Park. No, we’re not in Alaska. We’re in Texas.
Presidio Hotel in Marfa, TX., served as headquarters for such famous movies as 1950’s epic “GIANT.”
We parked, unhooked the tow car and drove into the main part of town in search of a car air-conditioner doctor. Two places were too busy for a couple days but a one person garage on Marfa’s main street, owned and operated by an 81-year-old mechanic, said the air conditioner just needed a shot of Freon. Two cans of the stuff later, the air conditioner still failed to respond and the mechanic scratched his head and told us to take it to a dealer, the closest of which was in El Paso, TX., about 200 miles away.
The other reason we came to Alpine was to visit the little nearby town of Marfa which has been featured recently in several television segments for its “quirkiness and minimalist art.” Television’s Morley Safer called Marfa, “The Capital of Quirkiness” in a recent 60 minute segment which continues to add to the town’s popularity.
Marfa, population about 2,000 sports some historical architecture, art shops of various kinds the classic Texas small town courthouse square and art galleries plus the mysterious Marfa lights.
The Marfa lights, described as a paranormal phenomenon including UFO’s and maybe ghosts, show up occasionally on a stretch of U. S. Highway 67 just outside town. It’s not a big deal for locals but the lights are drawing crowds of tourists to town in hope of getting a glimpse of the lights, which scientists suggests are nothing more than reflections of car lights and maybe campfires. Local tourist businesses aren’t complaining.
“These balls of light may remain stationary as they pulse on and off with intensity varying from dim to almost blinding brilliance” a local brochure states…”they just suddenly appear. They may dart across the desert or perform splits and mergers.”
There were signs along the highway between Alpine and Marfa, alerting us that we were now in the “zone” but it was daylight when we passed and apparently the ghosts or whatever, were still asleep.
Marfa has another claim to fame: it has been the filming location for several dozen Hollywood movies, including the 1956 Warner Bros film Giant, which starred Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, Sal Mineo, Carol Baker and Dennis Hopper. The movie capitalized on the area’s stark, flat landscape and employed some locals as extras and stagehands. The downtown historic and restored Hotel Paisano served as headquarters for the movie personnel and stars during the filming and has a display of “Giant’ memorabilia on display.
More recent movies, including “There Will Be Blood,” “Fandango” and “No Country for Old Men” were also filmed here.
A ranch entrance on the highway between Big Bend National Park and Alpine, TX.
Marfa is located in the high desert country of southwest Texas and afternoon temperatures cool rapidly because of the near 5,000 feet elevation. We sat in the courtyard of the Paisano Hotel as the sun set and enjoyed a light dinner served with white tablecloth napkins and a couple adult beverages as the sun went down in the west. We drove home with the windows down since we were still without air conditioning in the car. Did not see the lights.
NEXT: Historic U. S. Army cavalry post Fort Davis
Big Bend: Dry, dusty and hot
After three days in Big Bend National Park, Texas, we had seen enough scorched earth, rocks, cactus and desert heat and broke camp today, driving to Alpine, Texas to visit the nearby funky town of Marfa and hopefully fix the tow-car air-conditioning.
Big Bend was not a disappointment but day after day was more of the same. We had expected more, not sure what, but maybe we missed something. The scenery hardly changed from one location to another.
An overlook of the Rio Grande River and artwork, purchased on the honor system, left on a rock for visitors to Big Bend National Park.
First time visitors to one of the nation’s largest and among the least visited National Parks, should be prepared for the stark landscape and heat–even in April when we visited. Nights were nice and cool but by noon the temperature was hovering near the 100 degree mark every day and climbing. Don’t expect an afternoon rain shower to cool things a bit because it only rains here about 12-13 inches annually. Ain’t gonna happen.
It didn’t help that the air conditioning quit on our tow car the day we arrived. Sightseeing was comfortable in the morning without the cool air but unbearable mid-day and afternoon . The nearest mechanic was 100 miles away in Fort Stockton so we left the park and spent afternoons in the RV under Winnebago air.
The main national park campground supports RV’s and the facility is nice although somewhat tight. There’s a store for food and camping supplies at the campground and the Rio Grande River and the Republic of Mexico are within walking and wading distances. There are walking trails nearby.
A black hawk keeps watch over a nearby nest.
We camped at Stillwell Grocery, about eight miles north of the park boundary which has full camping services, including internet, but no cell phone connection. We paid the campground office a small fee to use their landline to make reservations tomorrow at Maverick RV Resort, Lajitas, TX. The hour ride to Lajitas took us through a different section of Big Bend with dramatic mountain scenery and some flat terrain and canyons on smooth paved roads.
Also, only the main roads are paved in the park. Side roads are all dirt or gravel.
RVers looking for a fancy place to stay will enjoy Maverick RV Resort. The entire community is part of one large development that includes a hotel, golf course, upscale restaurant and shopping. Martha noted in her trip journal that this place is so nice it almost seems out of place. The campground cost $45 a night but comes with full hookup which is hard to find in this part of Texas.
Unusual rock formations inside Big Bend National Park.
Early the next morning, mindful that we have no air conditioning in the tow car, we took a short drive on Highway 170 toward Presidio, TX. The highway follows the Rio Grande River which in some areas is not much wider than a creek and very shallow. Wading across the border here would not take much of an effort. There is no sign of civilization on the Mexico side of the river, other than a few grazing cows. Not far from town is an International Airport sign, which reflects the clientele the resort attracts. We could not see the airport for the mountains.
We are on the edge of the Big Bend National Park and frustrated with the heat and lack of air conditioning in the car and no mechanic within miles. Did I say it is really dry here? The only green spot is at the resort golf course where green grass greens and fairways stick out like a sore thumb, and this afternoon no golfers willing to challenge the heat.
Camping at Lajitas, TX., just outside Big Bend National Park, Texas.
There’s no economy here to speak of that we can see. Jobs are mostly clerical positions at the resort. The landscape mirrors areas of the national park–flat, hilly, dry, knee-high bushes, no trees and dead grass. Local residents are living in old school buses, trailers and shacks cobbled together with scrap lumber. Not sure some of the houses have electricity or running water.
We packed up the next morning and drove to Fort Davis where we will spend a couple nights and check out the small town for an air-conditioning expert.
NEXT: Marfa, TX., “Capital of Quirkiness.”
A roadrunner struts across the parking lot at Big Bend National Park Visitors Center. The roadrunner is the Texas state bird.