Davis Mountains Adventures
Eileen Berger Indian Trail Master Naturalist
Master Naturalists like nothing better than a field trip, whether it be hiking a new trail, seeing native plants, birding, or enjoying a view from a lofty mountain top. I recently was privileged to be able to do all those things on a five day trip to the Davis Mountains of Texas. A fellow Master Naturalist organized the trip for Naturalists from all over the state. We had couples, singles and even adult children, all of whom were excited to travel to a different ecological area to experience some of our state’s most beautiful scenery and learn about the flora and fauna.
Our base of operation was Ft. Davis State Park near the charming little town of Ft. Davis, named for the restored fort which is open to the public for tours. To reach my destination I drove on Interstate 20 through Abilene, Midland and Odessa, then at Pecos headed south to Ft.Davis. The effects of the drought and last year’s wildfires were evident as I neared my destination. We almost had to cancel the trip before it even started because of a huge wildfire at Mt. Livermore very near Ft. Davis. Thankfully, it was under control by the time we arrived.
I stayed in Indian Lodge inside the state park. It was built by the CCC during theDepression and is by itself worth the trip. They have a restaurant on site, the Black Bear, which had great food and was handy. Most of the Master Naturalists camped in the state park, but there arehotels and motels in Ft.Davis, as well as ranch-style lodging in the area. That part of Texas had not had rain for 21 months, which resulted in the lack of vegetation and the willingness of birds to frequent the feeders and water stations near the campsites. We could sit for hours just watching the birds, javalinas, Montezuma quail, and mule deer come up for drinks and food. I was able to add twenty new birds to my life list, and being a new birder, I probably missed more than I noticed.
One of our planned trips was to visit the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute Nature Center near Ft. Davis. A volunteer Master Naturalist from Alpine took us for an informative hike down into the canyon inside the nature center property. The mountains were formed by volcanic activity with later upheaval due to a shift in the tectonic plates. It was a strenuous hike, hard on the knees if you have any knee problems. At the bottom, a spring feeds a small pool with lush ferns growing all around it. There is also an arboretum showcasing native desert plants, and a mining exhibit. A school group arrived just as we were starting on our hike.The center is open to the public.
The McDonald Observatory is nearby also, and offers tours and star-watching parties. I had visited it before on another trip, so I chose to go bird watching on the Scenic Loop, a stretch of highway which offers beautiful vistas, picnic areas, and interesting geological formations. One learns very early to be sure to have plenty of gasoline, ice,and water before you venture out, as you may not see another car on the road for hours. There are grocery stores and gas stations in Ft.Davis, but none outside the town. Also, cell phone service is spotty, due to the mountains.
The Nature Conservancy has a nature preserve, Davis Mountain Preserve,also near Ft.Davis. The director and the biologist directed our tour of the property. Mt. Livermore is in the preserve but it still had some fire, so we were not able to climb the mountain. If you are interested in visiting you can schedule tours, but it is not open to the public as were the CDRI and McDonald Observatory.
I highly encourage you to explore the Davis Mountains and surrounding areas. There are five state parks in the vicinity, and a yearly state park pass for $70.00 is one of the best bargains around. With it you can visit any state park and it covers all the people in one vehicle. I visited Balmorhea State Park, which has a huge spring-fed swimming pool and cozy cottages as well as a restored wetlands with endangered fish. Monahans Sandhills State Park on IH-20 is great for kids of all ages, with disk rentals for those who want to slide down the sand dunes. Both of these state parks have campsites with full hookups.Two others, Big Spring State Park and Lake Colorado City, located between Abilene and Midland, are both near IH-20. For information about any of the parks you can go to the website www.tpwd.state.tx.us or for reservations call (512) 389-8900. .