Friday, April 29, 2011

Hoodoo Trailhead in Big Bend Ranch State Park on Hwy 170

Big Bend Ranch State Park has a great right-off-the-road trailhead on Hwy 170, the River Road that features hoodoos!  Wikipedia says this about hoodoos:  "A hoodoo (also called a tent rock, fairy chimney, and earth pyramid) is a tall, thin spire of rock that protrudes from the bottom of an arid drainage basin or badland. Hoodoos consist of soft sedimentary rock topped by harder, less easily-eroded stone that protects each column from the elements."

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Beautiful Fort Leaton

One of our favorite off-the-beaten-path places in the region, Fort Leaton State Historic Site east of Presidio, recently received a new look, with the addition of period reproduction furniture.  The previously empty adobe rooms suddenly take on new meaning for the visitor.  It is easier to appreciate these beautiful spaces, and to picture people working in them.

Texas Parks and Wildlife's website says this about the site: "In 1848, Ben Leaton built a fortified adobe trading post known as Fort Leaton. He dominated border trade with the Apache and Comanche Indians before he died in 1851."

Fort Leaton is on FM 170, known as the River Road, and is also a site on the Far West Texas Wildlife Map.    It also serves as an official entry point for Big Bend Ranch State Park.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Firefighter Tent City at Davis Mountains State Park

Park staff and firefighters saved Indian Lodge and Davis Mountains State Park on April 9-10, yet the park and Lodge remain closed indefinitely because they're being used as a staging area and tent city for firefighters still in the region.  We thought you might like to have a little look at their set-up.  They've got a medical tent, a resupply area, showers and sinks on trucks, and a tent dining hall...their own temporary city set up in the park's campsite area.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Beautiful Views along the River Road

Regularly noted as one of the most scenic drives you'll find ANYWHERE is the FM 170 River Road down by the Rio Grande.  Yesterday, the road definitely lived up to its reputation.  The day was glorious, the landscape green, as we drove the stretch from Presidio to Lajitas, taking pictures to share with all of you.  Next time you're in the region, plan to include this drive in your itinerary!! 

Fire Update

Closures:  TPWD has closed Davis Mountains State Park and Indian Lodge until further notice, as the park is being used as a tent city and staging area for the firefighters who continue work in the area.  Balmorhea State Park is also closed due to fires in the area.  The Madera Canyon Trail is closed off Laurence E. Woods Picnic Area is closed due to fire operations.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Survivor! At Fort Davis' Davis Mountains Lodge and Expeditions

Scott and Jenny Turner of Davis Mountains Lodge and Expeditions, were relieved to return to their property in Fort Davis after the fires to see the burn line right up to the driveway next to their guest cabins, and their entire property intact. Still they worried about their resident horny toads whom they've adopted as mascots....until yesterday, when they found "Spike" safe and apparently happy after the fire.  They have high hopes they'll find the others in the coming days.

TPWD's website on horned lizards says this: 
"Everyone loves horny toads, but for many Texans the fierce-looking yet amiable reptile is only a fond childhood memory." And,  "Once common throughout most of the state, the horny toad (or Texas Horned Lizard) has disappeared from many parts of its former range over the past 30 years. Its disappearance has been blamed on many factors, including collection for the pet trade, spread of the red imported fire ant, changes in land use, and environmental contaminants. For the most part, however, the decline of the Texas Horned Lizard has remained a mystery with little understanding of the management actions that could be taken to restore it."

The Turners and their staff have been cultivating the lizards' habitat and protecting the harvester ants the lizards like to eat.  Their work has paid off, and they've seen 1-2 new lizards each year.  The The Turner organize group trips on the nature, history and culture of West Texas, Mexico and the rest of the Southwest from their Lodge based in Fort Davis; so they have a special interest in preservation of the horned lizard.  You can read more about TPWD's Horned Lizard Watch here.

The Lodge and cabins are open to visitors, as are the restaurants and other hotels, motels, and B&Bs in Fort Davis.

Check out the Lodge's facebook page here, and their website here!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Spring Comes to Fort Davis

Taken yesterday, just out of Fort Davis, at the site of Manuel Musquiz's adobe home, on the way to Alpine on Hwy 118.  Though there was some burning across the road, this area is bursting with life.  The area is spring green, birds are singing, the cattle happy.
The marker, dated 1936, across the road reads, "Ruins of the ranch home of Manuel Musquiz, a pioneer who settled here in 1854, abandoned due to Indian Raids, the deserted buildings served as a ranger station intermittently, 1880-1882, while the country was being cleared of Indians and bandits."

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Survivor! Davis Mountains State Park

Beautiful adobe staircase at the Indian Lodge.  The Lodge, restaurant and pool were completely untouched by fire.
Building on Skyline Drive adjacent to mountain biking trail saved by park staff and firefighters!
Burned trees with intact grassland below, from Skyline Drive
A blossom from the Park Interpretive Center's garden, just a few feet from the burn line
The view from inside the completely untouched Rock Shelter atop Skyline Drive

We wanted to share more photos from Davis Mountains State Park, which is ready for visitors but won't be open until May 1 because it remains a staging area and tent city for firefighters serving the region since the April 9 wildfire.  Read yesterday's entry for the full story. 

Click here for more images of the park, taken Thursday, April 21.

Updated 4/26/11: because of continuing fire operations in the area, the park and lodge are closed until further notice.  We'll post here as soon as we hear they are reopened!  The rest of Far West Texas and Fort Davis IS open!

Friday, April 22, 2011

A First Look at Davis Mountains State Park

Rock Shelter on Skyline Drive remains undamaged by fire

Temporary tent dining hall for firefighters

The Indian Lodge remains completely untouched by fire, here's a view of Skyline Drive from one of the Lodge's porches.  Clearly visible is the difference between burned and unburned portions of the park

The untouched Indian Lodge will reopen for visitors on May 1

Flowers blooming at the Park Interpretive Center, only a few yards from the burnlines

2,000 of the park's 2,700 acres remains unburned and untouched, including the lovely Indian Lodge and primitive areas.  Clearly visible is the difference between the burned and unburned sections of the park
Every campsite in the park was saved by the efforts of firefighters and park staff, in some cases fire burned just across the road from campsites
View of burned and unburned portions of the park's mountain biking trail; can be used by visitors when the park opens May 1
Taken along Skyline Drive where the most damage was done
The only picnic table to burn in the entire park, on Skyline Drive with a view of the burned land below

A full slideshow of 59 images is here.

When visitors enter Davis Mountains State Park again on May 1, they'll see a story of tenacity in the burn lines around the park buildings and campsites.  The bravery of the staff and firefighters is evident, for in some cases the burn lines are feet--not yards--from structures.

Their proudest achievement:  every park visitor got out safely.  As the Rock House fire of April 9 roared close to Fort Davis, park personnel were already evacuating visitors as the official evacuation order was issued.  In fact, every visitor left before flames reached Skyline Drive, where the worst of the burning took place. 

We received permission to be in the park yesterday, to take photographs to share with all of you.  We're happy to report that every campsite was saved, as was the lovely, historic Indian Lodge and restaurant.  While 700 acres of the 2700 acre park burned, Davis Mountains State Park remains because of brave individuals working with hand pumps and hoses for 24 hours straight. 

Also helping matters was the practice of earlier prescribed burns, and the less exciting mowing of grasses and regular maintenance to remove excess brush and vegetation--those efforts gave the fire less to burn.  We saw this in the burn lines; fire skipped areas that had obviously been mowed and tended.  It was also clear to see where a 2008 prescribed burn took place; the land treated to a controlled, planned burn was left a dark brown, rather than the charred black left by the hottest, most destructive fires.  Park personnel told us that 2008 prescribed burn helped their efforts to save the park this month.

Two structures burned, a communications building atop Skyline Drive and a CCC compost toilet, as did one trail bridge.  One picnic table had a single seat burned.  Trails were burned in places, sometimes dramatically so, including the connecting hiking trail to Fort Davis National Historic Site, and portions of the mountain biking trail.  The damage ranges from lightly singed, to deeply charred swaths of land.  We had no difficulty hiking the sections we tried yesterday.  Most of the park is completely intact, including the Primitive Area across the road from the park's entrance.

All the park needs is one rain to start the greening process, for nitrogen left by the fire will fuel a quick and verdant regrowth.  In fact, evidence of that process is already starting to pop up, in blades of grass emerging from blackened soil.  Flowers are blooming at the park interpretive center's garden, just a few yards from the burn line.  Yesterday, birds were plentiful, we saw butterflies, and park staff heard a coyote earlier in the day. Most of the park remains completely untouched, and is ready for visitors to return.

Today the park remains a staging area and tent city for firefighters still combating small areas of fire in the region and preventing hot spots from reigniting.  When the park reopens on May 1 to visitors, you'll still be able to see the burn lines and how close the fires came to taking this lovely place.  We're sure the staff would appreciate visitors taking a few moments to thank them for saving the park.

Please put June 2 on your calendar to attend a bird walk and launch party at Davis Mountains State Park's Indian Lodge.  We'll be launching the Far West Texas Wildlife Trail Map, a great resource for birders and wildlife enthusiasts.  We'll share more details as they develop!

Our thanks to Davis Mountains State Park and TPWD for allowing us to visit and be the "eyes and ears" for our audience of visitors!

Updated 4/26/11:  Because of continuing operations in the area, the park and lodge are closed until further notice.  We'll post here as soon as we hear they are reopening to the public.  The rest of Fort Davis and Far West Texas IS open and ready for your visit!!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Texas Mountain Trail Classics: Driving Pinto Canyon Road

Thanks to Randy Mallory and the Texas Historical Commission for the use of this photo!
There are many exciting drives in the region--Williams Ranch Road in Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Maverick Road, the River Road, Old Ore Road in Big Bend National Park, many of the roads in Big Bend Ranch State Park--but Pinto Canyon Road remains a sentimental favorite of many.  For high clearance vehicles only, this rough and scenic road runs between Marfa and Ruidosa.

The first 32 miles of FM2810 from Marfa are paved and run through beautiful grassland, scenery captured in films like "There Will Be Blood" and "No Country for Old Men," but soon the road becomes gravel and one lane and that's where the adventure begins.

The road runs through private land and is posted as such, and you're invited to enjoy the view from the road, but not invited to travel into private property or cross fencelines.  Still your adventure won't be diminished by staying on the road, for every turn brings a new glorious view.  Near the end, near Ruidosa is the entry to Chinati Hot Springs, a historic complex of adobe cabins, hot tubs, a swimming pool and camping possibilities..definitely worth a stay if you want to linger in the area..and you probably will!

This road is remote, and infrequently traveled, so you MUST be prepared.  Be sure your vehicle is in good working shape, and your spare tire is ready to marshal into service.  Pack plenty of're still in the desert and you'll need more than you might expect.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Texas Mountain Trail Classics Week: Hueco Tanks

Just 30 miles east of El Paso, Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site has been loved by local residents for much so, that with the delicate rock art and world-class bouldering in the tiny park, planning a visit ahead of time is a necessity.  That's not to discourage travelers from taking in this magical place, you DO need to understand what's involved before you hike, watch birds, view ancient (and fragile) rock art, and climb those rocks!

The park's website says this, "For the protection of natural and cultural resources at the park, visitation is limited. Special reservation and entry restrictions are required at this park. Please contact the park or park information (1-800-792-1112-Option 3) for details."   Please take the time to do this, or else risk being turned away at the gate.

The park's website also says this about the fragile pictographs and the park's history:  "From Archaic hunters and foragers of thousands of years ago to relatively recent Mescalero Apaches, Native Americans have drawn strange mythological designs and human and animal figures on the rocks of the area. The site's notable pictographs also include more than 200 face designs or "masks" left by the prehistoric Jornada Mogollon culture. Hueco Tanks was the site of the last Indian battle in the county. Apaches, Kiowas, and earlier Indian groups camped here and left behind pictographs telling of their adventures. These tanks served as watering places for the Butterfield Overland Mail Route."
Visitors come from all over the world to climb the boulders of this small 860 acre park.  Everyone entering the park will go through a brief orientation program designed to help visitors protect the pictographs and other park resources, even those who have reserved a place on the birding, hiking, bouldering, and pictograph tours noted on the website.  Don't let that deter you from visiting Hueco Tanks, a place with more biodiversity than many of the world's deserts! 

Click here to view a video of Hueco TanksClick here to download a guide to the pictographs of Hueco Tanks.

Hueco Tanks is also a site on the new Far West Texas Wildlife Trail map.  Read more, and find a link to purchase the map here!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Texas Mountain Trail Classics Week: Hiking the Tallest Peak in Texas!

One of the best adventures in all of Texas is hiking Guadalupe Peak, the tallest in Texas.  Here's what the Guadalupe Mountains National Park's website says about this trail:

"On a clear day, the view from the "Top of Texas" (8,749 feet, or 2,667 meters) is outstanding. The trail is very steep, but is well established. Some areas are exposed to cliff edges. It is rated strenuous, with 3,000 feet of elevation gain. The round trip distance is 8.4 miles, and generally takes 6-8 hours. Avoid the peak hike during high winds and thunderstorms."

We took this hike in November, taking advantage of cooler temperatures, but folks enjoy this hike all through the year.   It is a thrill to see miles and miles of unspoiled desert landscape below the peak, the view is spectacular!  When you get up to the top, be sure to put your name in the journal logbook to record your achievement!