West Texas Adventure 2012
The West Texas Adventure began on Saturday morning, after breakfast, as we departed from Austin on a week-long, 1100 mile, RV trip. The trip included three Texas State Parks; South Llano River, Balmorhea, and Davis Mountains; Big Bend National Park; and one RV park in Marathon, Texas.
The trip from Austin to South Llano River State Park (near Junction, Texas) took about 3 hours. When we arrived at the ranger station to check in, there were only three campsites available. We ended up getting the best of the three, which as it turns out, might have been the best one in the camp. It was a nice shady spot located next to a trail that led to the river.
After securing our trailer in the camp site, we drove to town (about 4 miles) and ate dinner at Cooper's Bar-B-Q in Junction, Texas.
Back at camp, we hiked to the South Llano River and discovered a great bird watching center on the way. At the center, we spotted several birds; Summer Tanager; Indigo Bunting; Painted Buntings; Black Headed Grosbeak; Scott's Orioles; and many Cardinals and House Finches.
It was a perfect evening with calm winds and temperatures around 75 degrees. We sat outside in our camp chairs until the sun went down and watched the campground slowly get quiet and go to sleep.
We set our alarm for 5 a.m. so that we could get an early start on our 6-hour drive to the Davis Mountains State Park in Fort Davis, Texas. Gas stations are sparse along this stretch of I-10, so I filled up at Junction and planned to top off the tank in Sonora (about 100 miles from Junction), and top off the tank again in Fort Stockton (about 100 miles from Sonora).
Even with a fairly strong head wind, we managed to average about 65 miles an hour (and about 10 miles a gallon). We landed in Balmorhea State Park (near Balmorhea, TX) around 1:30 pm and drove through the park to see what it has to offer.
The main attraction at Balmorhea State Park is the pool that is built around an underground spring. The water is crystal clear and looked very inviting on this hot afternoon in west Texas.
But as of April, 2012, swimmers began experiencing rashes from something in the water. So the pool was closed until further notice... And there's nothing to do in Balmorhea State Park but swim in the pool, so it was a ghost town - not a person in sight, so we proceeded to Davis Mountains State Park.
Arriving at a State Park on Sunday afternoon is a good time to get a great campsite. Most of the weekenders have left and only the full-timers and vacationers remain. It was very hot. I'm guessing the temperature was in the mid 90s. We found a site that had more shade next to the one that was assigned to us, so we went to the office and switched sites (even though it was campsite 13).
After getting settled into our site, I was finally able to open a beer and sit back and relax a bit. Six hours of travel is more than I typically want to do on any given day...
We ate at the Black Bear restaurant at the Indian Lodge located inside the park and run by the park service. The food and service was very good and the prices were very affordable.
After dinner, we sat outside the RV and enjoyed the evening and our camping lights attached to our awning. It was a nice end to a very long day...
We started the day with an early hike up Skyline Trail. We didn't go far up the trail before we decided it was getting too steep and strenuous - besides, there's a road that runs along the trail that you can drive on to get to the top of the mountain. We decided the effort would be better spent on one of the other trails - the Montezuma Quail Trail.
On the way to the Montezuma Quail Trail, we stopped at one of the bird watching areas to see what species of birds were migrating through the area. There's also a Visitor's Center where you can get Wi-Fi and learn more about the local wildlife and fauna.
The Montezuma Quail Trail is only .8 miles long, but makes quite a climb and feels a little more like a 2-mile hike. It was a very beautiful hike and the views at the top of the mountain were spectacular.
We returned to camp for breakfast and rest. After showers, we drove to Marfa to see what that town had to offer, besides the Marfa Lights. After almost giving up on finding a good place to eat, we stumbled across the historic El Paisano Hotel located about a block from the town square. We sat in the bar and had delicious carne asada tacos and drank cold beer at the bar that overlooked the courtyard.
When we returned to Davis Mountains State Park, we decided to go back to the bird viewing area to try and get some bird pictures with my new 70-300 lens. We got some great pictures and headed back to camp for another evening of rest and cerveza.
After breakfast, we headed to Alpine, Texas to visit one of the craft shops and eat lunch. We saw a video of the Marfa Lights in the back room of the Apache Trading Post located on the west end of town. Afterwards, we ate lunch at a sandwich shop in the midtown area.
We left Alpine and headed back to Fort Davis and had ice cream at the Fort Davis Drug Store and Old Texas Inn.
That evening, we visited the McDonald Observatory located 13 miles from the state park. We attended the Twilight Program at 7:30pm and the Star Party at 9:30. Both were excellent presentations and turned us both into beginner astronomers!
We weren't ready to leave the great Davis Mountains State Park, but knew that we needed to keep to our schedule. We headed back through Alpine on our way to the Rio Grande Village, Big Bend, Texas. Our route took us through Marathon, TX and south on Texas 385 to Big Bend.
The trip wasn't long, but when we got to the Rio Grande Village, the temperature was near 100 degrees and climbed to 104 at 6:30pm. It was quite a shock after coming from Davis Mountains State Park.
We bought two bags of ice and filled up with gas at the store in the park. We planned to do a hike somewhere in the Chisos Mountains the next morning.
The best part of the day was in the evening when we captured some beautiful sunset pictures of the mountains just south of Boquilles Del Carmen, Mexico.
We got an early start on the Lost Mine trail in the Chisos Mountains. The temperature was much nicer than the Rio Grande area, and after a good night's sleep, our moods had improved and we were ready for a great new day.
After hiking the Lost Mines trail (1100 feet in elevation change and a round trip of 5 miles), we ate lunch at the park restaurant located in the Chisos Mountains Lodge area. The food and cold iced tea was very refreshing!
We hiked the short Window View trail and went to the Visitor's Center to browse the books and shop for souvenir magnets. Afterwards, we headed back to the Rio Grande Village and relaxed all afternoon. It was way too hot to do anything else.
The day had come to start making our way back towards Austin. On the way back, we stayed at the Marathon Hotel and RV Park located about 90 miles from the Rio Grande Village. When we arrived in town, we had beers at the Gage Hotel with some folks we met from Georgetown, Texas, who were trying to get a beer and relax on their way to Lajitas.
Later, we had beers and burgers at the White Buffalo Bar at the Gage Hotel and hiked back to the Marathon Hotel and RV Park to wind down for the evening.
We watched the sunset and enjoyed the rest of the evening taking pictures of the Hotel's courtyard and night sky. The moon was almost full and was the eve of the Super Moon that would occur the next day(May 5th).
We drove 60 miles from Marathon to Fort Stockton and ate breakfast at IHOP on our journey back to South Llano River State Park. The food was great and exactly what we needed to get us through the next 200 miles back to Junction, Texas.
After getting set up again at South Llano River SP, we went to town and had chicken fried steaks at the historic Isaac's Restaurant.
Afterwards, we went back to camp and enjoyed the last night of our West Texas Adventure RV trip sitting out under the stars and watching fireflies.
On this last day of our trip, before we hit the road, I decided to get in a little fly fishing at sunrise. It turned out to be a great idea. I caught two small crappie and a largemouth bass - not a bad way to start off the day.
When I got back to camp, I quickly hooked the trailer to our truck and left the park so that we could get an early start towards home (in our haste, we forgot our hummingbird feeder - in the picture above, you can see it hanging in the tree in front of our awning).
So ends our 1100 mile West Texas Adventure trip. We had great fun and good times on this meaningful adventure and hope to do it again someday soon.