Even though we should be pretty good at reading touristic literature after all these years of travel, the Davis Mountains area has been a challenge. We read the brochures and descriptions and they have so little to do with what we actually see and experience. For example, there is a circular drive through the mountains that is described as a scenic wildlife viewing area. Well, we took the drive and the area near our campground and the McDonald Observatory had some nice views of the mountains, but most of the drive went through arid ranch land. Not only did we see no wildlife; we didn’t even see a steer. As we turned north for the final stretch we looked at one another and said, “What was that all about?” The only wildlife we have seen here was in the campground - deer and javelina.
The towns in the area are very small and understandably don’t have much going on, but the tourist brochures would have us think otherwise. The town of Marfa is supposed to be renowned for it art galleries. Well, we found a beautifully restored Hotel Paisano that had a few photographs of sand dunes for sale in a side room, but that was about it. We wanted to have lunch, but the guests of the hotel can only eat dinner there. Strenuous scouring of the side streets yielded a Dairy Queen and a greasy spoon diner. Marfa’s other claim to fame is mysterious lights that people see at night hovering over the fields. After all those art galleries, we don’t plan to return for the balls of light!
Then we moved on to Alpine, which supposedly has a nicely restored down town. The town is so small, we drove every street in the central area. An occasional nice bank or shop was a rarity among the utilitarian buildings. But what all those towns do have is a remarkable court house building. In most other towns both in the US and overseas, the center of worship - church, temple or synagogue - tends to be the most prominent and attractive building in town. Perhaps here people worship at the Scales of Justice.
So we returned to Ft. Davis National Historic Area. If it’s run by the NPS, it’s got to be good and it was. Forts in this part of the US don’t look like the forts you see in John Wayne movies, because there just aren’t enough trees to build a stockade. Here they are a collection of barracks built to house the soldiers that were trying to protect travelers coming from the East to the California Gold Rush from the local Indians. The travel route was determined by access to water and Davis was part of a necklace of forts that protected the southern route, which could be used for travel west even in the winter. After the Civil War two regiments of Buffalo Soldiers were stationed here. The Indians called the African American troops buffalos, because the consistency of their hair reminded them of the hair a buffalo has between its horns. The fort was in use until 1891 and was in bad shape when the park service acquired it in the 1960’s. As funds become available, the buildings are lovingly restored and furnished to appear as they did at the time. An attraction that lived up to its description.