Monday, April 29, 2013

Fort Davis & the McDonald Observatory

Our Friday afternoon agenda included a visit to Fort Davis National Historic Site and the “Star Party” at the McDonald Observatory in the evening.  We knew we would have some time to kill along the way, so I found some geocaches on our route.

We set out from Marathon to Alpine in the afternoon, enjoying the mountain views along the way.

The road to Alpine

Cave in the mountain










Our first geocache of the day was located at a picnic area in the shadow of “Twin Peaks”.


There were “muggles” in the picnic area, so we had to be sneaky while we searched for the cache.  Bryce got us to the right location, but then Tom found the prize!

Dad found it!

There wasn’t too much else in Alpine to see, but we did stop at the Museum of Big Bend at Sul Ross State University.

Museum of Big Bend at Sul Ross State University

Inside the Museum (which was free!), we learned about the history of Texas, and the role that the Big Bend area played in that history.

Buffalo Soldiers

The Chuckwagon









It was a really interesting museum, and the University looked nice, too.  Their primary degree programs are Geology and Animal Science, among others.

From Alpine, we began our climb in the mountains up to the little town of Fort Davis, but on the way we were in search of another geocache.

On the way to Fort Davis

Most of these caches are hidden at picnic areas or historical markers, which makes it easy to zero in on the approximate location with the car GPS, and then get closer with the handheld GPS when we stop.

Searching for the geocache

We got to the right location, and this tree looked like a good candidate for a hiding place!  It wasn’t there though, and I found it – just by chance!  Mom found this one!

We arrived in the little town of Fort Davis and parked on the main street so we could walk through a few of the little shops.  There were more restaurants than shops, so we checked them out for dinner later.

Nicolas was determined that we were going to come back here for fudge after dinner!

Yes, we bought fudge!

Our next stop was the Fort Davis National Historic Site.  Fort Davis was established to protect travellers along the San Antonio – El Paso Rd.

Soldiers protected travellers on the San Antonio - El Paso Rd.

That gravel road behind the sign is the actual historic road – I can’t imagine travelling along that in a wagon!

Can you imagine travelling in this?

A key post in the defense system of western Texas, Fort Davis played a major role in the history of the Southwest. From 1854 until 1891, troops stationed at the post protected emigrants, freighters, mail coaches, and travelers on the San Antonio-El Paso Road hoping to reach the gold fields of California. Today, Fort Davis is considered one of the best remaining examples of a frontier military post in the American Southwest. It is a vivid reminder of the significant role played by the military in the settlement and development of the western frontier.

Officer Row

When the National Park Service acquired the property in 1961, most of the structures were in ruins.

Many of the buildings were beyond reconstruction

Many of the structures have been restored, and several have been furnished to depict what they looked like in the 1800s when the Fort was in use.

Enlisted Men’s Quarters

Where are the mattresses??!!



Inside the commissary








Officer’s Quarters

Officer's Row

Officer's House








They even had a sewing room!

Hospital (still being restored)

Post Hospital

and the tools of the trade

Surgery Tools

Not a fun-looking splint!









We sure are thankful for advances in medicine!

We enjoyed our tour of this historic fort in the beautiful Davis Mountains.

Rock Formations

Enjoying our history tour!

By the time we finished our tour, we were all getting pretty hungry so we headed back to Fort Davis for dinner – we decided on pizza at Murphy’s.

Time for dinner!

It was good pizza, and we’d definitely recommend it!  We followed it up with Nicolas’ fudge, and Tom and I got ice cream cones.

From there we started making our way up the mountain to the McDonald Observatory for the 9:15pm Star Party.


Our destination in the distance

We continued up the winding road until we reached the Observatory.










McDonald Observatory

We bought our tickets for the Star Party, and wandered around the Visitor Center, checking out the various exhibits.

Nicolas studies Jupiter

Bryce is learning about constellations

Once we had seen everything in the Visitor Center, we wandered outside to wait for sunset.



There were quite a few people waiting for the Star Party, including a group of elementary school kids from San Antonio – I heard one of the parents say that they were driving back to San Antonio after the program – that’s 400 miles!!  Crazy!

Finally, sunset arrived, and we got a few pictures before putting may camera away in the car.  There was no point in carrying it around; I wasn’t going to be able to take pictures during the star program.

Sunset_April 26th

Waiting for the star party

Once the sun was down, it was time to gather in the outdoor amphitheater.  The Astronomer leading our program first took us on a tour of the night sky – identifying various constellations, as well as the International space Station as it flew over, and the planets Jupiter and Saturn. 

Then it was time to move to the telescope park, where they had 9 telescopes set up for us to look through.  The large domed telescopes were set up for viewing of Saturn and Jupiter – VERY COOL! – and other portable telescopes were set up to see several star clusters and multiple views of the full moon.

Even with all the people there, the lines weren’t too long and we got to see everything.  We stayed until about 11 pm, and then embarked on our long drive back to Marathon . . . down the winding mountain road, through Fort Davis and Alpine, and back to Marathon . . . watching for deer along the way . . . and we saw several on the side of the road!

It was a LONG day and a late night, and we were getting up early the next morning to spend the day in Big Bend . . . but that’s another blog post!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Marathon, TX–Big Bend Country

Since we were leaving the Hill Country a week or so earlier than planned, and we didn’t want to rush to Colorado too quickly, we decided that we might as well take a detour down to Big Bend – you never know when we might get another chance to see it!

Tom investigated the various RV Park options, and we decided on a Passport America park in Marathon . . . the Marathon Motel & RV Park.


It got us reasonably close to the National Park without having to pull the RV too far from I-10, and it got good reviews on  We packed up the RV Wednesday morning, and after saying goodbye to our neighbors, we were on the road by 10am.

Leaving North Llano River RV Park

We had about 200 miles to travel on I-10, so at the first rest area we came to, we pulled off so Tom & Nicolas could switch places.  Yes – Nicolas drove the RV the rest of the way to Fort Stockton – 160 miles!

I-10 through Texas

We stopped in Fort Stockton to top off gas and diesel at the Flying J, get some lunch at Subway, and stock up on groceries at Walmart.  Now we were all ready for several days in the remote Texas mountains!

From Fort Stockton, we drove south on Rt. 385, and hardly saw another vehicle for the entire 58 miles to Marathon!

South towards Big Bend

With mountains to each side of us, we gradually climbed in elevation to 4400 ft. in Marathon.  We found the RV Park just outside of town, checked in and got settled into site #5 in the row of 50 amp sites in the back of the park.

The row of 50 amp sites








Site #5

We had some work and school to get caught up on, so Tom went on a motorcycle road while the boys and I got our work done.  Once we were finished, we took a bike ride into Marathon to check out the town and find a few geocaches.

The first one was right in town and although we zeroed in on the general location pretty easily, we needed an extra hint to actually find the cache in it’s hiding place.  Both Bryce and I had looked at the container and wondered if it could be the cache, but it was Tom who actually picked it up and looked at it!

From there, we rode out to the cemetery for our second geocache.

In search for a geocache

In search of the "Marathon Memorial" geocache










Tom and I were bringing up the rear, and by the time we reached the cemetery, the boys had already found the cache and were opening it!

Nicolas found the geocache

Bryce opened it up and signed the logbook for us.

Signing the logbook


Before heading back into town, we rode around the cemetery and read some of the older headstones to learn about the people who had lived in Marathon.

Old graves

Some of them didn’t even have headstones . . .

Really old graves

Back in town, we were going to get an ice cream cone at the Soda Shop, but they closed at 3pm, and it was a few minutes after 3:00!  Then, we were going to ride around some more to see if there was a Catholic Church in town, but we started talking to a woman in front of a small gift shop, and she told us that, yes, there is a Catholic church in town, where it is, and she called somebody she knew to find out the mass time for us!

Talk about small town hospitality!

She also told us about  94-year-old woman who is carving doors for all of the churches in town (3) – she’s finished the doors for the Methodist and Catholic Churches so far . . . so we had to ride by and check them out!

Methodist Church

Catholic Church

She also told us about Eve’s Garden Bed & Breakfast, across from the Catholic Church.

Eve's Garden B&B

It’s all made from “paper crete” . . . similar to paper mache, but holds up better in the rain, and when formed in a dome, it is structurally sound and does not require wood rafters.

We met the owner, and she graciously offered us a tour.  The center of the B & B is a garden – like a courtyard, with guestrooms around it, and it was really beautiful!




I wish I could describe the scent in there – there were so many flowers, it was incredibly fragrant!

We also took a peek in one of the guest rooms – really nice!

A Guest Room

The lap pool

In the main house, there is a lap pool . . . it’s only 4 ft. deep, but looks a lot deeper than that . . . but also looks like it doesn’t have any water in it!

It was really cool!  She also showed us her kitchen and dining room, and we met her daughter who was doing the cooking.

It looks like a really nice Bed & Breakfast, so it you’re ever traveling to Marathon, TX and need a place to stay, you should check it out!




There is also a really nice hotel in town – the Gage Hotel.  We took a look at the Lobby . . . it’s very rustic and ranch-style – very cool!

Gage Hotel Dining Room

They even have a mountain lion!

Mountain Lion

That pretty much covers Marathon, Texas . . . on the way back to the RV Park, we stopped to visit with a couple of donkeys along the road.

Awww . . . aren't they cute??

I think they enjoyed getting some attention!

They love attention

We were busy this weekend with lots of exploring, so there are a couple of long blog posts coming!