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!


  1. It sounds like more than just the boys are getting an education on this trip. Be safe and Enjoy!

    It's about time.

  2. Interesting Post!! Texas sure is a BIG state...600 miles from El Paso to San Antonio and you still have many miles to reach the eastern border;-)

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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