Wednesday morning at Davis Mountains State Park (DMSP) was clear and bright.
For the first time ever, I adjusted downward my water pressure regulator from 60 PSI down below 40 PSI. This park is known for high water pressure and I felt like 60 PSI put the plumbing more at risk than necessary. One of the side effects of turning down the pressure is water used for showering goes down as well. It worked a little too well and I adjusted it up to 50 PSI after my shower.
Wednesday afternoon we went up to the McDonald Observatory (McDonald Observatory Tour) to tour the telescopes. Then Thursday evening we went back up the mountain to the end of Skyline Drive to access the Internet.
From the rock shelter, parts of Fort Davis National Historic Site, much of Fort Davis and the roads to Alpine and Marfa can clearly be seen.
The views are so beautiful, even without the need for Internet access, I would still come regularly to this overlook.
Our original plan and the one documented in my Day Timer calendar as well as my last DMSP posting (Adjusting to Altitude and Making Plans), was to go to the Fort Davis National Historic Site on Thursday. Something was off in my head because I insisted on Thursday that it was Chihuahaun Desert Research Institute (CDRI) day. So off we went to CDRI (Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute).
After we returned to camp, I looked at the calendar and apologized to Linda for being a dork. She was right as usual. Here is the silver linking. After the Saturday evening lecture in the State Park’s amphitheater, waiting until Monday to visit the Historic Site turned out to be a very good thing.
After doing laundry at the Davis Mountain Laundry, we went back to camp for lunch. An early afternoon visit to Fort Davis Historical Society’s Overland Trail Museum turned out to be a bust. The museum was closed. No revised hours were posted on their door. The hours posted on the Internet are 1:00 to 5:00 PM weekdays.
After dinner, we walked the dogs and then hung out in our campsite. At 8:30 PM, we left for the Star Party at the McDonald Observatory (McDonald Observatory Star Party). It ended up being a late night (for us). We were in bed by midnight.
We started out by eating lunch in Alpine at the Reatta Restaurant. Both Linda and I had hamburgers and fries.
Next, we had trouble finding the Museum of the Big Bend on the Sul Ross University campus. Neither Apple nor Google maps could provide decent directions. We were so lost I started looking for a campus cop to ask directions. We figured it out. The exhibits took two hours to go through exhibits (Museum of the Big Bend at Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas).
Before the grocery store, we stopped at the hardware store across the street and got a broom for inside of our rig.
The Porter’s in Alpine is larger and carries a bigger selection. There were a few items like unsweetened plain almond milk that the Fort Davis Porter’s doesn’t carry. We also found the low-cal ice cream Linda craves. We stuffed all the cold stuff into our small Yeti cooler for the 45 minute drive back to camp.
Later in the afternoon, we ate the ice cream for dinner.
Wanted: Soldiers for Frontier Service
At 6:30 Saturday evening, we walked over to the amphitheater to attend a talk by a Fort Davis National Historic Site Ranger. I expected the usual dry history talk. Instead, what we got was a riveting discussion on what soldier life was like centered on the food they ate.
The ranger brought along a mess kit, the kind that the soldiers from the fort would have used in the 1880’s while out in the field on patrols. It was a basic camping kit consisting of a tin frying pan with a plate that acted as a lid. A fork, knife and spoon. A small compressed block of tobacco and hardtack.
The ranger broke off pieces of hardtack and shared them with the audience. He had made it the year before and it still looked fresh. Hardtack is a baked mixture of flour, water and salt. Salt is mixed with flour. Then just enough water is added to create a paste which is flattened out in a pan and baked. The ranger noted that the point of baking is more about drying out the flour paste than anything else.
Hardtack was an apt name as this isn’t something you can easily chew. As long as it doesn’t get damp, it will last 10 years or more. When I broke of small bits and ate them, I had the uneasy feeling that I might break my teeth.
The subsequent dutch oven cooking demonstration was a collaborative effort between rangers from the Fort Davis National Historic Site and Park Hosts from Davis Mountains State Park. The State Park host started off the dutch oven demonstration by talking, in general, about dutch ovens. Today, dutch ovens similar to the one shown below costs around $60 on Amazon. Dutch ovens were so highly prized in early American history, that Martha Washington has been said to have listed her Dutch ovens in her will.
The Historic Site Ranger lit the coals in the charcoal starter box as the State Park Host talked about her kit.
Dutch ovens get hot. Handling burning charcoal briquettes can be dangerous. Protect hands by using welding gloves or something similar that resists extreme heat. Since the bottom of the dutch oven lid comes in contact with food, don’t rest the lid directly on the ground. Instead, set the lid down on a trivet. Briquette tongs (silver metal with wooden handles) are needed to move briquettes from the starter box to under the dutch oven and on the lid of the dutch oven. The tongs are also needed to rearrange the briquettes during baking. During baking, the dutch oven lid has burning charcoal briquettes on it. The lid lifter (black iron looking thing) is used to safely lift the lid without dumping burning briquettes into the food or worse, burning humans. The dutch oven lid has a high lip on it so the briquettes won’t easily fall off.
Not labeled in the above picture is a dutch oven liner. It is the white paper sticking out from under the lid. Liners are used to make cleanup easier. Dutch ovens need to be taken care of same as cast iron skillets (Lodge care instructions).
The dutch oven is setting on what appears to be some sort of sheet metal (shelf?) sheet with the edges bent up at a 90 degree angle. The sheet metal forms a flat base for both the oven and briquettes. The briquettes do better on this type of surface because air can get to the briquette and ash can easily be removed. The Historic Site Ranger used an old-style metal garbage can lid.
The Park Host’s recipe was Simple Cobbler.
The Park Host counted out the correct number of briquettes and placed them on the sheet metal base. The she put the dutch oven on top of the briquettes. Off with the lid and fluff up the liner.
Dutch Oven Temperature Charts are used by cooks to know how many charcoal briquettes to place below and on the lid of the dutch oven to achieve a given temperature.
Add butter and let it melt. Spread it around. Then add the fruit filling. In this case, canned apple pie mix. At this point, someone in the audience asked if the people in the fort during the nineteenth century had access to canned pie filling. The Historic Site Ranger, a historian, said yes.
Next, the batter is “spread” out over the pie filling.
Then the lid goes on. The lid goes on the dutch oven. The correct number of burning charcoal briquettes are laid out over the lid.
When the tongs get hot, get your gloves on.
While the food cooks inside the dutch oven, keep the heat as consistent as possible. Every five minutes or so, pickup the whole dutch oven and rotate clockwise a quarter turn. Then, immediately rotate the lid a quarter turn counter-clockwise. This has the effect of moving the briquettes (heat sources) relative to the food cooking in the oven. Makes sure the food is evenly cooked.
If you can’t wait, check to see if the food is done.
Make sure no ashes get in the food. When the liner sticks up around the lid, sometimes ashes can end up in the food. Ashes will need to be cleared away from the pot.
When the food is done, remove the briquettes from the lid. Then pop the lid and serve.
Move the dutch oven to where food can be served from.
Good food for the audience. As fast as it was put into bowls, a happy camper was taking a bowl back to their seat.
Not shown, was the pork dish the Historic Site Ranger cooked in his dutch oven.
The lid to the Ranger’s dutch oven can also be used as a frying pan. His pork dish was made to be put on flour tortillas and served. These were also popular with the audience.
A closer view shows the dutch oven lid being used as a frying pan.
All in all, I can’t rave enough about how fun this event was. It was a great example of cooperation between Davis Mountains State Park and Fort Davis National Historic Site. Many thanks to both for their good works and dedication to preserving our nation’s history.
Hope to see you on the road ahead!