Wednesday, August 19 Through Saturday, August 29, 2020
Twenty years ago (or so), the first year we owned an RV, we took our fifth wheel trailer to West Texas on I-10 West. At Balmorhea, we turned south on TX-17. Midway between Balmorhea and Fort Davis is Wild Rose Pass (Elevation 5,554 feet), a fitting gateway to an unforgettable Texas treasure: the Davis Mountains. It was immediately clear we had stumbled onto something special.
Just before the town of Fort Davis, a sign pointing to the right directs travelers to Davis Mountains State Park‘s entrance, 3 miles away. TX-118 is sandwiched between Limpia Creek on the right and the State Park on the left. The State Park towers over the road. Trees lining the creek crowd the road. Breathtaking scenery.
The above picture was taken from the west inside the park on Indian Lodge Trail. Two roads can be seen. Skyline Drive winds up and over the mountains towering over TX-118. TX-118 is the road that starts on the upper left and winds its way down to the mid center. The creek runs through the bright green trees paralleling TX-118.
Even with Covid weirdness and after twenty years of visiting this park, we still get the same feeling of awe and wonder when we pull up to the ranger station to check in.
With the pandemic and all the associated drama, there were no face-to-face interactions with park rangers.
Admittedly, the normal check-in process was non-existent. Even though we had reservations for a specific campsite, we stopped at the ranger station on the way in. Told a ranger/park host our name and continued on to our campsite. This was a much better experience than the usual stand in line followed by 20 minutes to receive a campsite assignment and check-in.
Visitors should expect July and August to be hot during the day. Shade is important. The campground elevation is around 5,000 feet. Texas summer sun at this elevation can be brutal on sensitive skin.
Portable Gazebos make excellent shade shelters. We used two shade shelters oriented roughly east-west. For low afternoon sun pouring into the west side of the shade shelters, we put up a side shade panel with long bungie cords attached to the bottom corners. With the side panel bottoms pulled away from shade shelter legs, we get better airflow resulting in cooler shade temperatures.
Portable dog kennel panels surround the campsite so the dog (and the owners) are more comfortable hanging out in the campsite. It helps to have a mellow dog like our Benji.
In this park, campsites are rarely level. Leveling in full hookup sites one through fifteen is easily. We avoid full hookup sites on the hill (sites seventeen through twenty-seven). Hill sites are nearly impossible to level in for motorhomes, vans and truck campers. Some people in high-end motor homes make a good go of it. Trailers can typically be leveled without too much effort.
Some water and electric only sites can be tricky to level in as well. It just depends on the site.
Full hookup sites come with cable TV. This is a nice touch as it can be difficult for satellite TV dishes to see the southern sky because of the surrounding mountains. No over the air broadcast signals (both TV and radio) make it into the campgrounds.
The park’s sewer system was replaced several years ago. For some unknown reason, the sewer connections all ended up being less than ideal and more than a little inconvenient. The connections are too far away from the RV pad. The connections are too far above grade. The connections aren’t threaded.
Two sewer hoses totaling 25 feet are used to reach the connection. The sewer hoses dip below the level of the connection. The dip can be seen in the picture above. Poopy water pools in the dip and solids settle out and stick to the inside of the hose. Icky. Disconnecting hoses on go-home day without spilling raw sewage is nearly impossible. These problems are pretty standard regardless of the campsite. Less prepared campers sometimes make a big mess of things.
Most days were in the upper eighties to lower nineties. A few days reached the mid to upper nineties. It may look lush and green but the park is still in the desert. It is dry. Overnight July/August temperatures often drop into the upper fifties or lower sixties. We only used our air conditioner during one particularly hot afternoon. At night we would start out using our rooftop Fantastic Fans and then turn them off overnight when the camper was too cold.
This park has unusually high water pressure, especially in winter months. In winter, the high water pressure helps keep the water lines from freezing. We have seen the water pressure over 90 PSI. Most RV’s shouldn’t have inlet water pressure exceeding 60 PSI. We use an adjustable pressure regulator with a pressure gauge.
Having spent a number cold December nights in the park, when the temperature gets down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit, our pressure regulator and hose will freeze all the way up to the RV. When we are on the shady side of the campground road, it an take all day for things to thaw enough to get water flowing again. Remember, the pressure drops at the pressure regulator. The spigot won’t freeze but everything between the spigot and the RV will.
Our new anti-freeze strategy is to just fill the fresh water tank, unhook the hose and pressure regulator and run water through the internal water pump. We have a four season camper so the tanks don’t freeze above 10 degrees Fahrenheit.
During these Covid times, all state buildings, including park restrooms, require wearing a facemask inside. The full hookup area restrooms, while relatively clean for a state park, haven’t been updated in more than fifteen years. While everything still mostly works, the showers, stalls, sinks and counters need remodeling.
The full hookup area restroom (above picture, building on the left) is one of the park provided sites where WIFI is available. The WIFI antenna is the roof. The WIFI is slow and is generally unusably slow whenever the park is full and the patrons are active. We did make good use of the WIFI early in the morning before the sun was up. However, we were on the edge of the WIFI signal at our campsite. The orange Jeep in the lower right hand side of the above picture marks the beginning of our campsite.
There is absolutely no mobile telephone or mobile Internet service in any of the campgrounds. The town of Fort Davis has excellent AT&T and Verizon mobile service. Along Skyline Drive, there are two scenic overlooks with mobile service.
We prefer the Overlook at the end of Skyline Drive for using our mobile phones and to access the mobile Internet.
In the campgrounds, woodpeckers are often heard pounding away on trees and utility poles. Fortunately, woodpeckers are only a summer thing. A number of other bird species are in the park depending on the season.
Vultures are constantly on the lookout for food or perhaps waiting for the weekend to be over so they can reclaim a campsite or two.
Deer are common and seem relatively unconcerned with humans.
In addition to snakes (which I’ve never seen in the park), the park has two animals that are dangerous for dogs. Javalina and mountain lions. Javalina are common. Almost everyone who has been to the park has seen one. While some javalina travel alone, most travel together in packs. When any member of the pack is threatened, the whole pack can respond. In the wild, Wolves and coyotes are javalinas’ mortal enemies. The mere presence of a wolf or coyote can be considered a mortal threat to the pack. Since dogs are similar in behavior and characteristics to wolves and coyotes, javalina do not differentiate between dogs and these other natural predators. Large dogs are no match for ten adult Javalinas. Javalina packs are often larger.
Mountain lions are rare but not unknown in the park. Around 15 years ago, after dark, I came face to face with a mountain lion in my campsite looking to make a quick snack of my dogs. After a tense ten minute standoff, the mountain lion left. Had the dogs been outside alone, one or both of them would have ended up as cat food.
Other odd looking wildlife can be found as well. For example, the rather large not cuddly centipede looking fellow above.
Davis Mountains State Park was largely built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s. The park has done an excellent job of preserving this heritage. The best known example, Indian Lodge is pictured above.
With the restoration of voter mandated state sales tax based park funding, necessary maintenance projects are now being done on important historically significant structures like Indian Lodge.
Indian Lodge is a gracious full service alpine hotel snuggled into the mountainside in Davis Mountains State Park. The large adobe structure is full of architectural details inside and out that significantly enhance its charm and mystery.
Because of the pandemic, we weren’t able to do many of the things we normally do when staying in this park. Here is a list of places we might visit in normal years:
- Fort Davis National Historic Site
- McDonald Observatory
- Chihuahaun Desert Nature Center
- Nature Conservancy Madera Canyon Trail
- Fort Davis Overland Trail Museum (historically, whether or not the museum is operational at any given time is a gamble – just keep trying – someday it will be open)
- Fort Davis Scenic Loop Drive (map)
- Alpine Sul Ross University Museum of the Big Bend
- Marfa Lights
We have been returning to Davis Mountains State Park on average once each year since 2002. This park became our favorite Texas State Park the first time we saw it. It remains our favorite today.
During this stay, I hiked a number of park trails. Some for the first time and others for the second or more time. Hikes will be covered in subsequent blog posts.
Hope to see you on the road ahead!