Tuesday, August 25, 2020
A connecting trail in Davis Mountains State Park, called the Fort Access Trail, connects to the North Ridge Trail in Fort Davis National Historic Site. The National Historic Site’s trail leads to an overlook. The above picture was taken at the Fort Davis Overlook (Also Known As Scenic Overlook 5,200 feet). From this overlook, the whole fort can be seen as a single entity right at your feet. The town unfolds before you. From here, the grocery store, hardware store, post office, church, laundromat, grammar school and homes. Even the road to Alpine is visible. Tucked out of site behind Sleeping Lion Mountain are the high school, library, courthouse, hotels and restaurants.
Every year except perhaps this pandemic year, the fort’s canons get fired during the Labor Day reenactment. Years ago I hiked this route to see if the Fort Davis Overlook would be a good place to photograph the Labor Day reenactment canon firing. It turned out to be an awesome place and I got great pictures that year.
This year, I wanted to see the fort again, of course. But my main goal was to walk through a section of the trail Linda and I named “The Boulder Field” after the first time we hiked through it. Any description of The Boulder Field always falls short. Pictures can’t do it justice. Short version – The Boulder Field is a great number of very large roundish boulders dunked into the mountaintop. The North Ridge Trail follows a meandering path that mostly stays between the boulders. You can’t miss it. Sounds boring? Wait until you hike it yourself.
The hike starts in Davis Mountains State Park at the end of Skyline Drive where the CCC Overlook is.
Younger people might hike or bike up to the overlook by taking the Skyline Drive Trail or the Old CCC Trail. Older people (we know who we are) might just drive and park at the end of Skyline Drive. Car door to car door took about two hours to get from the CCC Overlook to the Fort Davis Overlook and back. The two hours included hiking, picture taking, contemplation and marveling.
I carried camera, water and phones in a backpack. Wore heavy soled hiking boots and a floppy hat with a wide brim.
Past the stone CCC shelter is the OLD CCC Trail kiosk. The kiosk has a map. It may be worthwhile to orient oneself to the upcoming intersection of four trails. The trail from the stone CCC shelter to the intersection. The Old CCC Trail trailhead, the Skyline Drive Trail trailhead and the Fort Access Trail trailhead.
Follow the signs to the Old CCC Trail trailhead.
The stairs, carved into the mountain, lead down to a flat open area, the four trail intersection.
Turn right to take the Skyline Drive Trail. Left to the Old CCC Trail. Ahead (and a little left) to the Fort Access Trail.
The Fort Access Trail starts out as a climb up a narrow stone stairway.
Over the rise, turn around to see intersection of four trails. The CCC stone shelter and the stone water cistern are visible. On the left, Skyline Drive Trail. The right, Old CCC Trail. The return trail to the CCC Lookout/Overlook and Stone Shelter is hard to pick out of the rock and vegetation.
As the trail climbs, the views become more and more spectacular.
One of many amazing views of Fort Davis, the National Historic Site and the State Park.
The temptation to look back from time to time is satisfied by more amazing views. Skyline Drive Trail follows around the mountain to the left. Skyline Drive appears as a ribbon of blacktop tracing the mountain ridge.
Walking this trail feels like an opportunity to peer into backyards. In this case, the backside of the National Historic Site. The home in the valley is housing for a park ranger. From that house, the only visible road will be the driveway coming to the house from the old fort. There won’t be any other houses visible either. The only sounds will be ones nature makes. Quiet. Peaceful.
On the other side of Sleeping Lion Mountain, the mountain on the other side of the ranger home, city water tanks and the town beyond.
The Fort Access Trail ends here at the National Historic Site’s entrance. Not much changes. The trail characteristics stay pretty much the same no matter which side of the entrance hikers are on. One gets the feeling that the trails were built around the same time by the same people.
Inside the Historic Site property, maps imprinted on something looking like stainless steel are at the entrance and other places where trails connect. Maps like this are especially helpful when hiking without a paper map. The Entrance marks the start of Northridge Trail. Each of the trail marker map has a “you-are-here” helping to orient the hiker to where they are on the trail.
The Northridge Trail winds around and up and down to some degree. It also traverses mountainsides.
Another trail map is at the junction of Northridge Trail and Hospital Canyon Trail.
Not much further down the trail, the tops of boulders in “The Boulder Field” come into view.
The Boulder Field can be tricky to navigate. I got lost in The Boulder Field on the way back. Instead of trying to follow the nonexistent path between the boulders, I had to climb over the tops to see where to go. How embarrassing.
The trail literally snakes around between the boulders.
The Boulder Field has so many twists and turns it is easy to lose the sense of direction.
Wildflowers seem crammed into the oddest places.
All of a sudden, the trail breaks free of The Boulder Field. Turning around to see The Boulder Field from this end, other than the one trail marker in the middle of the boulder field, there are no other signs of trails in that mess of stone.
Wildflowers abound. Even in the August heat, their blooms are plentiful.
Pretty soon the trail marker with map appears marking the junction between the North Ridge Trail and the Tall Grass Loop. The North Ridge Trail ends here. Tall Grass Loop is on the left and the right. To get to the Fort Davis Overlook take the Tall Grass Loop to the right.
The Fort Davis Overlook is a trail spur on the left, off the main Tall Grass Loop Trail.
The overlook is precariously perched at the top of the mountain on a cliff. Fortunately it has rails so visitors can stay inside the lines.
Just to make sure visitors get the safety memo regarding falling off cliffs, there is this handy warning message.
The views are rewarding. The hospital building, on the right with a red roof and wrap around porches, is the largest original fort structure. The hospital is currently receiving an extensive renovation. Two years ago, there was an issue with bats taking over the hospital’s attic space.
The line of houses on the left are the officers quarters. These houses were lined up along magnetic north. The remains of the enlisted men quarters foundations are visible as a line diagonal to the officer’s quarters. These were lined up with True North.
The above buildings house the Historic Site’s Visitor Center (including gift shop), museum, staff offices and workshops. Wrap around porches provide much needed shade to visitors. The parking lot has some spaces for buses and smaller RV’s. Larger fifth wheels may have trouble navigating the narrow turnaround.
Other than getting lost in The Boulder Field, the return trip was quick and drama free. Hikers leave the National Historic Site through the same entrance they came in.
As soon as the CCC Lookout/Overlook comes into view, hikers should start looking for the stairs down to the four trail intersection. From there, hikers will follow the stairs up to the CCC Lookout/Overlook.
On the way back, follow the signs back to the CCC Lookout (overlook). This trail goes back to where the car is parked – at the end of Skyline Drive.
We will definitely do this trail route again.
Hope to see you on the road ahead!