Saturday, August 04, 2018

West Texas

I have lived in Texas my whole life.  I have had Big Bend National Park on my list of places to see for years, but I've never made it a priority.  This was the year.  Big Bend's peek is Thanksgiving and Spring.  I have to say, I pretty much had the park to myself on this visit (we were the ONLY group at all the stops and lunch).  It is, in fact, the desert, so it was pretty toasty, but....it's pretty toasty back in Dallas right now too, and I loved getting to see the sites without a crowd.  The mountains really felt nice, even midday, the canyon area was hot, and I don't think I'd do too many hikes (that's what this park is known for) during the summer, but I really just don't think there is a bad time to see the park.  I put it on my is to check off, but I definitely feel like I need to add it back to explore in a different season.  
 On the way down to Big Bend, I stopped in Big Spring at the historic Hotel Settles.  I stopped here last year.  It's about half way, the rooms are great, the restaurant is delicious, and they have a great pool and hot tub.
 Day 2, I headed to Fort Davis, home of the McDonald Observatory.  This is a trip unto itself.  They have night star parties, but I wasn't there on the right night, so I took part in a sun watch where we got to see solar flares and dark spots.  This is one of only 6 'dark sky' areas in the US, and this one has places that are close enough to stay to make this star gazing more convenient.
 As a bonus, we stopped at For Davis National Historic Site.  It's an old army encampment.
 We also had a lot of tasty meals, despite the less than promising sign....or maybe the sign overselling the sheer number of items available, I can't tell you there was a bad meal anywhere on the road.  Just ask a local.  They are friendly, helpful, and full of great tips.
 We also swung through Marfa.  Marfa has housed some pretty swanky movie stars throughout the years and is a stop on it's own.  This is also home of the famous "Marfa Lights."  Aliens or highway lights?  Regardless, there is a spot to watch and discern the truth along the road.
 I spent several nights in the CUTEST hotel.  The Gage Hotel is in Marathon, Texas.  These towns are LITERALLY in the middle of nowhere and I just can't believe how much they have to offer.  The closest Walmart is 60 miles away.  Most things are closed on Monday (and Tuesday), and there isn't much TO be closed, but what is open (stores and a restaurant at the hotel) far exceeded expectations.
 I don't know that I could do this hotel justice in this post.  Every little nook and cranny is filled with adorable, personalized, and unique details.
 Our rooms overlooked the courtyard with great seating in front of the room, and behind the room on a private patio.
 There are so many flowers and decorations all throughout the grounds.  Look it up, I don't want to fill up *your* device with too many pictures, but this is as much as I can narrow down hotel details for now to even give a taste of what it was like to get to hang out here for a few days!
 There are several entrances to Big Bend.  This one was about 40 miles from our hotel.  Some of the visitor centers were closed for the season, so it was probably an hour or more before we encountered some of the larger visitor centers.
 We only had a day, so the goal was to hit up one of the mountain views (Window View).  This is also where they have a restaurant overlooking this view and lodging for folks staying in the park.
 We took a 40 mile scenic drive called Ross Maxwell.  You wind through the dessert with overlooks at nearby canyons and mountains.
 The final destination on the drive was Santa Elena Canyon.  There is a short walk on a boardwalk to where you can go and stand at the mouth of the canyon where the river runs.
 Big Bend is a birders paradise and we saw our fair share of road runners and all their friends throughout the park (I'd need to do some real studying up to do them justice).  There are a lot of really unique cactus,  friendly looking trails, and again-great star gazing throughout the area.
It was just enough of a preview to let me know I'd definitely love to go do it again now that I know what I'm doing.  Above is a little quirky building I passed halfway between Alpine and Marathon.  It didn't appear to be open for business, but there is apparently the world's smallest Prada store with actual items for sale nearby....so....something for everyone!

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