Friday, February 11, 2011

Fort Davis & McDonald Observatory

Driving north out of Big Bend we re-entered the vast ranchlands of west Texas, and the landscape got pretty dull until we came to the Davis mountains area, where the prickly scrub groundcover was replaced with golden grass dotted with junipers and dark exposed ledge and boulders - quite beautiful. We made camp at David Mountains State Park, just uphill from the little town of Fort Davis. The campground is in a hollow surrounded by peaks, and is almost exactly one mile high in elevation. At the bottom of this picture you can see Gigantor and the Whale (click to enlarge):

While here we hiked some of their rugged trails on slopes where javelinas forraged:

And I rode up to the mountain top on a trail of loose, jagged rocks lined with blood-thirsty thorned shrubs. One of my least favorite rides of all time, but the views from the top made it worth the time and bloodshed:

The dusty little town had a cute little tex-mex restaurant, at which we enjoyed a delicious and inexpensive meal of enchiladas, and a great whole-foods market where, on Jim and Julie's recommendation, we got excellent pastries for the next day's breakfast.
Then we headed higher into the hills to Davis Observatory, run by the University of Texas. Here we attended a Star Party, where we were able to look through telescopes at various celestial bodies. When we arrived at dusk the temperature was nearly 70 degrees, but while inside waiting for the party to start a front blew in and the temperature plummeted into the 30's. By the time we went outside to the telescopes it was in the 20's, and the atmosphere, which appeared clear to the naked eye, was disturbed by the colliding air masses and dust particles. Another disturbance was a busload of teenagers which transformed our intimate evening into one buzzing with the urgent chatter of 50 hormone-infused voices. Actually, they were remarkably well-behaved and their presence did not undermine our enjoyment of the evening.

The massive telescopes in the background are for research. In the foreground, next to the visitor's center, is one of the smaller scopes that we commoners are allowed to peer through:

We viewed the waxing crescent moon:

Jupiter and several of her moons:

and this double star cluster:

Pretty cool stuff - another unique experience that we have stumbled upon in our travels. Next stop: Carlsbad Caverns...coming soon!

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