From a distance, the West Texas’ Davis Mountains appear to float above the Chihuahuan Desert like a smoky mirage. Formed millions of years earlier by volcanic activity, they rise in green slopes punctuated by pine and oak trees, carpets of golden meadows that wander through the canyons, and jumbles of rocky spires and intensifying peaks. They are at more than 8,000 feet which are a remarkable contrast to the flatlands of the desert, where the sun digs up tricks and a dark, stellar night covers them up once again.
With lodging protected in the agrarian town of Fort Davis, we reserved an afternoon for exploring the Davis Mountains Scenic Loop, which is a 75-mile stretch of road in the Texas 118 and the Texas 166 which is the loftiest public highway in the state, and definitely among the most picturesque.
We followed the park’s primary roadway through groves of gray oaks, Emory oaks, and junipers shading a string of picnic spots and camping areas, and pulled into the car park of the park’s historic Indian Lodge, integrated in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Here, at the lodge’s Black Bear Restaurant, we unfolded our map to prepare our day.
We stopped to admire the stunning view of a broad, green valley hemmed in by the horizon loaded with mountains. After 10 miles, we stopped at a picnic turnout at Dead Man’s Canyon to marvel at the stunning view of a broad, green valley hemmed in by the horizon full of mountains. Inning accordance with the Fort Davis Historical Society, Dead Man’s Canyon got its name from an event back in the 1880s, when the snow-covered body of a young guy named Horace Powe was discovered propped against a stone with 11 bullet holes in him.
Stimulate 78 turns off Texas 118 about a mile later and results in the McDonald Observatory, which is a research unit of the University of Texas and among the world’s leading centers for the research study. We then briefly stopped at the visitors center for a self-guided trip pamphlet that led us to the top of Mount Locke.
Just past the picnic area, the roadway makes a sharp, blind curve to the right. Off in the distance, beyond the main gate to the Preserve, is the great north face of Mount Livermore, the highest top of the Davis range. We could plainly see Baldy Peak, the acme at 8,378 feet.
The Loop cuts through mountain gaps and the windswept valleys and makes a dramatic drop down into a large plain, where it turns left onto Texas 166 for a long arch some 46 miles back to Fort Davis. The highway slowly slopes up through a broad swath of turfs and junipers, then continues dead-on towards the 7,686-foot Sawtooth Mountain. Its distinct precipice reminded us of broken teeth in a saw blade. On the right is the Rockpile, a jumble of gray stones the size of plane garages.
From our point of view which was more than 6,700 feet above sea level, Texas unfolded in inexpressible charm. We then descended into still another canyon and then stopped to rest at a remote picnic area, for a little while transfixed by a lizard sunning himself on a rock and a hawk riding the thermals overhead. And after that we followed the Loop out of the mountains into a savannah of lawns and scrub brush, finding ourselves as soon as again in the Chihuahuan Desert.
We rolled with Texas 166 as it bent east and eventually came to the point of Rocks, a cluster of incredible boulders that shelter a couple of picnic tables. Earlier that day, Lindy and I had actually stopped at the Stone Village Market in Fort Davis to get deli sandwiches, and we transported them out here for a picnic while we browsed through field glasses for pronghorn sheep that sometimes graze close by.