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2020-12-29 On The Texas Mountain Trail

Rock Wren - Salpinctes obsoletus
It’s hard not to love the in-your-face attitude of this wren. I stopped to view the scenery and meet the birds. This was my second journey through the Davis Mountains. Truly one of the many Texas gems.

When I drove away from the Guadalupe Mountains, I took TX-54 south from US-62 to Van Horn Texas. I kept seeing road signs along the highway saying “The Texas Mountain Trail”. I wanted to drive through the Davis Mountains again. I’d passed through them during my first visit last March (2020) and I wanted to see what winter wonders I might be in store on this trip. 

From Van Horn I drove east on I-10 for 35 miles and when I reached Kent, I turned south on TX-118. Again, I saw those The Texas Mountain Trail signs. By this time it was getting dark, and rather than drive a winding mountain road at night (what a waste that would have been), I found a wide spot to pull off the road and work on the morning’s pictures from Pine Springs, and rest for the night.

Early Wednesday morning, I resumed my trip south and enjoyed the lovely scenery as I approached the Davis Mountains. I encountered some interesting wildlife on this drive. Several Mule Deer bucks crossed in front of me, making me glad it wasn’t a night drive. Then something I’d never seen before caught my eye. A huge Wild Boar was rooting in the tall grass that grew near the road. He was quite the brute and must have been close to three feet at the shoulder. I had the road to myself and could have stopped, but the light was dim and I didn’t expect the beast to stick around for a portrait. 

Later, and further along the road, I stopped at a roadside picnic area near the Madera Canyon Trail I’d seen on my previous trip. The woods around the picnic area were silent, and I opted to keep moving south. Had it been a different season, I might have lingered. Later on the drive, nearer Fort Davis, I found a roadside picnic stop with a sweeping view of the valley below, and I stopped to enjoy the scene. While admiring the scenery, I noticed birds about. Western Bluebirds were skittish here and resisted my efforts to capture decent images, but a Rock Wren, Phainopepla, and a mob of scrub-jays were more cooperative. 

Phainopepla - Phainopepla nitens
Even a strong breeze could not diminish this bird’s pompadour. I stopped to view the scenery and meet the birds in the Davis Mountains. 

The drive led me through Fort Davis, Alpine and finally Marathon Texas, where I planned to stay for a few days and catch up with my image preparations from the Guadalupes, and weave the tale of my time there. I checked into an RV Park for two days, believing I could finish on my images and storytelling, while arranging an itinerary for a visit to Big Bend. As I checked in, the clerk warned me they predicted a snowstorm for the region in the next few days. I thought that might be an interesting twist. The skies I saw were sunny, with only a few clouds in sight.

In planning my Big Bend stay, I was lucky to find a booking for a single night in Cottonwood for the 3rd of January. It would be a dry camp (no hookups), but I welcomed the opportunity. Camping spots inside the park come at a premium. Most folks book their accommodations six months in advance. This was my best option to explore the park. It’s a vast area, and to execute all my exploratory hopes while camping outside the park would be a lot of wear and tear driving. With a commitment of a two-day stay in Marathon on the 30th and 31st, I booked three nights in Terlingua, just north of the park’s Maverick Gate.

Santiago Peak from TX-118 - Scenery
After the winter storm passed and the roads were cleared, I was able to complete my drive from Alpine to Big Bend National Park in Texas.

Do you remember that prediction of snow? Well, it came through in spades. Getting fueled up on Sunday for the road ahead, I was planning on a drive south from Marathon into the park, but the roads were a mess. I spoke with another traveller at the pumps and learned he’d come from Terlingua in his 4WD truck and just barely made it to Alpine. I decided against heading south down the road I’d planned, but I didn’t want to extend my stay in Marathon either. So I drove west on US-90 to Alpine. On my way, I phoned the RV Park in Terlingua where I’d booked a spot for the next three nights. The clerk said they shut the road down, and I should stay in Alpine for the night (excellent advice I later learned), and drove south on New Year’s Day over icy, but cleared roads. 

As I drove south, I noticed a multitude of big-rig RVs caravanning north. Could it be that fair-weather visitors had abandoned some of those precious RV sites in the park? When I reached my camp in Terlingua, I called to investigate. I was lucky this weather system came through. Several openings in the Rio Grande Village (with hookups) were now available, so I booked a two-night stay there on the 4th and 5th of January. Who said cold-snowy weather was a bad thing? Big Bend, here I come!

The road from Alpine was again TX-118 and part of The Texas Mountain Trail. I was curious about how this route came by this name. I learned the Texas Mountain Trail Region includes most of West Texas from El Paso to east of the Guadalupe Mountains and extends through the Big Bend region, east to the Rio Grande, south of Sanderson Texas. The name given to these highways now made perfect sense.

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