Friday, August 31, 2012

Life of a Frontier Soldier

There's hardly a better place in all the West to imagine the life of a frontier soldier.  Fort Davis National Historic Site makes this possible.  You can tour the barracks and hospital, officers' homes, see kitchens and even march on the parade grounds.  Soldiers serving at Fort Davis were Buffalo Soldiers, African Americans who contributed greatly to the development of the West.  Read more about them here.

You can see a series of short videos chronicling a day in the life of a soldier here

Thanks to the Texas Historical Commission for the photos in today's post!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Big Bend's Mariscal Mine

There's a place on Big Bend National Park's rugged River Road that offers a peek at a early mining operations in the area.  The discovery of cinnabar--a bright red mercury ore--in 1900 encouraged several mining operations over the next few years.  The need for mercury in the First World War led to the building of Mariscal Mine.
From the park's webpage on the Mine:
"Mercury or "quicksilver," as it is known commercially, is the only metal that appears in liquid form at ordinary temperatures. Centuries of use as an amalgam to process precious metals, a detonator for explosives, an electrical conductor, and an agent for dental and medical preparations, made the enigmatic metal a highly valued commodity. While California was the first United States producer of mercury beginning in 1824, the industry advanced to West Texas by the end of the 1800s. From 1900 to 1930, the Terlingua Mining District, which borders present Big Bend National Park on the west, accounted for approximately one-third of the total U.S. output."

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Big Bend's Hot Springs

There's a place in Big Bend National Park where you can seek the same curative waters J.O. Langford sought in 1909 when he came to the area to establish a place to regain health with the 105 degree water that bubbles up from a hole in the ground, right by the Rio Grande. 

What better way to learn about geothermic energy than by putting one leg in the hot spring water and the other in cool river water? 

From the park's website:

"The Hot Springs Historic District preserves the rich history of human occupation from thousands of years past to the not-so-distant past. Visitors can study rock art left behind on the limestone cliffs, picture farms of corn, squash and beans along the river’s floodplain, or imagine what it would have been like to meet at the Hot Springs Post Office in the early 1900s to collect your mail each Monday. By exploring this area all of these stories from the past can come to life."

Click here to read more about Big Bend's Hot Springs Historic District!

Monday, August 27, 2012

A Walk in the Foothills

View of El Capitan from the Trail, by Drew Stuart

A Walk in the Foothills
Texas Mountain Trail board member, Drew Stuart

Guadalupe Mountains National Park celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. In connection with that anniversary, the park, along with a variety of other organizations, launched a program earlier this summer called the “Peak Fitness Challenge.” Trail runners and hikers of all levels are invited to compete and log the miles they travel, on trails in the Guadalupes and in El Paso's Franklin Mountains State Park. You can learn more about the Peak Fitness Challenge – and register to participate – at
Mountains above Bear Canyon, by Drew Stuart

As is the case for many of us who live within sight of El Capitan and the highest peaks in Texas – an elect that can't number more than six or seven hundred people – the Guadalupe Mountains are a kind of polestar for me. Though they are a daily object of contemplation, and I've hiked a number of the park's trails, the anniversary seemed an opportunity to develop a greater familiarity with the mountains. I decided that, in what remains of the 40th anniversary year, I'd try to hike all the trails in the park, which, at a total of 85 miles or so, seemed a reasonable undertaking. I began on Saturday (July 21), with a humble 4-and-a-half-mile loop on the eastern flanks of the mountains, following the Frijole Ranch and Foothills trails.

After the 40-mile drive, the mountains looking Easter-morning fresh, I stopped into the visitors center to look over the maps, though I had a pretty good idea of where I was going. The ranger tried to warn me off my intended trails. It was not the most scenic loop, she said, and a long stretch of it ran alongside – and very near – the highway. “I don't recommend it,” she said, twice. I didn't mention my plan, as an extended conversation with me seemed, at least at that hour, to be something she had very little interest in.

The turnoff to the Frijole Ranch trailhead lies a mile north on the highway from the Pine Springs visitors center. The trail begins at the historic ranch house, built in the 1870s by the Rader brothers and expanded by the Smith family. The Smiths settled in 1906, farmed with water from the nearby spring that now bears their name, and kept beans in their pot by hauling produce over a 60-mile wagon trail to market in Van Horn. From the plaque at the trailhead, one gets the image of a flexible and forbearing clan – their place served not only as a home, but as a schoolhouse for local children, a gathering place for dances and a post office. In addition to the Frijole Ranch Trail, the ranch house marks the head of another, shorter trail – to SmithSprings. For another day.

Up the trail, past junipers, soaptree yuccas, the serrated edges of lechuguilla and sotol, beargrass, smokebush and then sage. Signs of creatureliness along the trail are limited. Limited to insects, scat – of mule deer and coyote, the latter in abundance and testifying to a diet rich in prickly pear tunas – and here and there a bird call. Though desert space is often fullness, here it is hard, for some reason, not to take the lack of creatureliness as kind of an absence.

Boulder at Bear Canyon, by Drew Stuart
But if animal life and its evidence are scant, vegetation is another matter. Higher on the trail, the desert shrubs and cacti give on to alligator juniper and oak, mountain mahogany and bright madrone. Further, pinons and even tall ponderosa pines come into view in the dry washes. Did these big trees spring from seeds carried down from the high country? Do they depend on the intermittent flashing of the draws for water? The washes are frontier colonies of the alpine forest, tumbledown outposts, relics of cooler and wetter centuries, when the high-country kingdom could extend its boundaries.

Walking, I am aware of the vast brown space, to my left, to the east, which in the morning hours seems a featureless waste, though little hillocks and tabletops come clear as the day passes. I think about the Apache, the Mescalero. Down the trail, the view opens to the prow of El Capitan and beyond to the flats between the Sierra Diablo and the Delaware Mountains. Somewhere on those flats is Rattlesnake Springs – where, in August of 1880, an alliance of Apache led by Chief Victorio fought one of the last Indian battles in Texas. Victorio's band represented the last indigenous guerrilla force to resist the U.S. military. 

The Guadalupes as a last refuge, a last chance. They seem to present themselves, to suggest themselves naturally as the place of the last stand – coming from the desolation of whichever direction, the south, east or west, you would see this as a remote fortress, a castle.

Victorio was, apparently, trying to reach the Guadalupes when the battle at Rattlesnake Springs took place. The Texas Rangers and the U.S. Calvary – who, at one point, had a sizable encampment near the present route of the Foothills Trail – had conspired to cut Victorio and his men off from water, by stationing forces at springs all across what is now Hudspeth and Culberson counties. The gambit to drive these last resistors from Texas was successful; after skirmishing around the water of Rattlesnake Springs, Victorio gave up on the Trans-Pecos and turned south. He was killed in Mexico two months later.

The Apache whose circles were clipped here ranged across the Chihuahuan Desert and its mountain ranges – from the Chiricahuas in what's now eastern Arizona, to the Black Range and the other mountains of south-central New Mexico, to the sharp slopes of the Quitmans and across the river into the mountains of Mexico. They went screaming across the flats – one presumes they were intimate with the mountains, that these mountains here, the Sierra Diablo, the Guadalupes, were not simply ground over which they traveled, but that the mountains' textures and gravel might have suggested character, even personality. Did they compare the mountains of their range? From the greener pastures and the streams of the Black Range, for example, these mountains must have seemed harder, more exacting – fitting, perhaps, as a last redoubt. What did they think about these mountains?

In Apache lore, the Guadalupes are often linked with the “White Painted Woman,” one of the tribe's principal deities, and with the rite-of-passage ritual for Apache girls, which is central to the tribe's religious life. And it can seem that there is something feminine about the Guadalupes, the range like a sleeping woman, smiling as she dreams.

The trail crosses another dry wash, coming down from the mountains. The smooth, gray body of a venerable juniper, lightning-charred at the root, has slumped into the wash, the jumble of its limbs down in the limestone. Below the juniper, a precipice of 8 or 10 feet; I imagine what a waterfall it must be, when water ever comes here.

I come to Bear Canyon – a deeper canyon than the ones I've passed – and to a fork in the trail. One trail leads into the canyon and up and over its steep head into the high country. My trail turns back toward the flats. A madrone glows in the foreground up the canyon, its orange-red bark bright like copper wire. Above, a shapely, pyramidal form, a classic mountain shape, and a toothy line of pines at the canyon's crest suggest another, cooler sphere. Below, the trail leads toward a massive boulder – big as a house – that's lodged at the canyon's mouth, a perfect overlook above the eastern desolation; there is shelter and shade in cavities on the rock's eastern side, and the walls of the cavities are blackened and sooty, but not marked, as far as I can see, by art.

 I walk on past another lightning-blasted juniper, leafless, smooth and pale – good fuel – and see two tall ponderosas near the mouth of the wash. I'm surprised how long it has taken me to complete this leg of the hike. Hours have past without my noticing.

I round a bend and hear the tidal surf of the highway, see the visitors center and the park housing and administrative buildings across the road – the industrial scree that the ranger had thought to spare me. She was right: this wouldn't be the hike for a traveler making a day trip or a weekend visit to the park, someone who was seeking, understandably, to maximize grandeur and “wildness.” But as a neighbor to the park, and someone for whom desert loneliness is the rule rather than the exception, I can have other priorities.

The trail bottoms out in the wash that drains Pine Springs Canyon. There is soil here, real soil, not just rock: a deep layer of chocolate-colored dirt exposed in the walls of the arroyo. It's a vast catchment, this canyon in the center of the high Guadalupes, and must drain an area large enough to account for the accumulation of soil.

Following the wash, I walk along a grassy meadow, through a pygmy forest of cholla, cat claw, yucca and scattered junipers. I pull off the trail and lay out in the shade of two junipers, my second stop of the day, drink water, let my sweat dry and look back into Pine Canyon, a “V” framing mountains.

I take the return leg, running parallel to the highway, at a brisker pace, looking back at the Guadalupes, trying to trace my path along their flank and seeing that they are larger than I thought when I was up against them. I arrive back at the trailhead about four hours after I began.

– Andrew Stuart

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Cactus Greenhouse at the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center

There's always something blooming at the Cactus Greenhouse at the Chihuahuan Nature Center and Botanical Gardens!   They're open Monday – Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and located four miles south of Fort Davis on Texas Highway 118.  The Center also has hiking trails and a great gift shop!  Plan to visit them soon!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Visit the Barton Warnock Center, Learn all about Big Bend!

One of the great places to learn about Big Bend is the Barton Warnock Environmental Education Center near Lajitas on the River Road, Hwy 170.  Stop in to get information about the region, or arrange for your entry to Big Bend Ranch State Park.

From the Center's website:

"Barton Warnock Visitor Center serves as the eastern visitor center for Big Bend Ranch State Park and is located near Lajitas. Permits for backpacking and camping (no hookups) at Big Bend Ranch State Park can be obtained at Barton Warnock or at Fort Leaton State Historic Site, the western visitor center for the park. Visitors can also purchase river-use permits, licenses, and information about the Big Bend region.
The new, renovated Interpretive Center, "Una Tierra - One Land," is the fruit of an international partnership effort of State and National park experts in Texas and the Mexican states of Coahuila and Chihuahua. The vast majority of information, including captions and text, is presented in both English and Spanish.
The Center presents an archeological, historical, and natural history profile of the Big Bend region. It houses a book store and gift shop. The book store includes guides for area interest, as well as books on the history and the natural environment of the Big Bend Region. The gift shop has a variety of T-shirts, post cards, and souvenirs."

Friday, August 24, 2012

For Your Calendar: Archaeology in the Big Bend

September 8, 2012 to February 3, 2013
Museum of the Big Bend

In partnership with the
Center for Big Bend Studies
Coming in September, a terrific exhibit on archaeology at Alpine's Museum of the Big Bend, "Removing the Shroud of Mystery."  From the Museum's website:

"Found across the vast region of the Big Bend region of Texas are clues left behind that help tell the story of the “First Texans.” Some of these sites can be traced back more than 10,000 years, and they tell us about people that had complex cultures that successfully adapted to changing environments, climates and food sources over their many centuries of occupation in the region. Since they left no written record for us to decifer and study, our understanding of this past relies on the scientific study of what these early peoples left behind - tools, shelters, clothing, bones, food, and even artwork. This field of study – Archaeology – is the focus of the exhibit at the Museum of the Big Bend.

In partnership with Humanities Texas and the Center for Big Bend Studies – a division of Sul Ross State University, which supports and promotes the archaeological and early historical study of the Big Bend region of Texas and northern Mexico – the Museum of the Big will “Remove the Shroud of Mystery!”

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Mountain Trails Lodge and Learning Center

Views above, from the historic motor coach part of the Lodge and their gracious common areas
Modern guest cabins with views of the Davis Mountains
The Lodge is a site on the Far West Texas Wildlife Trail, too!
Formerly Davis Mountains Education Center, the Mountain Trails Lodge and Learning Center lies on 10 serene acres overlooking the historic town of Fort Davis, as well as Sleeping Lion Mountain. Cabins feature two double beds, kitchenette, climate control, & private bath. 

The Lodge has been a friend of the Texas Mountain Trail for some time, participating in many of our programs, including our cycle-friendly accommodations program.  They've added many features to attract wildlife and serve as a site on the Davis Mountains Loop of the Far West Texas Wildlife Trail.  Their main building, housing a kitchen and dining room and office was an old motorcourt; today, guests stay in modern cabins with lovely views of the mountains.

Interested in participating in a group tour of our part of Texas?  The folks at the Lodge have been conducting Elderhostel and other group tours for many years.  To read more, click here!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Remnants of Early Life in Big Bend National Park

Before Big Bend was a national park, it was home to many hardy souls who worked to carve out a life in this isolated and beautiful part of Texas.  If you keep your eyes open, you'll see remants of buildings, homes, businesses, and graves belonging to those pioneers.  Want to read more? 

Links to more information on the park's website:

Original Settlers of Big Bend
Hot Springs Historic District
Other History and Culture pages

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Easy Peak Fitness Challenge Hike Takes You on a Historic Stagecoach Route!

View of Guadalupe Mountains National Park through a stagecoach window, heading south to the Pinery Station
Ruins of the Pinery Station for the Butterfield Overland Stage, in Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Our Peak Fitness Challenge is open to anyone who is eager to stroll, hike or run in our Texas Mountains, specifically Guadalupe Mountains National Park and Franklin Mountains State Park.   We've selected trails for all activity level, including very easy ones for beginning hikers or for those who like to take their time for an easy stroll.  An example is the Pinery Trail, to the site of a historic stagecoach stop, in Guadalupe Mountains National Park.

See the elevation chart for the Pinery Trail, notes of difficulty (easy!) and trail surface on the Peak Fitness Challenge website, here.  Read about the Pinery Station and the Butterfield Overland Stage on the park's website, here and here!

Joining the Challenge is free and easy, and once you log hiking miles on the website, you'll be eligible for prizes too!   Start your sign up here, and join in all fun!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Downtown El Paso Parade, 1890s

Downtown El Paso, 1890s, click on the photo for a closer look!

Wagons and horses, folks watching from the balconies, parasols and hats, there's lots to see in this parade photo from the 1890s.  In the center, El Paso's downtown plaza, in center back, the Vendome Hotel.

We just love this photo of downtown El Paso, found for us by the El Paso County Historical Society for our social media storytelling project in June.  From time to time, we collect content about true stories in our region--in this case, the story of the first woman to ride her bicycle around the world and her visit during that trip to El Paso in 1895--and share them with all of you on the Daily Photo, our Facebook page, and our Twitter feed.  The Vendome Hotel was where Annie Londonderry stayed while in El Paso!

We'll be sharing more stories this year on our social media channel, including right here on the Daily Photo...look for "Dining Along Historic Highways,"  the "Craft of Boot Making," and "the Civilian Conservation Corps," coming up!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

What's coming up? Marfa Lights Festival!

From Marfa's Chamber of Commerce!

"The Marfa Chamber of Commerce is pleased to announce the annual Marfa Lights Festival will take place on Labour Day Weekend, August 31 through September 2 around the historic Presidio County Courthouse. The festival will begin at 5 PM on Friday when food and craft vendors open their booths for business. The fun continues Saturday morning with 5k walk/run followed by the Festival Parade down Highland Avenue. Also on Saturday home bakers are invited to submit their hand-made pies for consideration in the Pie Baking Contest. On Sunday, we are looking forward to the FIRST EVER Marfa Lights Festival Box Car Derby, and the salsa competition, everyone is invited to participate, as a contestant or as a judge. The vendors and entertainment will be hopping from noon until 5 PM on Sunday."

"The festival's free outdoor entertainment series will begin at 5 PM on Friday night. Throughout the weekend there will be music, dancing and other performances. For more information on any aspect of the Marfa Lights Festival email "

Also that weekend in Marfa, from Ballroom Marfa:

"Ballroom Marfa, in conjunction with the Washington Spectator, The Big Bend Sentinel, Marfa Public Radio and Marfa Book Company, is excited to announce the second biennial Marfa Dialogues, a three-day symposium that includes conversations around climate change and sustainability with artists, performers, writers, scientists and entrepreneurs — among them Michael Pollan, author of The Botany of Desire and The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and Rebecca Solnit, the distinguished critic and author of A Field Guide to Getting Lost and A Paradise Built in Hell. Other featured participants include David Buckland, Hamilton Fish, Cynthia Hopkins, Diana Liverman, John Nielsen-Gammon, Robert Potts, Tom Rand and Bonnie J. Warnock."  For more info on this program, click here.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Lovely skies bringing rain

We've been treated to the most gorgeous skies lately and this summer, clouds have actually been bringing rain too!  A lovely sight near Marfa.  The desert grasslands are greening up!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Walk the original road!

There's an original stretch of the historic San Antonio-El Paso Road at Fort Davis National Historic Site.  You can walk it, along the same path mail coaches, emigrants, freighters and soldiers traveled in the late 1800s.  Read more about it here!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

An Oasis in the City: Keystone Heritage Park

One of the most surprising places in El Paso is Keystone Heritage Park, a quiet place to enjoy nature, right in the midst of the city.  From their website:

"Keystone Heritage Park is an archeological site, an archaic wetlands and a botanical garden.

The Archeological Site was first discovered in the late 1970s by the Corps of Engineers during the construction of flood control dams. Runoff from a thunderstorm washed away the bank of a shallow arroyo revealing a cut-away of an ancient pitch house. Preliminary research revealed the hut was part of a larger village. Carbon dating indicated the site was 4000+ years old. According to National Geographic Magazine, it may be one of the largest and oldest villages of its kind in the United States.

Keystone Wetlands is home to many species of birds and is a stop on a migratory route for even more. Over 193 species of birds have been spotted there, including 22 species considered rare by the Audubon Society. These archaic wetlands, protected by Federal Law, depict the wetlands that once lined the Rio Grande.
The Botanical Garden at Keystone is a project adopted by the Junior League of El Paso in the year 2000. In 2003, the Rotary Club of El Paso committed to building Phase Two of the garden. The Garden encompasses features such as a Xeric demonstration garden, a children’s garden, an amphitheater, a moonlight garden, an ethno-botanical garden and more."

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Cowboy and Cowgirl Shopping in Alpine

One of the great places to visit when you're in Alpine, is Big Bend Saddlery.  In business, and serving the ranch community since 1905, this place is the real deal with ranch supplies, garments, books and gifts for cowboys of all ages.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Up to the TOP, a little Marfa Mini-Break

Eighty-six steps take you to the top of Marfa’s beautiful courthouse and a 360 degree view of the town and surrounding countryside.  In fact, this is one of our Top Ten 15-Minute Rest Breaks from the Road!

Built in 1886 by San Antonio architect Alfred Giles in the Second Empire style, the courthouse cost $60,000.  Designed of brick and stone quarried in Marfa, the exterior is of pink stucco with Lady Justice sitting atop the central dome.  The courthouse is one of the lucky ones to receive support by the Texas Historical Commission's Courthouse Preservation Program.

Next time you're in Marfa and looking for something fun to do, see if they courthouse is open and then start on your aerobic climb.  The view and a close-up view of one of the very finest county courthouses is your reward!