GETTING BACK TO BASICS BY CAMPING IN WEST TEXAS
Annual camping trip provides fun for the whole family.
Out in far-flung West Texas, rugged mountains and craggy canyons rise from wide open spaces, silence stretches for hundreds of miles in each direction and coalblack night skies are spackled with twinkling stars and dusted with galaxies.
If you ever wanted to get away from it all without leaving the state, this uninhabited corner of Texas is the place to do it. Solitude flourishes throughout this untamed landscape and Wi-Fi signals are nonexistent or spotty at best out here where we’ve set up camp in Davis Mountains State Park (tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/ davis-mountains). Tucked in the foothills of the most extensive mountain range in Texas — sometimes referred to as the “Texas Alps” — we soak in breathtaking panoramas of rolling grasslands studded with scrubby shrubs and ridgelines that slice into the cloudless blue horizon. Surveying the dramatic formations from the park’s Skyline Drive, which switchbacks up the mountain and provides unparalleled lookout points from historic stone structures, my older son is reminded
of images he’s seen of the Easter Island statues, while his little brother thinks they look like a bunch of giant fingers squished together .Both descriptions seem fitting, but later Google informs us
the Davis Mountains were formed by violent volcanic activity that occurred roughly 30 million years ago — the evidence left behind on these canyon walls is actually composed of various horizontally bedded volcanic strata. The unusual scenery
and otherworldly outcroppings are just some of the reasons folks are drawn to Davis Mountains State Park, located a few miles from historic Fort Davis. From the area’s legendary stargazing to the middleof-nowhere serenity found here, this destination has been on our bucket list for years. During the recent long October weekend, we decided to head here with
the same group of families we camp with each fall in what’s become an anticipated annual adventure for our combined seven kids. If you’re considering camping out in the Davis Mountains, here are some highlights that spill out just beyond the campsite, and a few things you should know before you go.
The Davis Mountains aren’t exactly around the
corner. It’s a six-hour-plus drive from Austin to Davis Mountains State Park, and factoring in the inevitab le stops w hen traveling
with kids, it took us closer to eight hours. Since we weren’t strangers to the remoteness that exists in this part of Texas — we made the longer drive to Lajitas with our kids a few years ago to spend a week hiking through Big Bend with my family — we saved this
trip for when we had more than a two-day weekend at our disposal. It’s also a good idea to break up the long drive with a well-planned road stop so kids can work off some energy. From Austin, Ozona is around midpoint and has convenient fast food options right along
the route. We picked up sandwiches and burgers and enjoyed a picnic lunch in the tiny town’s historic square — there are a couple of tables scattered beneath the pecan trees and a large grassy lawn
and shaded gazebo where the kids can run around
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Take a hike
After preparing hearty breakfast tacos and cowboy coffee at t he campsite the following morning, we set out with the sun to explore some of the trails weaving through Davis Mountains State Park. Whether you hike on foot or bring your own bike or horse to ride, you’ll find trail adventures spanning easy to challeng
ing. We started out on the Montezuma Quail Trail, a moderate, roughly mile-long trail that climbs from the wildlife viewing area up 220 feet for aerial overlooks of the canyon before descending back to the campground. Rather than go back down,
the kids raced ahead of us and we all linked into the slightly more challenging Indian Lodge Trail, which gives way to spectacular views of the Davis Mountains and takes you back down to Indian Lodge, a full-service historic hotel set within the park’s bound- aries for those who prefer adobe walls to canvas ones. With seven kids in our group spanning ages 2 through 9, hiking 3 miles in two hours was plenty. But those who want a longer hike can gain some of the best views in the park on the Sheep Pen Canyon Loop, which takes hikers on a 6-mile trek along a mountain plateau and through oak-juniper forests and high desert grasslands.
Back to nature
Days before our camping trip,Iwokemyhusbandin a middle-of-the-night panic after nightmares of mountain lions and rattlesnakes interrupted my slumber. He reassured me through shut eyes and groggy grumbles that our kids would be completely fine, and thankfully they were, but it turns out my motherly paranoia wasn’t completely unwarranted. We did spot two rat
tlesnakes within the first few hours of arriving — one of which was cleverly hidden in the rock wall inches below an overlook where we positioned our kids for a group photo. And throughout Davis Mountains State Park, laminated signs warn visitors of mountain lion sightings and caution parents not to leave children unattended. While you do need to be aware of your surroundings and keep a close eye on your kids out here, fortunately afriendlyfoxwastheonly critter to visit our campsite. Obviously unintimidated by campers, he pranced around the campfire we were gathered around each night in search of scraps. Tiny frogs, big lizards and loud woodpeckers provided endless campside entertainment for our kids, and if you’re an avid birdwatcher, you’re in luck out here, too. Davis Mountains State Park serves as home to over 260 bird species a nd has a newly constr uctedbirdblindandviewing station ideal for observing everything from scrub jays to white-winged doves.
After three days of tent camping, there is nothing more refreshing than experiencing the crystalclear cooling waters of the world’s largest spring-fed swimming pool. Balmorhea, located just over 30 minutes from Davis Mountains State Park, is famously touted as a cool oasis in the high, arid West Texas desert. Filled with fresh water bubbling up from the San Solomon Springs, more than 15 mil
lion gallons flow through the pool daily — enough water to fill over 300,000 bathtubs, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s website. People flock from near and far to enjoy this serene, sprawling swimming hole that covers 1.75 acresandreachesupto25 feet in some areas, which makes it a popular place to scuba dive, too. During busy season (March through Labor Day), day visitors to Balmorhea State Park are limited to 1,300, but our family of five showed up in the mid
dle of a blissful October Monday en route back to Austin and brought the total in-thewater occupancy to just over a dozen. Slightly warmer than our beloved Barton Springs, Balmorhea’s temperature fluctuates between 72 to 76 degrees year-round, and according to my limited personal research, the high dive provides hours of fun for all ages.
Visitors gather during a star party where the Milky Way is clearly visible under the dark skies of McDonald Observatory.
The unusual scenery and otherworldly outcroppings are just part of what draws folks to Davis Mountains State Park.
Enjoy a refreshing dip where the mountains meet the springs at Balmorhea.
Plunge into a spring-fed swimming pool at Balmorhea.