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Davis Mountains Bicycle Tour


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#1 John T Roberts

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Posted 11 August 2011 - 07:31 PM

Last weekend, I took a 4 day bicycle tour through the Davis Mountains. It was my second year in a row doing this ride. It was challenging, and it featured the towns of Balmorhea, Fort Davis, Alpine, and Marfa. We left Fort Worth on Wednesday, August 3rd for an 8 hour drive to Fort Davis. These pictures are not up to my standard level of quality because they were all taken with an iPhone.

On the way out, we took a rest break in Midland:
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Some of the FWBA people stayed in the Davis Mountains State Park. Some camped, while others stayed in the Indian Lodge, a Civilian Conservation Corps project. A few of us stayed in the Stone Village Tourist Camp in Fort Davis.

Here is a picture of Stone Village with Sleeping Lion Mountain in the background.
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On all days, the ride started at the Town Square in Fort Davis. Here is a shot taken along the main street.
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We headed north out of town to our destination of Balmorhea State Park, which features a large spring-fed swimming pool. The name of the springs are San Solomon Springs. The route from Fort Davis to Balmorhea is basically down hill. However, we did have to cross over Wild Rose Pass, which is actually lower in elevation than the town. The distance to the pool is 33 miles.
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We arrived at the park and here is a view of the picnic area at the pool. The mountains in the background are what we crossed over to get to the pool. Fort Davis is about 5,000 feet above sea level and Balmorhea State Park is about 1,700 feet lower in elevation. The tallest peaks in the Davis Mountains are over 7,000 above sea level.
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Here are a few pictures of the pool. It is another CCC project and constructed in the 1930's.
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Our SAG driver went and purchased hamburgers and french fries for the group and we ate them close to the pool.

That was Thursday's ride. On Friday, we headed southeast from Fort Davis and rode to Alpine and Marfa, then back. The distance was 72 miles. I did not take any pictures in Alpine and I only caught a few in the desert between Alpine and Marfa. Here are a couple of pictures from Paisano Pass, a slight climb on the hills between the two towns. This first photo is looking at the parallel rail line and the Davis Mountains in the background.
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Make note of the distant mountain in the background. You will see it again later.
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There was a rest stop at the Marfa Lights Viewing Pavilion and here is a photo looking to the south across the Chihuahuan Desert from there.
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Looking toward the Davis Mountains to the North.
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Presidio County Courthouse in Marfa, Texas.
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Paisano Hotel in Marfa:
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On Saturday we rode a route that was much more mountainous. It is known as the Davis Mountains Scenic Loop. The total distance was 75 miles, but I did not finish the ride. I will have more on that later. The first part of the ride skirts along the south side of the Davis Mountains in the flat basin between them and the mountains you could see from the Marfa Lights Pavilion. Even though this area is flat, you climb from 0% to 3% maximum to a pass through hills west of Fort Davis. This climb is 18 miles long. After that climb, you go significantly downhill and you have some rollers until you approach the Davis range from the west. The road winds through the foothills, but eventually climbs between the two mountains in the center of the photograph. This is the first of four mountain passes that we had for the day.
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One of the more interesting mountains is Sawtooth Mountain, which is the one to the right of center in the photograph above. Here's a closer look from the north side of it.
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Now, here's a shot looking back from where we came.
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If you look at those photos from Saturday, you can see that at the time that I took them, it was crystal clear. As we climbed each subsequent mountain pass, it got more cloudy. By the time we crossed the third pass, a thunderstorm had developed. These showers usually don't last long, or they move quickly away. However, as I was climbing the fourth pass, it started pouring and the SAG vehicle was nowhere in sight. It then started lightning and shortly thereafter, it started hailing. The hail was only pea sized but I actually started to get cold. Unfortunately, it was between 30 minutes and one hour before the SAG came to pick me up. They hauled 3 of us to the McDonald Observatory, which was about 6 miles away. The SAG went and picked up the other riders, but there were not enough vehicles to haul all of us back to town. Eventually, more vehicles came and we were taken back. We did have the option of riding back, but the storms looked like they were heading into town. They dissipated and Fort Davis did not receive any rain that day.

On Sunday, the agenda made it worth the entire trip. We were to ride from town at an elevation of 4,950 feet above sea level to top of Mount Locke, where the McDonald Observatory is located. Mt. Locke is 6,791 feet above sea level. The overall climb for the day was 2,500 feet in 34 miles from town, to the observatory, and back. Grades going to the Visitor's Center range up to a maximum of about 12%, but they are short. Between the Visitors Center and the summit, the grades go to 17%. The good news is that they are 17%, then level for a little bit, then 17% again, and so forth until the summit. Also, when I say level for this climb, I mean around 6-8%. The steep section of the mountain is about one mile in length.

Here's the observatory and Mt. Locke from the Davis Mountains State Park:
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Climbing the mountain. There was a run/walk and bike ride going on at the same time.
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The long light colored object to the right of the truck is a live rattlesnake.
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From the top:
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Here's our SAG vehicle at the top of the mountain with our riders getting food and drink.
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Here is the sign at the summit of Mt. Locke stating this is the highest highway in the State of Texas:
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More of the view:
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Now here is the reason why the whole trip was worth it. The brother of one of our riders is an astronomer at the observatory and he gave us a grand tour of the facility. This is the building housing the first telescope that was built on top of the mountain.
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Historical Marker:
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We had a chance to go inside and here is the 82 inch telescope:
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He took us out on the catwalk around the building for a beautiful 360 degree view of the mountains. If you look between the two mountains just to the right of center, you can see the same mountain in the distance that we saw from Paisano Pass between Alpine and Marfa.
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The telescope on the other part of the mountain was added last.
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Here is the second building constructed housing the 102 inch telescope:
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Now for the scope, itself:
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Over on the other side of the mountain is the third building. Here it is from the ground.
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Here is the inside showing all of the mirrors of the scope.
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Finally, here is the organizer of this event. His name is Jerry Franks and I took this on the catwalk of the observatory.
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After the tour, we rode back into town. It took about 2 hours to ride up the mountain and about 45 minutes to ride down. When we got back to our cabin, we cleaned up and drove home. It is a solid 8 hour drive home, not including stops. We left Fort Davis at 1:00 PM and I walked in my door at 10:00 PM on Sunday night.

#2 bburton

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Posted 11 August 2011 - 08:32 PM

Wow! Gorgeous scenery and interesting commentary. Thanks for taking the time to share. :)

Bruce Burton
 


#3 John T Roberts

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Posted 11 August 2011 - 08:49 PM

Thanks, Bruce. It is one of my favorite areas of the state. They were experiencing a heat wave there, also. The highest temperature while we were there was 95 degrees. When I arrived at home on Sunday night, it was between 93 and 95, yet it felt worse here without the sun shining as it did in Fort Davis with the sun beating down on you. That shows what an effect humid air will have on you. I have edited the text a little bit on the description.

#4 Roger_H

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Posted 11 August 2011 - 09:01 PM

Great pictures and story.

As a kid I remember my parents taking my through the area on vacation. We even visited the observatory. Now I realize I was too young to appreciate it. So, I've added something else to my things-I-gotta-do list.

#5 John T Roberts

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Posted 11 August 2011 - 09:16 PM

We also went up there on Thursday night to see the stars. On Wednesday night, the viewing was probably the best because the moon was lower and a dimmer, but we had driven out there on that day and I couldn't leave until around noon. That meant that we arrived around sunset. Usually when I go on bicycle tours, I like to leave at daybreak or earlier.

#6 hannerhan

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Posted 15 August 2011 - 08:11 AM

We also went up there on Thursday night to see the stars. On Wednesday night, the viewing was probably the best because the moon was lower and a dimmer, but we had driven out there on that day and I couldn't leave until around noon. That meant that we arrived around sunset. Usually when I go on bicycle tours, I like to leave at daybreak or earlier.


I was out in Fort Davis this weekend on an annual dads/kids camping trip, and we stayed Thursday night at Stone Village as well. I love their camp rooms. Fortunately for us, we never saw 90 degrees in the three days except briefly on Saturday afternoon before the storms came in. Nice pictures, and having grown up in Alpine I'm very attached to that country. It's great to see other Texans enjoying it out there.

#7 AndyN

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Posted 15 August 2011 - 08:24 AM

Yeah, you first picture is about 5 blocks from my office. Looks like you are either stopping at a local mexican food restaurant or kind of lost at that moment, but good that you got a photo of the local version of the AT&T tribute to brutalism/bad architecture.
Www.fortwortharchitecture.com

#8 John T Roberts

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Posted 15 August 2011 - 12:08 PM

This was my second year in a row to go out there to ride bicycles. We originally tried to stay at Indian Lodge in the park, but the state's reservation system was not very user friendly and after five hours of being on and off the phone, we decided to book at the Stone Village again this year. We paid a little more money and stayed in a regular room. Several in our group reserved late and got into the camp rooms, but they also said it was a little hot. We're going to do it again next year, so I would highly recommend any cyclists coming out to ride with us.

Andy, I was not lost. I knew exactly where I was. After we stopped for gas, I told my passengers that I was hungry for something sweet. I asked if Dairy Queen sounded OK for a treat. We decided that was a good place to stop, so we drove to the DQ on Big Spring. It was near there, that I took the photograph.

#9 AndyN

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Posted 15 August 2011 - 02:27 PM

OK, that makes sense. You are just a block west of DQ on Marienfeld just north of Florida. I contemplated the exact scene as I drove back to the office around 1:00pm today. Not a major thoroughfare, though, so the picture was a pleasant surprise this morning.
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#10 tamtagon

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Posted 15 August 2011 - 08:41 PM

Thanks for the pics! On a good day, I can get 25 miles biked. Rock on!

#11 John T Roberts

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Posted 15 August 2011 - 09:08 PM

On the day that I was hailed out, I had ridden about 54 miles. I haven't added them up yet, but I think I rode about 200 miles over the four days. Tamtagon, 25 miles is a good ride. Keep up the cycling!

#12 John T Roberts

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Posted 13 August 2012 - 09:36 AM

I went back again this year. I took a better camera than my cell phone, but I didn't take as many pictures.

#13 John T Roberts

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Posted 13 August 2013 - 02:01 PM

I have just returned from the Davis Mountains for the fourth year in a row.  The routes were the same as in the previous years.  However, they have received some rain this summer and everything was blooming and was green.  I never thought I would say this, but it was greener there than it is here.  Many of the mountains had green right up to the line where the rocks jutted out of the slopes.  I really had a good time and was nice to get away from the rat race. 

 

We toured the restored fort this year and it was very educational and a lot of fun to see how they built the buildings in the 1800's.  We also had clear enough skies to go to the Star Party at the observatory on Saturday night.  Because it was near peak on the Perseid Meteor Shower, during the program, we saw a lot of meteors that were very brilliant.  There were also evening thunderstorms in the area every night and we could see the lightning in the distance on the top of Mount Locke.  Our member who has a brother working at the observatory was not there this year, so there wasn't a private tour of the telescopes.  There's a lot to do out there, if you are not a cyclist, so I would highly recommend the trip. 

 

If you are a cyclist, you can't beat the road conditions out there.  On the 75 mile Scenic Loop, we saw a total of 10 cars that were not our support vehicles.  Here was the mileage that was offered.  Thursday: 31, 52, or 62 miles; Friday: 72 miles: Saturday: 75 miles; Sunday: 15, 17, 30, or 34 miles.  This year, we had a few variations on the routes due to having a local cyclist as a guide.  The distance variations were also created by having SAG vehicles hauling the cyclists back to town. 



#14 hannerhan

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Posted 14 August 2013 - 08:30 AM

I have just returned from the Davis Mountains for the fourth year in a row.  The routes were the same as in the previous years.  However, they have received some rain this summer and everything was blooming and was green.  I never thought I would say this, but it was greener there than it is here.  Many of the mountains had green right up to the line where the rocks jutted out of the slopes.  I really had a good time and was nice to get away from the rat race. 

 

We toured the restored fort this year and it was very educational and a lot of fun to see how they built the buildings in the 1800's.  We also had clear enough skies to go to the Star Party at the observatory on Saturday night.  Because it was near peak on the Perseid Meteor Shower, during the program, we saw a lot of meteors that were very brilliant.  There were also evening thunderstorms in the area every night and we could see the lightning in the distance on the top of Mount Locke.  Our member who has a brother working at the observatory was not there this year, so there wasn't a private tour of the telescopes.  There's a lot to do out there, if you are not a cyclist, so I would highly recommend the trip. 

 

If you are a cyclist, you can't beat the road conditions out there.  On the 75 mile Scenic Loop, we saw a total of 10 cars that were not our support vehicles.  Here was the mileage that was offered.  Thursday: 31, 52, or 62 miles; Friday: 72 miles: Saturday: 75 miles; Sunday: 15, 17, 30, or 34 miles.  This year, we had a few variations on the routes due to having a local cyclist as a guide.  The distance variations were also created by having SAG vehicles hauling the cyclists back to town. 

 

Sounds like a great trip.  Having grown up in Alpine, I have seen that country look like a Martian landscape where you think it will never rain again, and I have seen it look like Ireland with creeks running and grass that is 7 feet high in places.  Certainly the latter is a real treat, and it's nice to hear that the rain has been good this year.  As it happens, I'm headed that way tomorrow and will be staying at Stone Village tomorrow night.  Fantastic area.



#15 JBB

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Posted 14 August 2013 - 08:26 PM

Great report!  Would love to see pics if you have them.



#16 John T Roberts

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Posted 14 August 2013 - 09:14 PM

Hannerhan, I think you and miss each other by a weekend every year, yet we stay at the same place.  I took a few pictures at the fort and I will post soon. 

 

On thing I forgot to mention is that I saw the Marfa Lights for the first time.  It was really interesting to look out on the desert and see them dancing, moving, dimming, and brightening.






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