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Trip Report McDonald Observatory, Fort Davis, Marfa and Alpine Trip Report

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I don’t know if anyone will read this, but I thought I would post a little report about my weekend in west Texas in case anyone does a search on this forum for Fort Davis, the McDonald Observatory, Alpine or Marfa. There don’t seem to be very many reports out there.

I traveled with two family members, flying into Midland and then driving 2.5 hours to Fort Davis. The purpose of the trip was a relaxed weekend away from the big city and to see the McDonald Observatory.

Lodging: Hotel Limpia. This is an old historic hotel in the heart of Fort Davis. The establishment is actually broken up into at least three different buildings. We stayed in Limpia West.

The main part of the hotel is pretty cool, with some neat public spaces, such as a parlor, a den, a veranda, and a porch with rocking chairs. There is a nice cat named Tuxedo in residence and a cute dog named Charlie.

Limpia West, across from the main building, is comprised of maybe ten or so rooms above a gift shop.

The room was big, but it had a very bad odor, which they unsuccessfully tried to cover with air fresheners. The carpet was stained and there were quirks such as a shower head placed at about 5 feet high. I’m 5’6” and did not enjoy the experience of trying to wash my hair and face while scrunched down.

Those negatives aside, it was a great location for exploring the region and there just aren’t many choices in this town.

Our first meal was a late lunch at the Fort Davis Drug Store. This place has a lot of potential, but the food was mediocre at best and the establishment is plagued with flies. It really turned me off. Staff was unmotivated and slow.

By the time we checked in, it was late in the day. After freshening up, we decided to take a drive to the Indian Lodge. The lodge is beautifully located in the Davis State Park. We had really wanted to stay here, but were not able to get reservations, even though we tried several months in advance. It is extremely popular in the summer!

We did check out the lounge and the pool area and they are really nice. We drove the skyline drive, which is really beautiful. There’s a wonderful lookout at the top.

Dining options in Fort Davis are very limited. We had dinner at Murphy’s Pizza. It was cheap, easy, and satisfied our hunger.

We finished off our evening by playing cards on the veranda of the main building of the Limpia.

The next day, we started off with breakfast at the Blue Mountain Bistro. The service was quite slow, but the food was fine.

We then headed to Alpine for a little excursion. There really isn’t much to see, but we drove around the town and walked down a street with some shops. We moved on to Marfa.

Marfa was a bit of a letdown after all the hype I had heard/read. The town’s best features, in my opinion, are the really cool courthouse, the Paisano Hotel, and a couple of cute churches. We wandered into the attractive courthouse and were able to peek into a courtroom and go up to the top cupola, which has a great view of the town. The building has beautiful stairwells with nice wood.

The Paisano Hotel is famous for its ties to the James Dean/Elizabeth Taylor/Rock Hudson movie “Giant.” It has a couple of nice gift shops and is worth popping in.

We really wanted to have lunch in Marfa, but there weren’t a lot of options and the choices were not to our tastes. Foodies would like the choices though. We are more simple meat and potato type folks.

We returned to Fort Davis and had lunch at the bistro. Turkey sandwich with chips was $7. It was pretty good, but it took 25 minutes to get it, even though there was only one other table and the menu is super small.

We spent the rest of the afternoon chilling out because our next item on the agenda was the twilight program and star party at the McDonald Observatory.

The drive to the observatory is fantastic and it’s part of a scenic loop. Our tickets came with instructions to be there by 7:15, but they didn’t open the doors until 7:20. The twilight program began at 7:30.

The program consisted of a lecture in an auditorium. It was very informative. During the break between the twilight party and the star party, we grabbed a bite to eat in the Star Café, which opens at 7:30. The menu is limited to hotdogs and a few sandwiches. A turkey or club sandwich is quite expensive, $9. Luckily, for the budget minded, such as myself, the grilled cheese is only $3.

The highlight of the evening was the viewing of different objects through fancy telescopes during the star party. After a lecture in the auditorium and a presentation in an outdoor amphitheatre, in which the host points out different things in the sky with a laser, participants proceed to multiple telescopes that are focused on different objects, such as Saturn and the Swan Nebula. All were amazing, but seeing Saturn and its rings was phenomenal. Astounding! I highly recommend the star party!

The visibility of the stars is truly amazing up here.
We finished around 11:30 pm and found the drive down the mountain in the dark (no street lights) to be quite easy thanks to well placed reflectors on the roadway. We got back to the hotel around midnight and crashed.

I’m an early bird and my family members are not, so when I got up the next morning, I headed off on my own to the Fort Davis National Historic Site. While I have an interest in history, my focus this day was on a good hike. I hiked up to the top of the rocky hill or little mountain or whatever you call it. It was pretty steep and at 9 am, the sun was already really strong and I was burning up. Be sure to bring plenty of water wherever you hike in this part of the state. I felt really grateful to have a Luden’s cherry cough drop in my purse because my blood sugar really crashed from the exertion on an empty stomach. The cough drop got me through my hike in one piece! I did have water of course!

By the time I finished my hike, my family was up and I met up with them at the bistro for the breakfast buffet, which I believe was $10. I was really hungry and ate a biscuit, scrambled eggs, sausage and bacon. It was satisfying.

After eating, we headed to the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute/Nature Center just a few miles south of Fort Davis. What a wonderful surprise this place turned out to be. It had looked nice enough on the internet, but it was even better in person. There are great hiking opportunities, along with some nice paths through some cactus and botanical gardens. We enjoyed our hike, but we didn’t have enough time there because we had to be back at the observatory for a 2 pm program.

I would definitely recommend allotting at least two hours or more for the nature center. It’s really pretty and the people at the center are very nice. I would definitely return if I’m ever back in the area.

The afternoon program at the observatory consisted of a lecture about the sun and solar flares and a tour of two telescopes, not in the evening program. The presenter was a college student who has an impressive amount of knowledge.

We enjoyed the program and the beautiful scenery.

We were pretty hungry, having not eaten since breakfast, so we went to the Indian Lodge for a late lunch/early dinner. We ordered from the bear bites menu, choosing cheeseburgers and fries. It was pretty good. Our tab was only $16 and some change for three people.

By the time we got back to our hotel, my family was done for the day, but I wasn’t. I headed off to drive a portion of the scenic loop on the south side. The sun was setting and it illuminated the landscape beautifully.

This was a relaxing end to a nice visit to west Texas. We were blessed with beautiful weather the whole weekend.

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