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INCOMPARABLE SMALL GROUP JOURNEYS ON THE LAST FRONTIER (South!)
 
 

2-Day: Desert Mountain Loop

    Up early and heading back to the Park, we'll first stop and explore the Panther Junction Visitor's Center if we haven't previously, before turning north to pass through the Persimmon Gap entrance. The Gap is and was a major passageway from prehistory to modern times for creatures of all sorts. Its period of human infamy dates to the nineteenth century, when for many generations it was an integral part of the Comanche War Trail, where ferocious raiding parties from the Great Plains tribes would annually plunder Mexico for horses and slaves. Just outside of the park we'll take a right for a few miles to visit the Hallie Stillwell Hall of Fame. Passing in 1997 at the age of 99 years, Hallie was a personage known to many through her writings giving testament to the incredible trials, courage and perseverance of the pioneers like herself.
    Retracing the six miles north we'll continue on to the town of Marathon to wander through the historic Gage Hotel, long the most important lodgings between San Antonio and El Paso, and now a destination wedding favorite. Next door is lunch at the Famous Burro before continuing the half hour west to the fine little university town of Alpine. The treasure that is the Museum of the Big Bend is located on the hillside campus of Sul Ross University, in the last rock structure of the esteemed state school. Quite comprehensive in covering prehistory and forward, the cultural and interactive displays leave one with a far greater appreciation for all that we've seen, and will. It's a great museum.
    Alpine itself is a wonderful historic town of about 6000, that in many ways due to its isolation, has maintained and attracted a continuing vibrancy. There is of course the university, but economically it also remains healthy as a center for the ranching industry, augmented too by the energies of an increasing numbers of retirees. Home to more than ten galleries, the area has attracted creative types for its quality of life, low cost of living, as well as inspirational landscapes. If so inclined, we can pop into the stately Old Courthouse, where the lobby is full of large format photos that bring home some of the realities of the early days.
    By now the day is most likely on the downward swing and we'll hasten the half hour to the highest town in Texas, Fort Davis, and check in to our lodgings in the Old Schoolhouse B & B. The adobe structure served from 1904 through the 1930's as the area's principal school, and though there have been many transformations since, the architectural features and feel are that of a piece of history. We'd best next incorporate a wee stroll before dinner,  ambling the streets to get a taste of this important refuge and re-supply stop on the 19th century Overland Trail.
    After a fine breakfast it's off to the town's namesake National Historic Site. One of the nation's best preserved frontier forts, it's initial role was that of protecting against the warring Comanches and Apaches. It changed hands during the Civil War and was rebuilt afterwards to serve out the rest of the century as a principal base for the famed Buffalo Soldiers. Period furnishings and informative displays allow one to appreciate the challenges and privations of this era of military and frontier life. A short trail behind the fort leads up into the signature lava formations for a fine overview and distant vista. Adjacent too is the Overland Trail Museum chronicling more of the civilian side of early settlement and westward expansion.  
    After lunch it's off to the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center and Botanical Gardens. With an outdoor as well as greenhouse gardens, there is plenty of opportunity to learn of the local flora. There are also artifacts and displays on the last 10,000 years of mining in the region. A promise too, is that of stretching our legs on the 2.5 mile Outer Loop Trail that explores the 500 acre property from the bottom of Modesta Canyon to the vista of Clayton's Overlook. On top is the brand new exhibit "Our Dynamic Geology: Geology, Culture, History", with informative panels explaining views in all directions. Afterwards it's back through Alpine for provisions and the road 85 miles south to Terlingua. Topping the hill and descending into Study Butte, it's starting to feel like a homecoming. Rattling down the dirt road back to relax on the deck before dinner, it surely will be.

 
 

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