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.