Big Skies over Texas

Nine miles out of Marfa Texas occurs a phenomenon which attracts many visitors and the occasional nut: a set of ghostly orbs of light playfully enticing viewers into keeping watch.  The Marfa Lights are said to have been observed by even the Native Americans although the first recorded sighting is from 1883. Explanations for the lights range from UFOs to ghosts to the airfield behind the Viewing Area. It is certainly a strange phenomenon as the lights seem to dance and travel in weird paths. There are sometimes three, one, two or even five lights which circle around one another, moving closer or farther away willy-nilly and sometimes disappearing altogether just to appear again when and where you least expect it. We loved it!  One sensible explanation for the lights is that they are simply headlights from cars traveling along highway 67. I have a bit of trouble with that explanation since, at least when we were there, the lights didn’t seem to come from where the highway was; could it be they reflected off some other surface before appearing? Some people claim to have had the lights chase them but that seems a bit too far-fetched by our experience. We invite you to judge by yourself: the viewing area is located along highway 90 and it is a pretty place to observe not only the mysterious lights but also the night sky. What a treat! We could have stayed there for hours. The lights are eerie and wonderful, don’t make the trek out here just for the lights but if you’re in the area it is worth the effort. We would have loved to come back during daytime and hike out to where we thought the lights were just out of curiosity, let us know what you find if you ever do.  Even if haunted lights are not your thing, coming out here for the beautiful starry sky is sure to make it a night to remember.

We were lucky and got a last minute reservation to the Indian Lodge in the Davis Mountains State Park. We didn’t know West Texas could be this beautiful. The Lodge is located at the foot of the mountains and the views are phenomenal. 20140725_110409

The Lodge is cute and comfortable and the perfect place from where to explore the park but do not despair if you’re not able to get a room, camping is widely available as well. As much as we liked the Lodge, their food is not fit for anyone’s consumption, make other arrangements. Several places are available in town and it is a cute place for a stroll if you’re in the mood for a ‘lost-in-time’ kind of day.DSC04084

In the park, volunteers guide hikes thru the mountains pointing out all kinds of native and invasive species of plants,DSC04005

birds, and other critters.20140725_094544

Milkweed, which is nourishment for Monarch butterflies, is one such native plant. With its distinctive starlike flowers, you won’t miss it.20140725_091139

Notices were posted in the park to watch out for mountain lions but we didn’t see evidence of any, which doesn’t mean one shouldn’t be careful anyway.DSC04054

What we did encounter was a javelina on a nighttime trek which jumped right in front of our car in a failed suicide attempt. We refused to hit it so it grunted and squealed at us in complaint before heading back to wherever it came from. Although javelinas are plentiful in the mountains, that was the only one we saw during our time there. Hummingbirds are also plentiful here and we had the good fortune to come across a nest with two chicks no bigger than my thumb patiently waiting for their mama.20140725_100336

A long hike from the park will take you to Fort Davis, or you can simply drive there like we did.DSC04029

Fort Davis was established in 1854 and served as a military outpost to protect travelers on the San Antonio-El Paso road from assaults by the Apaches, Comanches and Kiowas.  The fort covers a large area so I would suggest touring it in the morning before the sun dissuades you from it (they provide complimentary golf carts to those visitors who need them)DSC04034

and do not miss visiting the Hospital all the way in the back. It will make you appreciate living in the age of science and technology.

The McDonald Observatory, belonging to the University of Texas, is located on the Davis Mountains.20140725_105409 While astronomical research is its essential function, it also provides community education and outreach. The observatory has several different public programs, some of its most popular are the Twilight Program and the Star Party which are commonly held on the same night in order to enable visitors to take advantage of both, which we did.  The Twilight Program is an indoor event conducted by an observatory staff member and is appropriate for all age levels.  It is to be noted that some of the thoughest and most detailed questions asked that night came from children under 10. On this particular night, we were treated to a detailed explanation of the motion of the planets around our sun and how humans use constellations to describe their locations.

Are you a fan of horoscopes? The Zodiac is based on the 12 constellations which appear on the ecliptic, which is the path the Sun seems to follow around the Earth throughout the year. If the obvious uncertainty of determining your future depending on where the Sun was thought to be at the time of your birth does not dissuade you from minding your horoscope, how about finding out that you might have gotten your zodiac sign all wrong? Turns out there is a thirteenth constellation: Ophiuchus, on the ecliptic which was completely left out of the Zodiac. Since being a Scorpio does sound nicer than being an Ophiuchus, I wouldn’t place too much blame on the creator of the Zodiac for such an omission.

After the Twilight Program, we were led outside to the forum where another staff member showed us constellations, planets and nearby stars in real life while we awaited the darkening night. At least 10 mobile telescopes were set up on the esplanade but even the big telescopes in their domes were available to us. There were lines, some shorter than others, but although there were about 400 people in attendance (we were told as we didn’t personally count them), the lines didn’t seem overwhelmingly long or maybe it was the magic of being able to see the Milky Way without the interference of city lights that made it seem so. We were lucky enough to observe Saturn in all its beauty but even those stars not given names any more poetic than a handful of numbers and letters looked beautiful to our lay eyes.

We went to bed that night grudgingly knowing that it was our last chance to enjoy the skies before heading home the next morning.  The boys decided to take a last hike before we left and persuaded us to let them go at it alone. No wonder they didn’t want me along to spoil their fun, if I had only known what they were up to:

West Texas surprised us with its beauty.  The mountains take your breath away and we couldn’t have asked for better night watching.  The Davis Mountains are definitely high on our list of places worth visiting and we will surely be coming back soon.DSC04076


Categories: North America, USA | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Big Skies over Texas

  1. OMG on the boys! Billy and Trey were just at Fort Davis for a week, boy scout camp…they went to McDonald Observatory but didn’t get to go to Marfa…someday we will get back there as a family!


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