If you read the last post, you know that it was my most sincere desire to avoid having to do work things on this vacation. That lasted about 24 hours. This morning, I was greeted by a message indicating that something only I had to be involved in was "our highest priority."
There wasn't much I could do about it in the morning beyond make some phone calls, so we had a nice chill breakfast at Marfa Burrito (free coffee appears to be the norm in Marfa, making it an even more attractive destination). Before leaving town, we hit up The Chinati Foundation, home to Donald Judd's aluminum and concrete art-things. The aluminum structures were 100 identically sized milled one-ton aluminum boxes with a wide variety of internal angles. It's hard to describe, and even harder to describe engagingly. I was skeptical, but it turned out to be a hell of an exhibit. If you're ever nearby, it's worth the time.
After that, we hit the road north towards Ft. Davis to check out the McDonald observatory and do some sightseeing. I managed to turn off on a what was supposed to have been a scenic wildlife viewing area. It was scenic, but surprisingly devoid of wildlife. After that half hour detour, we made it to Ft. Davis, which was lively and quaint-in-a-good-way. In most of Texas, the small towns are in trouble so it's nice to see places like Marfa and Ft. Davis don't feel as though they're one generation from being ghost towns.
The drive up to the McDonald observatory is gorgeous, but it's slow going and, frankly, we were a little exhausted by the time we got there. The fact that we were at 6,800 feet above sea level may have contributed. If you don't have several hours to tour the telescopes or stick around for the star parties, it's probably not really worth it, but, heck, it was still a pretty drive.
The real standout was the drive up highway 17 from Ft. Davis to Balmorhea. I don't have any good photos from that stretch, but imagine the Scottish highlands with less water and more yucca and you're not far from the truth. It's a high plain dotted with mountains, mesas, crags, and the occasional canyon carved by little spring-fed creeks. It was absolutely stunning and I've never heard anyone talk about this stretch of road.
We very nearly drove right by our destination, Balmorhea State Park. It's a tiny place, but it's a unique one. The park is built atop cold springs which feed a deep basin, a swimming pool, canals which run throughout the park, and a couple of desert wetlands areas. It is an oasis in the most literal meaning of the word, and as such, it's teeming with wildlife. There are turtles everywhere and some unique catfish (which we are under orders not to feed), waterfowl, butterflies, and pretty much everything that's in the desert and really wishes it wasn't.
There's a motel on the grounds and, for less than hundred bucks a night, you can get a room with a king sized bed. It's very old-school motor lodge, but it's clean and comfortable. We decided to grill burgers, a plan which would take some doing as we had no cooking gear at all, let alone burgers. We headed up through the town of Balmorhea and decided we'd try to find a bigger town to do our shopping.
There aren't a lot of bigger towns in this neck of the woods.
We wound up on the interstate pointed back to Ft. Stockton. Nicole had the genius idea to walk into a hotel like I owned the place and make use of their business center to take care of my work stuff, which I did, and while it was worth the half hour to get that off my mind, I hated doing that to Nicole. After that, we grabbed some ground beef, lettuce, tomatoes, relish, cheese, charcoal, plates, a knife, a tiny spatula, and various other things and headed back to have some very expensive, but very delicious camp grilled burgers.
The best part may have been the last: The stars out here are like nothing I've seen in decades. At home, I can see the sun, the moon, a few planets, and maybe a few of the brighter stars. Here? Not only can I see more stars than I could count in a lifetime, but I can see the milky way more clearly than I've ever seen it before.