We’ve wondered how birds so quickly spread the word. I imagine them in little birdy chirps, squawks, and tweets communicating, “Delicious black sunflower seeds at site 15!” This time, in the Davis Mountains, we attracted White-winged Doves, Canyon Towhees, Black-crested Titmice, Scrub Jays, and Chipping Sparrows. We came out one morning to find several mule deer guzzling up the seed; later that evening, as we sat around the fire, we heard rustling and looked up to find a red fox only 10 feet away, enjoying the last of the seed.
This beautiful state park is nestled in the foothills of the Davis Mountains, which are aptly called “the Alps of Texas.” At more than a mile high, the terrain is desert plains grassland, punctuated by cacti, juniper, oak, and pinyon. This time of year, the cottonwood gleam golden along dry seasonal creeks that run through the park. An assortment of well-preserved 1930’s stone structures built by the Civilian Conservation Corps adds to the ambiance.
The hiking is great, with 17 miles of rugged, rocky trails, with expansive views of the valley below. We hiked the Montezuma Quail and Indian Lodge trails, looping high above the lovely pueblo style CCC-built lodge. On the opposite side of the campground, a five-mile round trip loop took us from a CCC stone overlook down to Fort Davis and back up the mountain (including an easy walk into the town of Fort Davis for lunch, where we found to our surprise a wonderful little natural foods store with a deli).
Truthfully, neither of us is particularly drawn to military history. We would much rather spend our time exploring nature. But although we hiked to the fort because it was a beautiful hike, we stayed and explored for a couple of hours because it was so interesting. Fort Davis has survived as one of the finest examples of a frontier American Southwest military post. Active from 1854 until 1891, the army protected settlers, mail coaches, and traders en route between El Paso and San Antonio against Apache and Comanche raiding parties.
For much of the time, “Buffalo Soldiers,” regiments of African-Americans, were stationed at Fort Davis, where they gained a reputation for bravery and dedication despite the racial prejudice of the time. I asked the young black ranger why the troops were called Buffalo Soldiers; he told us that Native Americans named them for their fierce fighting abilities and their dark, curly hair that reminded them of a bison’s coat. The ranger mused, “The Buffalo Soldiers are finally being recognized for their role in the settling of the West, but at the same time, their success was devastating to Native Americans who were trying to hold onto their land.” Yet another painful reality of war.
Fort Davis is well worth a visit. Many of the buildings (including the large hospital) have been restored, including furnishings and the accouterments of daily life of the mid 19th century. The hospital was state-of-the-art for the time; we learned that frontier army hospitals were considered the finest of all medical institutions. I enjoyed the displays of herbal medicines, many of which I have in our first-aid kit; some of the other procedures and implements were downright scary, but then again, so are a lot of modern medical procedures.