Thursday, May 21, 2015

Texas - Part 2

Post by Henry and Loretta

Moving west through Texas Hill country, and apparently Wine country too, South Llano River State Park was next.  This park had been a 2,600 acre ranch and was donated to the state by Walter W. Buck, Jr., a man who lived and ranched on it since 1910.  He wanted his acreage to remain intact, in a natural state, and open to the public.  The park office is actually his old farmhouse.  Pretty cool! 

South Llano River State Park Office

Most of our birding frustration of the last month came to an end, as this park is a birders paradise.  They have bird blinds in four (4) locations in the park, set up with various feeders and water, and each one is a flurry of activity with birds on the ground, flying from feeder to feeder, taking a bath, pretty much everywhere!  I called it the Bird Channel.   We saw so much it was incredible - Indigo and Painted Buntings, Summer Tanagers, Vermillion Flycatchers, Golden Fronted and Ladder Backed Woodpeckers, various Sparrows and Vireos.

The Spectacular Painted Bunting

Vermillion Flycatcher
Spotted Towhee
Black Throated Sparrow
Yellow Breasted Chat

Again though, two birds eluded us that are supposed to be seen in this area - the Golden Cheeked Warbler and the Black Capped Vireo.  We heard the Black Capped Vireo in several locations, but he sure wouldn’t show his little butt!

The park has quite an extensive system of trails leading into the backcountry, some rising high above the park with 360 degree views of the surrounding countryside.  One of our hikes along the South Llano River lead us to discover a porcupine in a tree!  He was not too happy with Loretta taking photos and slowly, very sloth-like, moved higher into the tree.

Porcupine in Tree

On a day trip to Junction, TX we spotted a group of Philanthropes at the water treatment facility.  This was another new bird to us.


Heading further west the landscape becomes mostly flat.  On the horizon, close to 100 road miles out, we could see our next destination rising above the flatness, The Davis Mountains State Park. These mountains rise to an elevation of 5000-6000 feet and are the only mountain range totally contained within the state of Texas.  The 40 mile drive from the interstate to Davis Mountain State Park was incredibly beautiful with ooohs and ahhs around every bend as we gained elevation.

Wildflowers Going Toward Davis Mountains

This park was built by the CCC in the 1930’s and evidence of their work is everywhere and especially in the lodge nestled at the end of the park road.

The Indian Lodge at Davis Mountains

CCC Work at Davis Mountains

This park also has 2 bird blinds set up similar to the last park where we again saw a number of new life list birds.

Ladder-Backed Woodpecker

Again, though, another bird said to be seen here, the Montezuma Quail eluded us.  We also finally saw a Road Runner (speedipus-rex) chasing after some lunch and I discovered they don’t actually go “beep-beep’.


A couple of evenings we were able to catch a view of a pair of Elf Owls that had built a nest in a power pole in our campground.

The park is also home to black bears, mountain lions, and javelinas.  We didn’t see any of these, but talked to a couple that said if you went outside after midnight, you could see javelinas running up and down the dry creek bed.

We did, however, have a Black Chinned Hummingbird nesting in the tree just outside our front door!  We spent hours watching her.  She was sitting on eggs, and unfortunately, they did not hatch while we were there.

Black Chinned Hummingbird Nesting

There are very nice hiking trails here, all rising to outstanding vistas.  We hiked the Indian Lodge Trail that rose high above the park and ended behind the lodge, where we topped off the hike with a meal at the Black Bear Restaurant in celebration of my birthday.

Black Bear Restaurant at the Lodge

There’s a road in the park called Skyline Drive that takes you to more mountaintop views and several CCC built structures. This was a good area to go to get a cell signal.  In the campground there is no cell service, but as soon as you get to the top of a mountain, it’s blazing fast LTE.

One day we went on a loop road nearby billed as a scenic drive.  This turned into a 50+ mile ride that did not disappoint as the mountainous views seemed to get better and better with each mile!

Road Leading through Davis Mountains

Also nearby to the park is the McDonald Observatory, where we took a brief tour.  Several nights a week they have a Star Party.  This area is said to have one of the darkest skies in the country, being so far from the bright lights of a big city.

About 4 miles from the park is the small town of Ft. Davis, which is the highest city in Texas at a little less than 5,000 feet in elevation. In town is Fort Davis, which is a National Historic Park and an interesting place to visit. 

We’ve been told we picked a good year to visit this area, as normally it would be very dry and brown.  Last year they had a very wet winter and it’s quite green, with an exceptional wildflower display this spring, as a result.

Wildflower Display

Over all the beauty of the Davis Mountains caught us by surprise.  We really enjoyed this area and plan to someday return.

As far as Texas goes, the trip went from an original idea of ‘getting through it as quickly as possible’ to a four (4) week adventure of outstanding state parks.   Yippe Yi YAY!

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