A dear friend of mine stopped over to visit with me on her way to Fort Davis, Texas recently. When she spoke of her excitement about going there I thought of my own visits to the little known place. It is a tiny but enchanting town with an interesting history associated with the fort that once served as an outpost as settlers moved west. What really impresses me about the area is the wide open sky that fills with stars on cloudless nights. It is quite a site for anyone who lives in a crowded city with so many lights that most of the stars become invisible to the eye. We often forget that they are there whether we are able to see them or not.
In Fort Davis the stars seems to fill every inch of the nighttime sky. It is a breathtaking sight for anyone, but especially for city folk. We have forgotten, or perhaps never even seen such splendor. Watching the heavens is a spiritual undertaking. It’s difficult to feel anything but awe and to gain a sense of one’s place in the universe out at Fort Davis. Somehow the grandeur of it all is a humbling experience.
Fort Davis is fittingly quiet. It has a few restaurants and hotels for tourists who, like me, tend to be desolation freaks. There is a beauty in the wildness and solitude of the area. There is something philosophical and comforting about just quietly enjoying the sounds of nothing more than the wind or the crooning of birds. Then night comes and the sky lights up with stars.
There is an annual event called the Texas Star Party that occurs every year. People come from all over the world with their campers and tents and telescopes to partake in a love fest of the heavens. My brother and sister-in-law have spent almost every May of their married lives among to amateur and professional astronomers who go there. Only Covid had enough pull to keep them home.
One year they took my grandson, Ian, with them. He became an overnight convert to studying the heavens. He has never forgotten what he learned, the people he met, or the passion he felt for being part of something bigger than just our little planet. He’s off for his first year of studying Aerospace Engineering at the University of Notre Dame. I suspect that he wants to help develop ways of exploring the universe to unlock more and more of its secrets.
Near Fort Davis is the University of Texas MacDonald Observatory that is perched high on a hill. The drive to the top is lovely in itself, but seeing the huge telescope seemingly in the middle of nowhere is rather amazing. There are tours there as well as educational offerings. I always have an other-worldly feeling whenever I am there. As with every other place in the area there is a kind of reverential quietness about the place.
Not far from Fort Davis is a town that has become a haven for artists of all varieties. Marfa, Texas is the perfect kind of place for developing creative projects and meeting kindred spirits. In addition the town is known for sightings of strange lights. Orbs of sometimes blue, sometimes red, sometimes white randomly appear in the night sky. They have often been called “ghost lights” and at other time they have been attributed to encounters with something from outer space. For the most part they remain a bit of an unsolved mystery that scientists attempt to explain with various conjectures. For tourists and locals it seems to be more fun to think of them as something paranormal.
Another quaint town within driving distance of Fort Davis is Alpine, Texas which is nestled in the Davis Mountains. We had an adventure there in the long ago when Jimmy Carter was President and gasoline was scarce. We had been driving in the desert for hours and were running low on gas. We drove for what seemed an eternity without encountering a gas station. As we nervously watched our gas tank creep slowly toward empty we rejoiced at the twinkling light of Alpine.
We coasted down the mountain road on fumes wondering if there would even be a service station open that late at night. Luckily we found one before we were completely out of fuel. Then we searched for a hotel. It was very late, but one of the signs was flashing that it had a vacancy. We secured a huge and very clean room for a ridiculously low price. Before long we understood why it was still available when a long train zoomed no more than five feet away from the wall on which our bed stood. It was the first of many trains that busted through town all night long.
I love far west Texas where people are few and the heavens are the major attraction. It is a very special place where nothing much matters but quiet and the serenity of the stars. It is a place that puts the rest of the world into perspective. It’s worth a trip there for peace of mind. While you’re there you might want to also make a wish upon a star. You have many from which to choose.