Fair warning. Yesterday (make that two days ago now-this is attempt two to finish the blog post) about wore me out. Even after a full night’s sleep, I’m exhausted as I write this, and facing another long day on the road, so lapses in editorial brilliance may abound.
As you may recall, Day Twelve saw us rerouted from Balmorhea to Fort Davis in an attempt to find suitable lodging. My original intent had been to return to Balmorhea (the country’s largest spring-fed swimming pool) in the morning to explore the site as originally planned. But a little research showed that Fort Davis may actually be WAY more interesting. The area is the highest town in Texas, and the historic site is a well-preserved old army outpost from the late 1800s established to protect travelers on the San Antonio-El Paso Road from Comanche and Apache attacks, and also to control Native American activity as the Indian war trails were located nearby. Now I’m not normally one for military history, but Indian related stuff fascinates me. We arrived first thing in the morning, and Annie immediately showed all due respect to the former soldiers.
To get a feel for the place, I watched the short film offered at the Visitor’s Center. Which was . . . narrated by Kareem Abdul Jabbar?? OK. Sure. Kareem told me lots of cool stuff, like that the fort and surrounding mountains were named for Jefferson Davis: then Secretary of War, but later Charles in Charge of the rebel forces during the Civil War. Also, that the fort was home to two regiments of Buffalo Soldiers-basically dudes that we had formerly held in slavery who were now commanded to quash the rebellions of the latest ethnic group we were trying to suppress.
Once back outside, I saw that the fort consisted of a square of buildings around a small parade ground: upscale officer’s homes decorated in the latest Victorian styles, depressingly bare bones enlisted men’s mass bunks, and the crumbling remains of a commissary and hospital. One of the coolest parts was that periodically as we strolled grounds bugle calls would sound, for which we were provided with an accompanying guide as to what each call represented: rise and shine, supper time, exercise drills, etc.. I realized I too “enjoy” all these calls as part of my daily routine, just provided by a BARKBARK terrier, not the boogie woogie bugle boy from company B. It was easy, in a mind blowing kind of way, to imagine living there, still so isolated today and yet astoundingly so then. And there were women in the camp! Some of the officers brought wives with them. Their homes were lovingly decorated with fine crystal and china, and if that was all transported to the site via rutted wagon road, they do MUCH better at packing than I ever will!
The fort even had an irrigation system in place to maintain some lovely cottonwood trees, which Annie took the opportunity to bask in the shade of.
After exploring the main fort, Annie and I hiked a trail down to the old cemetery and water pump, walking just a few feet past the main quarters shows the utter isolation surrounding the place.
I returned to the Visitor Center to purchase some postcards and the souvenir pins I’m collecting everywhere we visit thanks to an excellent suggestion by my friend Trish. Yet again I encountered another unhelpful, unfriendly Ranger Dude manning the desk, this one a burly gray beard named Floy (no that’s not a typo). He had earlier seemed disgruntled that my fancy shmancy All Access Park Pass saved me the three dollar entrance fee. As he rang up my modest purchase, I commented that the day had certainly heated up quickly. No response. Then I spied some stuffed camels on the floor in the kid’s merchandise area. I remarked that that seemed like an odd souvenir for the site to be selling. No response. As I made my way out the door, a book caught my eye: Army Camels. Curious, I picked it up. What’s this?? Apparently for a brief period in the mid 1800s the U.S. Army used CAMELS?!?! Including in this area to help survey a shorter route to Fort Davis?!?! (The horses weren’t really down with their camel compatriots, so the experiment was short lived, but still.) So basically, one of the coolest things I learned at Fort Davis I stumbled upon in the Gift Shop. *shakes head*
After our tour, it was time to saddle up Marigold and hit the trial once more. The drive away from Fort Davis passed through yet more stunningly beautiful scenery.
And once again, I visited a ladies room at a highway rest stop with yet another cool mosaic (Finally got the earlier one to load, the new one is on the right).
After many miles, there was much rejoicing as we passed into New Mexico! Land of Enchantment! So, we’re tooling along through New Mexico, hot, tired, both of us having to pee, but alllmmost at our destination, so trying to hold out, when all of a sudden the weirdest thing happens. We’re pulled over into a Border Patrol Station?? Umm… this is NEW Mexico right? I’m using Google Maps now, so they BEST not have sent me that far astray! I’ve not left the country, what the heck is going on? Of course, I was prepared to pass a border checkpoint when we hit Canada, but now I’m just flustered, flummoxed, and flabbergasted. And driving a vehicle that SCREAMS “I’m hiding drugs and immigrants!” (Thank GOD I wasn’t in Lady Luck!) The guard is bemused by Marigold, and shocked by my claim to be just a gal and her dog tooling about for a few months, but ultimately lets us go. I still have NO idea what that was all about.
Finally we roll in to White Sands National Monument, an enormous sand dune made entirely of gypsum rising out of the scrubby desert surrounding it. The gypsum is brilliantly white, soft to the touch, and cool even in the hottest part of the day. The place was packed, and it seems that some midwesterners use it as an erstwhile beach, setting up camp for the day to tan and cookout and chill with the fam. But the vast expanse of the dunes meant it still wasn’t difficult to find some solitude.
Lots of people rented saucer gliders to slide down the dunes like a snowbank. Others found this prospect dubious at best.
OK, so by now I’m sure you’re wondering where we chanced to rest our weary heads for the night. So, early in the day I researched my intended campground only to find that the sites were non-reservable, first-come first-served. So around 4pm, after our sandy silliness was winding down, and the campsite was about an hour away, I called to check. Filled up since 2pm. Major suckage, but since we couldn’t have realistically made it there by 2pm, I reasoned this one was not on me. Some additional sluething revealed that our best option, without having to drive to hell and gone, was a KOA in a nearby town. Now KOA gets something of a bum rap from serious campers: they’re rarely in rustic or scenic spots, they are usually crammed with huge, ugly, noisy RVs, and they are corporate and homogenized. All true. BUT: they were SUPER friendly, went out of their way to find me the best spot, were comfortable, safe and convenient, AND even had an special treat for Annie Butler.
Our lodging firmly in place, we returned to the dunes for a delightful sunset stroll…
And then I ate at this AWESOME old actual drive-in hamburger joint that’s been around since the 50s and has since been declared a New Mexico Culinary Treasure. The Hi-De-Ho was AMAZEBALLS! (Didn’t photograph well in the dark though.) A short drive back to the campsite, I crawled back onto the bed, and was sound asleep in my clothes before my head hit the pillow!