by Rachel M., special contributor
To be quite honest, I love west Texas. The dry heat. The slower pace of life. The history. Everything. It’s just one of my favorite places on Earth, so it should be no surprise to anyone who has known me for at least five minutes to understand why I’d want to spend my entire weekend in the desert. I had the opportunity to trek from Grapevine all the way to Fort Davis, Texas. With just a few stops along the way…
Did you know that Odessa, Texas is home to the second largest meteor crash site in the United States? Not only that, it is also in the top ten largest crash sites in the world. The Odessa Meteor Crater museum explained that some 20,000 years ago an iron meteorite crashed into Earth and made a cone shaped crater 500 feet wide and nearly 100 feet deep.
Our first stop was really complete happenstance. As we traveled down I-20, I noticed a small sign promoting the site. I’m always up for an adventure and the museum was only two miles out of the way, so I jumped at the chance.
This little museum doesn’t appear like much, but it actually has quite a bit to offer. Inside the museum you will find some history about different meteor strike sites around the world as well as information about meteors in general. After going through the museum, you’re able to walk down the trail and view the actual crash sites. It may not look like much at first glance, but Odessa’s Meteor Crater Museum has done an excellent job at keeping the audience informed about what happened. It was so interesting to think that at some point, such a large object crashed in such an unassuming location. Unfortunately, the crater itself has been filled in quite a bit over the last 20,000 years; however, you can absolutely tell where the meteor crashed and the way it pushed the land up and out to create the crater. I would not necessarily suggest you making a trek all the way to Odessa, Texas just for this museum, but it’s definitely worth a stop if you’re in the area.
The McDonald Observatory is a research unit of the University of Texas at Austin and one of the world’s leading centers for astronomical research. Fort Davis, Texas was selected as the perfect location for the observatory because west Texas has some of the darkest skies in the nation which allows the 107 inch telescope the opportunity to see some incredible things.
The Observatory has a few exciting programs available to the public:
- Daytime Tours and Solar Viewings: Remember your mom always telling you not to look directly at the sun? Well, here you can!
- Star Parties and Twilight Programs: Knowledgeable staff gives you the opportunity to use their nice, expensive telescopes to look at cool stuff in the sky.
- Special Viewing Nights: This program gives you the chance to look through McDonald’s 107”, 82”, and 36” telescopes to give you a more exclusive look at celestial objects.
Not even going to lie — This was really the highlight of the entire trip for me. The evening began with a short, interactive discussion about the solar system. After that, we were invited out to view the site’s telescopes. Jupiter was the prime target for the evening. You’ve seen pictures and have grown up learning facts about this planetary giant, but nothing can compare to personally viewing the planet for yourself. In addition to Jupiter, we were able to view objects such as double stars and even other galaxies. The ability to see hundreds, thousands, and millions of light years away in the middle of Fort Davis, Texas was really quite a humbling experience. I highly recommend the McDonald Observatory to every inquisitive individual. This is one of those experiences that can be enjoyed by every person no matter what age you are.
The Civilian Conservation Corps built Balmorhea State Park in the 1930’s. This state park has natural springs for swimming and scuba diving. There are 34 campsites and motel-style lodging if “camping” isn’t so much your thing.
Have you ever wanted to swim with the fish? Well, here’s your chance. I’ve heard rave reviews about Balmorhea, so I was really looking forward to this park. Unfortunately, I wasn’t prepared for what this park would actually look like. I expected hills and great hiking trails…that’s not at all what I got. Balmorhea is very little more than a really cool place to swim. If you’re going to make a weekend of it, check out Balmorhea, but spend your time at Fort Davis State Park and you’ll get the best of both worlds.
In 1854, the U.S. Army established Fort Davis. Initially, the fort consisted of crude wooden buildings with thatched and canvas roofs. Over time, the fort added brick barracks, a library, church, store, and commissary. Several of these original structures are still partially standing today. On average, 191 officers and enlisted men made Fort Davis their home. The troop abandoned the fort in April of 1861 before later being occupied by Confederate soldiers until August 1862.
I had every intention of making this a relatively quick stop before heading home. Two hours later, I had to drag myself away to make sure I wouldn’t miss my dinner plans. My initial impression of Fort Davis was how beautiful it is. The visitor center has a great museum that walks you through all the history of Fort Davis and even follows the bugle schedule the troops had in the 1800’s. Between the bugle calls and the exceptional preservation, it’s almost as if you can feel the presence of the troops that lived there. I’ve been to several historic sites before, but this was just something different. As I walked from building to building and viewed original structures still standing from so long ago, I truly felt like I was experiencing history.
About The Contributor
My name is Rachel Mayes. I’m a north Texas native, but I fell in love with west Texas while working on my Masters in San Angelo. I’m a Reading Specialist at a kinder-8th grade charter school in Arlington, Texas. I love having a great job which gives me the opportunity to travel around this beautiful state of mine.