Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Don't mess with Texas!!!

Last week my family and I flew out to Monohans, Texas to visit my grandfather.    Monohans lies in the West Texas pan handle in the middle of oil country USA.  At one time this area was the heart of petroleum and natural gas production for the country and was dotted with several small yet vibrant towns.   There was the Rattlesnake Bomber Base built during WWII that was a training facility for B17 and B29 air crews and even hosted the Enola Gay for a short time before its deployment to the Pacific theater.  This area of the country has a rich history with friendly and affable people but since the introduction of the Interstate highway system and the decline in domestic oil exploration over the last twenty years this area has fallen on hard times.

As for the climate its hot, dusty and smelly as all of the old natural gas wells still emit sulphur fumes. Its 90 degrees most of the year and can reach well over 110 during the summer - winters can can be cold but they are short lived.  Aside from being in 'tornado alley' there are dozens of poisonous snakes, venomous scorpions, tarantulas and several species of invasive 'fire ants.'  Even the lawn grass here is tough as they contain hundreds of sharp nettles that seem to find a way into your shoes and boots no matter how careful you are (forget about flip flops... HUGE mistake).

Despite all this West Texas boasts a natural beauty with a diverse and abundant wildlife.  Drive five minutes outside of any town and it feels like a Western movie.  The night sky is so clear you can see the Milky Way with your naked eye and even track satellites orbiting the Earth.  There is a diverse amount of wildlife (the non poisonous kind) that includes; mule deer, turkey, bobcat, coyotes, foxes, rabbits, pronghorn antelope, javelina (wild boar) and mountain goats.  With this in mind we determined to try and hike, explore and fish this area during some down time from visiting family. 

First stop: Sandhills State Park
Located just outside the town of Monohans in Ward County this park consists of over 3,840 acres of sand dunes, some reaching over 70 feet high.  The park is a draw for hikers, family picnics and the occasional camper.  There is an entrance fee of $3.00 per person but its worth a stop.  There is not a lot of blazed hiking trails here but there are a lot of dunes to explore.  Make sure to bring LOTS of water and sunscreen and watch our for snakes - lots of them in this area.

The Monohans Sandhills State Park
The hike up this 40 footer started nice then we crested the top and saw the rest of the park... all 3000+ acres of HOT sand. It was like walking on a mirror... not cool for two pale Yankees.
I ran up to the top of this one.  I am pretty sure I lost 10 lbs and permanently damaged my lungs.   
Shade is your friend.... sand is the enemy!

Next stop: Balmoreah, Texas
The town of Balmoreah sits on the edge of the Davis Mountains north of Big Bend State Park.  It resides over the San Solomon spring which has been providing fresh water to local inhabitants of this area for centuries including Apache Indians and Union Calvary troops.  The population is less than 700 and there is just one gas station/ restaurant/ bar in the area but the folks are nice and the local scenery is pretty.  The natural spring runs right through the middle of town and feeds one of the neater state parks in the state, the Balmoreah pool

A desert oasis... the pool consists of 100% natural spring water which does not require chlorine.  Because of this there are millions of little fish (and some large catfish) in it.  It is 'L' shaped with shallow and deep ends.  In the bend of the pool is a 30 foot deep, 300 foot diameter dive area where you can scuba dive.  They even hold classes and night dives.
Some Balmoreah residents (yes - they are wild).  The one on the far right is the alpha and has a huge beard and leg spurs. This is a rarity for birds like this - probably some local is feeding them.
Local eatery in downtown.  Is 'Snackateria' even a word?
The spring also feeds Lake Balmoreah which is the only bass fishing pond in the area.  After a quick stop at Walmart in Midland (the largest town in West Texas and former home to President George Bush) for rods and tackle my father, brother and I ventured out to give it a shot.    The lake is about 556 acres and is hallow and very clear.  It is stocked with large mouth bass and pan fish but also has a variety of cat fish, grass carp and stripped bass.  Since it is the only fishing spot for 800+ miles it gets heavy pressure and is also used by local cattle ranches so the banks are heavy with trash and cow pies.  Not the most picturesque lake but beggars can't be choosers!  Just be advised, the fishing is shoulder to shoulder and most of the locals cook what the catch so if your looking for calm and serene catch and release fishing this is not for you.

First stop - the pro shop to buy permits.  Lots of rules on this lake!

The 'Old Man' fishing in style.

My kid brother trying to be the man.  You can see the Davis Mountains in the background
and the smoke from several wild fires.
The bait... crawfish.  Some local caught a beast of a bas a few days before using these.
A small guy to be sure but at least I didn't get skunked (or fall into the water) like my brother.
Last stop:  Davis Mountains and Fort Davis
This is one of the more interesting stops and a big draw for this area.  The mountains are small compared to other ranges but the desert setting makes them absolutely beautiful and very unique.  A little bit of trivia, the movies "No Country for Old Men" and "There Will be Blood" where filmed in these mountains.  The drive to Fort Davis from Balmoreah is awesome - you totally feel like Billy the Kid will be around the next bend.  The Davis Mountains have A LOT of hiking areas and camp grounds including an Indian Lodge built in the 1930's by the CCC, the MacDonald observatory and Old Fort Davis.  The Fort is one of the last remaining frontier forts and is a great stop to stretch the legs and walk around.
How many rattlers do you think call that ridge home?
Its like a screen saver.
The Limpia Hotel in the town of Fort Davis.  I stayed here with the family about 15 years ago.
The parade ground at the fort.  This fort housed African American Cavalrymen which the Apache called 'buffalo soldiers.'
For Davis enlisted mens' barracks.  

The CO's house and the one tree in West Texas over 20 feet tall.
Some graffiti scratched in one of the abandoned officer's quarters. TW & Debbie signed their art in 1957.  There is one to the left from some lonely LT in 1868.
View from the MacDonald observatory. You can see the wild fires off in the distance.  Every 5 to 7 years this area gets a mean dry spell and suffers from wild fires.  This year's fires were pretty bad but the town and the observatory were spared.
Me playing a game of "no hair."  That is about an 80 foot drop off that ledge, then another 600 feet.

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