Warm winds blowing
Heating blue sky
And a road that goes forever...
Texas (song) composed by Chris Rea
The image that many motorcycle enthusiasts have of West Texas is long, straight, flat roads often with high winds that seems to tug endlessly at the riders helmet. However, I want to tell you about a small portion of West Texas that dispels this view. That town is called Fort Davis.
The town is nestled in the heart of the Davis Mountains of West Texas, Fort Davis is a place of majestic beauty and immense historical significance. The town and the surrounding counties have unfortunately endured a persistent drought the past several years. However, the last six months has brought an abundance of rain. The result is flowing green native grasses and bountiful plants teeming with new foliage.
Restored 19th. century US Army officers housing (calvary).
Most riders will tell you that visiting this part of Texas is best left to the late fall season through early spring as summer temperatures can easily climb to the 100 degree plus zone quickly. But due to the recent heavy rains in the region, Ft. Davis tends to be a bit cooler than it's further southern neighbors along the Rio Grande. It was easily in the low sixties at night and temperatures never rose above 85 degrees at noon when riding in the general vicinity of Ft. Davis.
Although there aren't that many folks in this mile high community, the people you will meet are friendly and helpful. There are no traffic lights and no shopping malls here. In fact, Fort Davis is just one mile long but local artisans provide plenty of unique possibilities for visitors to take a piece of Fort Davis home with them. Unique shops and art galleries embellish the downtown area along with historic hotels and bed & breakfasts including the oldest Inn in West Texas.
Let's go riding, shall we?
The first route is called the Ft. Davis Scenic Loop. The ride consists mainly of Highways 118 and 166 of which the is called the 75 mile Scenic Loop drive, for which the region is famous. Over the course of the loop you will experience a 2,000 ft change in elevation and scenery ranging from extensive grasslands to the vast Pinon and Ponderosa forests in the heart of the mountains. With the exception of the Davis Mountains State Park nearly all of the property on the loop is privately owned so please do not trespass, there are however several small parks and picnic areas for public use along the loop if you decide to stop on your bike.
One of the highlights of the loop is the McDonald Observatory. The observatory is equipped with a wide range of instrumentation for imaging and spectroscopy in the optical and infrared spectra, and operates the first lunar laser ranging station. It works closely with the astronomy department of the University of Texas at Austin while maintaining administrative autonomy. The high and dry peaks of the Davis Mountains make for some of the darkest and clearest night skies in the region and provide excellent conditions for astronomical research. On the weekends, McDonald Observatory is known to provide special viewings of the celestial bodies to the general public called Star Party. If you plan to visit the observatory for the Star Party be careful riding up here after sunset as the road critters, especially deer and wild pigs are plentiful along the roadside.
The second route of the day was a bit longer than the Ft. David Scenic Loop due to the distance you have to cover getting to the Big Bend area from Ft. Davis. I covered about 400 miles on this day. You will cover several different micro-climates so the temperatures can vary dramatically including the chance for rain as well, so dress accordingly. I took along a large CamelBak loaded with ice and snacks also for added energy.
Map of extended second day route
Highway 170 is known to bikers as the “River Road.” Highway 170 extends from Study Butte to Presidio in South Texas along the Rio Grande. From Study Butte heading west you will travel through the mining town of Terlingua, now a ghost town with a population 25. Terlingua is the home of the “International Championship Chili Cook-off”. From Lajitas is your ride down “one of the prettiest roads in America.” About 9.5 miles from Lajitas, on your left, is the old movie set Contrabando. Several movies were made there and is worth a look.
The River Road is a spectacular ride through lush, twisting river valleys through red and purple rock rising to 1000 feet above the Rio Grande River. The road is an excellent motorcycle road; twisting and dropping to the canyon floors along the Rio Grande river. You ride through the Bofecillos Mountains formed by two ancient lava flows to the “Big Hill.” At a 15% grade it is the steepest of any regularly traveled Texas highway. Just outside Presidio, take time to visit Fort Leaton State Historic Site, one of Texas’ most unusual historic sites. Fort Leaton is a massive adobe fortress built in 1848 immediately after the Mexican American War.
Church in Marfa, Texas. Small windows and thick walls keep temperatures cool for parishioners.
Courthouse in Marfa, Texas.
It was almost 110 degrees in this picture at the Santa Elena Canyon deep inside the Big Bend State Park.
Chris Rea is right, Texas is large. The Lone Star state has many delightful motorcycle roads with varying types of scenery. I haven’t ridden all the places in Texas but have ridden many of them and the River Road has to be at the top of the list. At the end of a few days of whirl wind riding, I headed home with a feeling that motorcycle touring is extremely satisfying. The Yamaha FZ09 has made this possible for me. The FZ09 clearly shows me why it is my favorite bike of all time. With the large top case by Shad, I was able to neatly carry two extra gallons of fuel and still be able to hold my other riding accessories. Setting the fuel mapping mode toggle on b-mode, I was able to get about 135 miles before I had to frantically find a gas station or add the extra fuel that I brought with me. With a great aftermarket seat and large windscreen, I am able to ride far and feel refreshed at the end of the day. I look forward to many more thousands of Smiles with my Fazer.