Way out in west Texas, where the prairie grass meets the mountains of Fort Davis, is the Fort Davis National Historic Site. The area was designated as a historic site and national park in 1961 to preserve one of the last standing examples of a United States army fort. The fort itself was established in 1854 by Bvt. Maj. Gen. Smith, who thought the idea of being surrounded on three sides by towering rock walls made the perfect opportunity to build a secure fort. The fort and town are named after Secretary of War Jefferson Davis. The fort helped provide shelter and protection for emigrants, mail coaches and freight loads traveling through the area. Today, there are 24 restored historic buildings along with over 100 ruins that can be seen on the site.
Explore an Army Fort
The fort itself has many options to explore. The first thing you will see is the officer’s houses all lined up in a row. There are men’s barracks, privies, cavalry stables, a quartermaster corral, a bakery, officer’s kitchen and servant’s quarters, the post commander’s stable, the post hospital which is furnished and many other supporting buildings needed for a fully functional fort. One of the enlisted men’s barracks has been turned into the visitor center and museum. There is a 15-minute orientation film for all visitors to view, and you can take a self-guided tour of the five buildings that are fully restored and furnished in 1880s décor. During the summer months, is the park staff dressed in this period clothing and can be seen outside some of these buildings, making it fell like it is a fort in the 1800s. Live reenactments are presented in the summer months that include bugle calls and a cannon fired as officers in uniform make you feel as the fort is alive.
The Town of Fort Davis
The National Historic Site is located in the quaint mountain town of Fort Davis. It has one main street that has restaurants and stores on both sides, and people can easily walk up and down the old-timey city to get a feel of a west Texas frontier town. The famous Hotel Limpia is close by for excellent accommodations and experience fine dining in the Blue Mountain Bistro located within the hotel. There are hotels, motels, campgrounds, bed and breakfasts and vacation rentals to accommodate your stay in Fort Davis. The road passes through the central part of the town and winds through the Davis Mountains providing some stunning scenery. There are plenty of shopping opportunities in the city too. Try the favorite store called Javelinas and Hollyhocks, as well as the Davis Mountain Nut Company that features roasted and dipped gourmet pecans. The town is quiet and rustic and offers a big welcome to a Wild West frontier fort town.
The Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center and Botanical Garden
Not far from the historical site visitors can find the Desert Center. One of the best things to do at the center is to take the moderately difficult 2.25-mile hike loop trail to see the fantastic vegetation and maybe some wildlife. Try the Hummingbird and Butterfly Trail for a more relaxed hike and make sure to see the lovely botanical gardens and the cactus and succulent greenhouse to see over 1800 species of cactus. Along the way, guests may find some beautiful scenic overlooks courtesy of the Davis Mountains and stunning terrain. The mining exhibit is a visitor’s favorite. Walk through the exhibit to observe all the different mining equipment, ores, pictures, display, document and even some miner’s equipment. Enjoy the Desert Nature Center just steps away from the historic site and enjoy the panoramic view of the mountains around you.
Visit the Snake Man
Down the main street from the historic site, you might find a small building called Rattlers and Reptiles. This is no fancy reptile museum, but a rattlesnake-filled structure and the “Snake Man’” there to answer all your questions. The room is filled with aquariums, and most have some form of retiling, snake, or tarantula in them. Some of the rattlesnakes such as the Western Diamondback are huge, so be prepared for a scare. It is worth a quick stop to see the fantastic variety of local snakes to add to your Fort Davis experience.
One of the highlights of visiting the picturesque mountain town is the drive up through the mountains to the McDonald Observatory. The observatory is known for its famous “star parties,” where guests get to have fun and learn at the same time while viewing the rings around Jupiter or a Nebula or stars. Dress warmly as the nights can get chilly up in the beautiful mountains and at the observatory which is located on a high point. There are fantastic exhibitions on astronomy and a great gift shop to get your star souvenir. Join in on one of the many programs offered, or try one of the twilight talks. There is so much to see and do here both in daylight hours and especially at night. Try the observatory experience; you will not be disappointed!
Davis Mountains State Park
Are you ready to camp in west Texas? The views from the top of the rocks and mountains are beautiful, with low grass plains breaking up the ranges. You can almost picture the cavalry riding across the field. Get a good look at the observatory from here and stay in one of the beautiful campsites provided. There are great hiking trails to take and different levels for all ages. Climb some of the steeper trails to get the best views of Fort Davis and enjoy the wildlife, the views and imagine what it was like to live in a fort town in Wild West Texas.
The Best Preserved Fort in the West
The Fort Davis National Historic Site is one of the best preserved 19th-century frontier forts. Some of the buildings have been restored and decorated with period furnishings, while the staff sometimes dresses in uniforms or costumes from the ear, letting the visitors take a step back in time. The site has a beautiful museum and interpretive and historical displays to see how the town was created and how it survived the untamed wild of Texas and civilization. Explore the 532-acre grounds and picture soldiers or the cavalry and how they lived and worked at the fort. Explore the town and nearby attractions and experience the beauty of the West Texas mountains, as you will never be able to forget them.