Monday, September 30, 2013

"The Stars at Night, are Big and Bright, (clap, clap, clap, clap)...

Haime was me! Well, whats a girl to do when she suffers from wanderlust and her guy is really very content to stay glued to his favorite chair and/or putter around the house? Really, it called for DESPERATE measures and, well, I took them. 

Perhaps I should start at the beginning...

Haime had a birthday coming up and I had been planning a surprise for him for several months preceding the anniversary of his birth (or landing...stay tuned for that theory...).  Well, that's not quite the beginning, I should actually start by telling you that Haime loves astronomy. In fact, chances are, if you happen to stop by our house anytime during the day, you are likely to find him watching some "outer-space" related show on the science channel. He can discuss such things as black holes: do they exist or don't they?; planetary orbits: their relative shape, spin patterns and accompanying moons; the asteroid belt; and he has definite opinions on such things as: Is there other life out there? (I have an opinion on why he is interested in that particular one...)

OK, so my plan was to take Haime to Marfa, Texas, to view the "mystery lights," then to the McDonald Observatory for a "twilight program" followed by a "star party." There were just a couple of things that had me concerned about my the heck was I going to get Haime to agree to drive 6+ hours to the middle of nowhere and would the weather cooperate? 

If you are familiar with Texas, specifically west Texas, you understand what I mean by driving to the middle of nowhere...If you are not familiar with Texas, let me attempt to illustrate. First, close your eyes and picture your current town or city. Now, imagine that you get into your car and start driving west. Within an hour, you are in "the country." There are no towns or houses, or buildings of any kind. The only signs of civilization you see are the asphalt paved road on which you are driving and about every 90-100 miles, there will be a place to stop and get gas and a sandwich or a highway rest stop where you can answer "nature's call." Now, imagine that with each passing hour, the terrain becomes flatter and more desert like until the only "trees" you see are mesquites and some types of cactus. Finally, imagine doing this drive for about six hours...welcome to the middle of nowhere, aka west Texas. 

So, as you probably guessed, I had to start warming Haime up to this adventure, without ruining the surprise...not easy! I started telling him that he was going to LOVE his birthday present from me. Then, I'd tell him that we were going somewhere for his birthday that he was going to LOVE! Of course, I had to do this intermittently, several times a week (over the course of a couple of months...). Finally, his birthday came and we were off...he only knew where to go from my directions to him while he drove. Of course he had a few guesses as we began our journey but, he never got close. Finally, we stopped at one of the aforementioned rest-stops, about 4 hours into our trek. There was a state map posted on a board there and he checked it for the "you are here" star and finally guessed our destination...when you're in the middle of nowhere, it's easier to guess where you're going because there are very few things worth seeing there...

So, after driving a couple more hours, (and nearly running out of gas), we finally made it to our first stop: Marfa, Texas (population~1980 (+ other worldly visitors?)). If you "google" Marfa, you'll find that some are calling it the "Austin of west Texas" for it's relatively new draw of artsy-types. However, artists aside, there is not a lot to draw you to Marfa. It's located between the Big Bend national park and the Fort Davis mountains. Haime and I are there, however to see the "Marfa Mystery Lights." (key eerie music).

As I said, Haime loves astronomy and likes to debate the existence of life on other planets (or whether they are living among us). These "mystery lights" are right up his alley. There have been stories about these lights since the 19th century. The lights are often see along a stretch of highway 67, just east of Marfa. They are often described as being basketball-sized lights that tend to "pulsate" and change colors (white, red, blue, orange and yellow). They are usually seen just above the horizon and seem to move toward and away from the observers. They sometimes dart about and sometimes seem to converge then separate. The debate is non-ending when attempting to discover what the lights really are. Some suggest they are the souls of Indians killed by white settlers, others suggest the lights are "swamp gas" (be clear, there are NO SWAMPS within 750 miles). Now, confession time: I have seen the lights. About 20 years ago, for Spring Break, I took my sons on a trip to Big Bend with my parents. When we left the park, we decided to go north to Marfa to see the lights. At that time, there was no "viewing station" like the one pictured just above on the left. You simply pulled off of the highway where other cars were parked. The lights we saw that night we mostly red and orange and white. They behaved very much like what I described above. It was actually pretty cool. 

The pictures here, however are shown to contrast what we hoped to see (and what I saw then) and what we actually saw. Unfortunately, it was completely cloudy and rainy and we didn't see anything other than cars coming down from a ridge south of Marfa. We did meet some very interesting people there who were also looking for the lights. One man had grown up in the area and also described the lights, just as I had seen them myself. Haime was not convinced. 

Now, lest you think that our trip was a total bust, let me tell you it was not! We found the most amazing hotel, the El Paisano. The hotel is nothing short of GRAND! We felt like we had just entered into a "time warp" (considering that some believe the lights are UFOs checking out a landing spot, maybe we were right). Everything about the architecture, the decor, the staff, and the quite elegance made us feel welcomed. 

view from our room. looking down
and right from our balcony.
The El Paisano's claim to fame comes from the 1956 movie "Giant." Most of the scenes from the movie, depicting the "Benedict Ranch, Reata" were shot in and around Marfa. While they were on location, the movie's stars stayed at El Paisano.   

Our room was large and the french doors led to a beautiful covered balcony which looked out onto the courtyard. The large, beautiful fountain, which was centered in the courtyard simply added to the relaxing and pampering atmosphere. 

The only part of the hotel that was not "Grand" was the bathroom...think cruise ship was actually comical. We had a wonderful time.

The next morning, we headed to Fort Davis, specifically the Indian Lodge state park. En route, we stopped for lunch at Fort Davis. We toured the grounds which include some historically accurate, restored buildings as well as some parts of the fort that have yet to be restored. What amazed us both was the extremes in the accommodations for the officers, especially the commanding officer, and the enlisted men. It was like comparing a log cabin to the White House. 

The town of Fort Davis was very cute. One thing we remarked on was the fact that even though it is a very small town, (more accurately a "village?"), there was obviously a pride there. The streets, buildings, stores, hotels, businesses, etc were all clean and the "keepers" very friendly and eager to help. It was clear that they were happy that we were there and wanted to ensure we enjoyed ourselves.  Both pictures above are of the same place. Haime especially liked it because he said it reminded him of a place his uncle owned several years ago, in Jerome, AZ. 

After lunch (and the obligatory shopping), we arrived at our "home for the night," at Indian Lodge State Park.  The original part of the Lodge was built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (one of FDR's programs to get the US out of the great depression). The original part of the Lodge, where we stayed, has 18 inch adobe walls and hand carved cedar furniture. The lodge was built to resemble a multilevel Pueblo village. 

 Our room, through the door on the middle pic above, was spacious with a beautiful view of the valley. There is an original kiva-style fireplace in the corner. Both this hotel and the El Paisano were obviously designed for comfort and as welcoming ends to a visitor's day. The only thing that we needed to do in this room was to remember how to sleep in a double bed. It took a few minutes and some tossing and turning but we figured it out.

Shortly before dusk, we drove to the McDonald observatory. We were really hoping that the skies would clear...much easier to see stars when the sky is clear.

 The observatory is located on the tops of Mount Locke and Mount Fowlkes in the Davis Mountains which offer some of the darkest night skies in the lower 48. Haime and I were both very excited to look through the telescopes and get more information about finding specific constellations and learning as much as we could about where to look and how to "navigate" our way in the night sky.

                                                                 What we hoped to see:


                                                    What we saw: 

 OH well, some will say that the cosmos was just not ready for Haime to look into it too closely. Others might suggest that the "mothership" was not ready to take him back aboard yet so it didn't show itself in Marfa, others will say that by being cloudy, Haime will just be forced to journey back out to west Texas and discover more mysteries and find more hidden gems another time. We had a great time and I plan to go back out there again. Haime even suggested that we go to Big Bend sometime in the late winter or spring...maybe there is some latent wanderer gene in him after can hope.



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