A Quick Trip West

Sometimes it’s good to see a place through a newcomer’s eyes again.

This year when my niece Chris wanted to visit Austin, she expressed a need for a little adventure. What could we do?

Well, we’ve done Austin numerous times; someone who lives in Connecticut and vacations on the Rhode Island coast doesn’t really need a new beach; and Chris had never seen a desert in real life. So I booked us some space at the Indian Lodge https://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/indian-lodge. Floyd and I had stayed there once during winter break with kids and grandkids; it would be great to see it in a different season.

We’d spend time in Fort Davis and Marfa and try to summon the discipline to return to Austin in time for Chris to return to work and for Mary to get back to peaceful retirement alongside the Pacific.

On a whim I’d asked Chris if she’d be okay with my best friend Mary coming along and Chris, agreeable with nearly everyone and everything, said of course. It would have been more of a Thelma & Louise & Mary kind of drive had the convertible Chris ordered actually been ready for her as the numerous Hertz staffers assured her it was. However, we might have been burned to a crisp by the sun and deafened by the wind after 450 miles, so the fancy SUV served us even better.

The desert was greener than I’ve ever seen it, the vast carpets of wildflowers still vivid and amazing. It looked as though every yucca in Texas was in bloom.

After a long day’s drive we were very glad to reach our destination.

Nestled in the scruffy hills above Fort Davis, this is an old hotel built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. It has recently undergone quite a few structural and cosmetic improvements, but I love its rustic flavor and its rooms built on multiple odd levels.

The weather treated us extremely well, sunny and mild with cool nights and all the dry desert air that has made me very nostalgic now I’m back in Austin with roughly 700% humidity. Mary had teased me when I talked about wanting to try living in the desert, but once we were back at my house a short walk around the block helped her to understand such a whim.

Chris was ready for unplugged days and long stretches of just sitting; the Indian Lodge has many lovely places for that.

With such chilly nights, the pool water was quite cold for Mary and me, but Chris is a New England woman and plunged right in. Then came her favorite part, lying in the sun and slowly drying off.

We’d picked an excellent week, not only for the weather but also for the fact that Texas kids aren’t out of school yet so there were no crowds anywhere and the world around the Indian Lodge was silent except for the calls of birds. Evenings we sat up on a covered deck and kept track of the distant hills.

I took a boatload of photos in the hope of making a desert painting or two – it’s difficult to imagine how colorful the desert is until you see it firsthand.

On this trip I had enough experience to book rooms with windows overlooking the sunrise, and on our mornings I (up early as always) just sat on my bed, pillows to lean on in the window sill, and watched.

Of course we had to drive down to explore the town of Fort Davis; it doesn’t take that long. One reason why I knew the three of us could travel together is that I have spent many hours with each of my companions wandering and window shopping until it is time for the next meal.

One little shop had many representations of a creature Chris and Mary had hoped to spot in the wild. Alas it wasn’t to be: we had to settle for inanimate versions.

Once we were back in Austin I could show them the photo I’d taken from the car during that winter visit. Not as good as the real live thing, but you must admit, javelinas are cute enough to be worth waiting for, with their tiny little feet and friendly ways.

Don’t mess with their babies, everyone said. But when is it a good idea to mess with wild animal babies? Sheesh. They must have thought we were the kind of city slickers who think javelinas are a kind of pig! They are not. https://www.desertmuseum.org/kids/oz/long-fact-sheets/Javelina.php

Fort Davis certainly has a bit of a western twang about it.

As well as the typical Texas courthouse, surrounded on all four sides by streets wide enough for a horse-drawn wagon to turn around:

We made the executive decision (okay, well I made the executive decision) that we would depart early enough on our last day to eat breakfast in Marfa. Chris and I were out early in our pajamas to grab photos.

So far it had been a sweet little getaway for three friends, old and new.