National Park Road Trip 2011: Fort Davis National Historic Site
Editor's note: At work updating their book, The Complete Guide To The National Park Lodges, David and Kay Scott are visiting many units of the National Park System. In their travels from Big Bend National Park to Mesa Verde National Park they were able to squeeze in a stop at Fort Davis National Historic Site.
We are beginning the second week of our trip to explore America’s national park lodges. Saturday night we splurged at a Holiday Inn in Santa Fe following a night of camping at Bottomless Lake State Park near Roswell, New Mexico. You may know that Roswell is ground zero for the UFO crowd. The town has a UFO museum, UFO gift shops, etc. The cheer at high school sports events may well be “Beam me up.”
At the state park we talked with four college students from Florida who are enjoying their own road trip. When we told them we were sleeping in a tent one of the girls said, “Wow.” I guess we appear to be well beyond the age for tenting...
On the drive from Big Bend to Roswell we stopped at Fort Davis National Historic Site, a 474-acre unit of the National Park System about 30 miles north of Alpine, Texas. This is scenic country on the eastern side of the Davis Mountains that has been devastated by the largest of several recent West Texas fires.
At some points along our drive all we could see was burned grassland in every direction. The Rock House Fire apparently started west of Fort Davis near the town of Marfa. The fire reached a ridge above the fort but did not cause damage to the historic site.
The original Fort Davis, named for Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, was constructed in 1854 and consisted of log buildings with thatched roofs and earthen floors. The fort was designed to offer protection from Indians for travelers on the San Antonio – El Paso Road. The fort was occupied by Confederate, and then Union troops before being abandoned in 1862.
The old fort fell into disrepair over a period of several years and a new fort was built in the latter 1860s near the same site. The Indian Wars had ended by 1880, although the fort remained in use until 1891. In addition to offering protection to travelers, soldiers at the fort helped to repair roads and telephone lines.
Numerous buildings of the second fort have been restored by NPS. Five restored buildings including the commissary, commanding officer’s quarters, enlisted men’s barracks, officers’ kitchen, and shared lieutenants’ quarters have been furnished and are open to the public. The visitor center with exhibits, a short video, and books for sale is in one of the enlisted men’s barracks. Visitors should plan on spending at least a couple of hours exploring the fort.
Besides the two of us, there was only one other couple at the site until two busloads of students arrived. A ranger told us the fort typically gets 30-40 visitors a day during this time of year. This doesn’t count students who arrive in buses. We enjoy visiting small park units like Fort Davis where other visitors are scarce.