above: Our very nice campsite at Davis Mountains State Park
As I’m finally thawing out in the Arizona sun, my fingers have become nimble enough to write about our last 1.5 chilly weeks. After Lajitas, we headed to Fort Davis in the mountains to the north, at 5,000 ft elevation. We knew it would be colder in the mountains but we also timed it perfectly with a cold front coming in. We ended up driving to Fort Davis through a windy snowstorm which should have been our first clue.
During the week, we ended up with day temperatures in the 30-40s and night temps in the 20-30s with one evening going to 17 degrees. We discovered our heat pump doesn’t do much in temps below 35 degrees, so our propane furnace got quite a workout. Apparently Rover hates the cold almost as much as we do. Due to the freezing weather, our water regulator broke, we had to stop using the heat pump, and during the 17 degree night, our propane tank’s regulator froze at 1:30am so we weren’t getting any heat from the furnace. Poor Mike had to go outside in that weather with a hair dryer to thaw out the regulator. Thank goodness that worked! We started getting heat into the coach again (inside temp had dropped to 52 degrees). A couple of mornings we woke up to find the campground water pipes had frozen. We had water in our tanks, so we were ok but it was another reminder of how cold it was.
The main reason we came here was to visit the McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis. There are three huge research telescopes here and they have programs for the general public at the visitor’s center. There is a daily tour of the telescopes, and a pretty intense lecture about the sun, plus we saw live high-definition videos of the sun through one of the telescopes onsite. We really liked our guide. He’s been doing this since about 1997 but you can tell he really loves his job. He was super-excited and also knew a lot about the topic. My brain was overflowing with information by the end of the lecture but it was extremely cool.
They also have a “star party” three times a week. That’s where the guides help everyone learn about the night sky, and they allow viewing of some celestial objects through their public/amateur telescopes (not the research telescopes). Unfortunately on the day we signed up, it was snowing and too cloudy for them to do the star party. So instead they did some lectures about finding satellites in the sky, and information about stars, nebulas, planets and other thing we would have seen if the sky was clear. Some day in the future, we’ll have to come back to try again. At least we saw some fantastic views from the top of the observatory area. We were about 7,000 feet in elevation so we could see quite far. This part of Texas is pretty deserted, we only saw a few small towns scattered here and there.
We also visited the Fort Davis historic fort nearby. It was a fort built in the late 1800s to help protect settlers moving from the east to the west. They restored a few of the buildings and furnished them as they would have been in the late 1800s.
We did have one nice day where it was clear and about 50 degrees so we built a nice fire outside for most of the afternoon into the evening. I got to have my roasted marshmallows, and we cooked hot dogs over the fire for dinner. The rest of the time we hung around inside Rover watching movies and trying to stay warm.
After being in Fort Davis, we were looking forward to some warmth and internet (no cellular signals on the mountain) so on New Year’s Eve we headed to Las Cruces, NM. Unfortunately the cold front still had a grip here too. We stayed in Las Cruces only long enough to replenish our supplies, grab some free wifi, and take a day off before our next long drive to Tucson, AZ where it would be significantly warmer.
When we got Rover, our plan was to visit all sorts of places we’ve never been and experience America as few can. A side benefit would be to avoid winter and snow. We’re accomplishing our first goal and seeing all sorts of fantastic places but we really took a left turn on avoiding winter! Hopefully we’re learning from our newbie mistake and next year we’ll do better about avoiding cold, snow, sleet, and ice!