I turned away from the path of the eclipse onto a route that would take me to deeper and darker skies. There are a number of dark sky areas in Texas, and one of them hosts a famous observatory- McDonald Observatory, home of the Hobby-Eberly Telescope (10m aperture, tied for 2nd largest in the world). The nearest town is Fort Davis (population ~1000), a 45-minute drive away.
Just outside of Fort Davis is Davis Mountains State Park, where, earlier in the day, before leaving the wifi and phone services of Leakey, I was able to reserve a campsite. I learned by calling that there was a lodge at the state park, but it was full (and had been and would be for quite a while). Similarly, I learned that the campground was nearly full—six sites remained! So I provided my credit credentials and reserved one.
I am still adjusting to the new way of getting away, through the use of smart phones and websites to make camping arrangements. I understand this can make the process of accommodating an ever-growing set of camping clients more efficient, but it removes some of the spontaneity of life on the open road– exploring without fixed destinations, and deciding at whim the right place to stop for the night.
On my way to claim my reserved campsite, I was diverted from the highway to a Border Patrol checkpoint. Two uniformed officers, one with a dog, questioned every vehicle. I asked what they were looking for. “Narcotics and human trafficking” was the response. I replied I had neither, eliciting a harsh look. After noting my Minnesota license plates, they gave me a pass and I continued on.
This was on US-90, at a location a hundred miles or more from the border. It seemed odd to me that there would be a large permanent checkpoint here. But I don’t know the patterns of drug and human smuggling.
Also on the way to Fort Davis was another eclipse viewing candidate: Chalk Bluff River Resort. It was in an arid part of Texas, with large open spaces of sun-stunted creosote bushes, but along the river was a lush canopy of cottonwood and other trees, within which cabins had been built and campsites designated. It was on a dusty road off the main highway, but at the end was an oasis.
I learned that they were taking reservations for eclipse day and were not fully booked yet. But they had some additional fiscal requirements for this special event. Having found themselves on the center line of the eclipse, they were accepting reservations but rather than tripling their rates as other places were doing, they were appending a $200 reservation fee and a non-refundable deposit. This is capitalism at work.
I was satisfied that this could be a nice eclipse viewing destination. I will have to follow up in the months ahead and decide whether to commit to reserve the sites I found most pleasant along the banks of the river.
By late afternoon I had reached Fort Davis and stopped to refuel and resupply at what I thought was a convenience store. It turned out to be a full grocery store, and the clientele appeared to be working class, brown-skinned, Spanish-speaking men, pushing shopping carts, gathering groceries for the upcoming week. In a way it made it easier for me to seek out my modest camping provisions. I was not a member of this particular demographic, but as a senior male, presenting a beard and long gray hair, I seemed to pass muster at the checkout lane.
My night at the campground was a return to the outdoor serenity of Nature. A simple tent provided shelter from the sun and wind. Vacant campsites surrounded me. I was tired from the day’s drive, but the heat and the novelty of being here kept me from a full immersion into sleep. Still, this is what draws people to remote locations and I savored the return to it.