The Tale of Two Forts

Hi everyone,

Thanks for all the comments on last week’s post about my little accident on Madeline Island a few years back. If you missed it, click here. This week I’ll take you back to the Southwest with a visit to two National Historic Sites, one in West Texas and the other in Eastern Arizona. In both these locations, we had another one of those unforgettable experiences. Stay tuned!

It was early January 2018 when we left Madison towing our travel trailer. We were headed first to Central Texas to begin our journey westward towards Southern California. After visiting friends north of Austin, we started west, first to Big Bend National Park followed by a short stop at the quirky city of Marfa. Our next destination was the community of Fort Davis, the home of the Fort Davis National Historic Site. We set up camp at the well-appointed nearby Davis Mountains State Park. That’s a lot of Davis’ to keep straight!

Our main interest was the national historic site, we are fans of the National Parks, often going out of our way to visit those places of interest. It was late in the afternoon when we arrived so headed to the campground three miles north of town. After unhitching the trailer, we proceeded to set up camp. I leveled the trailer and plugged into the electric outlet. I then signaled to my Traveling Partner to extend the slide-out while I finished the outside duties. She soon came out and announced that the slide wouldn’t go out more than three inches. I went into the trailer and gave it a try. Same thing. Fortunately, it would come back in but would only go out a couple of inches. Perplexed, I examined all the fuses, switches, and wires. Finding nothing, we decided to have it looked at our next stop in New Mexico. The trailer and kitchen are very accessible with the slide in so it wasn’t a huge inconvenience. The only thing we couldn’t use was the television, we didn’t watch that much anyway. This saga continued through a couple of RV dealers in New Mexico who couldn’t fix the problem, a design issue with a protruding wire. It didn’t get fixed until we returned home. Annoying but not a deal breaker.

With that behind us, the next morning we spent a couple of hours walking around and enjoying the Fort Davis National Historic Site. We pretty much had the place to ourselves. It has very well kept grounds with great exhibits. The day was stunning with a bright blue clear sky and fresh cool air. The elevation of the area is nearly 5000 feet above sea level so the air is a little thinner. We stopped by the visitor center upon entry and had a nice chat with a local volunteer who staffed the desk. He gave us a site map and suggested we watch a short video on the history of the fort. Fort Davis is an excellent example of a mid-to-late 1800s U. S. Army fort in the Southwest. Established in 1854, it was one of a series of army outposts to protect settlers, mail routes, wagon trains headed west, and dealt with Indian raids. The fort was built in a canyon surrounded on three sides by the rugged Davis Mountains. This location gave the fort some protection from the winter weather and attacks from the rear and both flanks. The following are some photos from our visit to Fort Davis.

That afternoon, my Traveling Partner and I hiked one of the state park trails to the summit of the Davis Mountains. The walk was pleasant though the change in elevation made the trek a little challenging. We were rewarded with a stunning 360 degree view at the top. The next morning, we were up early and ready to keep moving west.

After about ten days exploring sites in New Mexico, we crossed over into Southeastern Arizona. We camped near the busy and noisy I-10 in the town of Willcox. We’d heard a lot about Willcox from our Son-in-Law. For five years, he taught high school agriculture in this town. In addition to checking out the area, we wanted to visit the Chiricahua National Monument located about thirty-five miles southeast of Willcox. It so happened that there was a total lunar eclipse to start before sunrise the next morning, January 31. To get away from the light pollution of Willcox and I-10, we decided to view the eclipse from the Chiricahua National Monument. Before going to bed, I stepped out of the trailer and made this photo of the blue super moon.

The alarm woke us at 4 AM. The night before we had packed a breakfast, snacks and some lunch, our plan was to be out most of the day. We were on our way by 4:30 arriving at the entrance at about 5:15. I set up one of my cameras on the tripod to try and capture a photo of the eclipse. Here’s my feeble attempt.

After the eclipse ended, we took a nap until the sun came up. We had some breakfast then took a drive through the Chiricahua National Monument. It’s another spectacular site. Unfortunately, it doesn’t attract that many visitors, about 60-70,000 per year. I’ve written about Chiricahua before, if you’d like to see the photos click here.

Nearby, down a gravel road, is the Fort Bowie National Historic Site. By the time we arrived the sun was high and warm. When we pulled into the parking lot, we discovered that a visit to Fort Bowie required a 1.5 mile walk through the prairie. I convinced my Traveling Partner that it would be worth it, besides that we needed the exercise! With a couple of bottles of water in my backpack, we set out. The path was fairly level and easy to navigate. There were a few benches along the way where we could take short break. 

On the hike in, we passed this cemetery. We jokingly wondered if it was visitors who died on the trail! No, those buried here died between the 1850’s and 1890’s. They were settlers, soldiers, and a few Native Americans.

By the time we reached the visitor center, we were hot and our water bottles were empty. The modern visitor center had a large veranda that wrapped around three sides of the building. We refilled our water bottles and relaxed in the rocking chairs in the shade before entering the center. We had a pleasant chat with the ranger on duty before walking around to look at the stone foundations of the ruins. We learned that Fort Bowie was built to protect the Apache Pass and the local source of water. On our hike into Fort Bowie, we came across the spring where a few javelina (a small pig like critters) were cooling off in the mud.

For the walk back to the parking lot, the ranger recommended we take the Overlook Ridge trail. This required a walk up a good sized hill behind the visitor center. At the top of the ridge, this was our view. The visitor center is the building to the left and the ruins of Fort Bowie are in the center. The backdrop is quite beautiful, in my opinion. 

After reaching the overlook, the walk was all down hill. One had to be careful because the dirt path could be treacherous in places. My Traveling Partner fell and nearly landed in one of the many cacti that lined the trail. That would have been unpleasant for everyone!

It was mid-afternoon by the time we arrived back at the parking lot. We immediately broke out the lunch we packed the night before. It was simple but just as good as a gourmet meal at a fancy restaurant! We talked about what we just had done that day, it was a lot to absorb. We agreed it was well worth effort, even the hike through the desert!

Until next week, happy virtual travels!

Tom

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