Road Scholar 20562

Immerse yourself in the best of Texas as you visit remote state and national parks, explore Fort Davis Historic Site and stargaze at the McDonald Observatory. Explore Texas nature and culture from San Antonio’s Riverwalk to the mountains of Big Bend National Park. Cross the Chihuahuan Desert as a naturalist interprets all you see and scale the Chisos Mountains to explore Big Bend’s rugged landscapes. Visit Terlingua ghost town, Fort Davis National Historic Site and much more.

My “last” trips here were on my own: a) 5 days, May 16-20, 1992, Big Bend, b) 4 days, April 1998, West Texas & BBNP, and c) 5 days, May 17-21, 2001 West Texas & BBNP. Noted: almost exactly the same days on 2 of the 3 trips.

On Your Feet: Hiking up to one mile over varied terrain. Standing up to one hour, climbing two flights of stairs; No porterage. Elevations up to 7,000 feet. For someone like me, only 3 “short hikes” and they are optional. For ME, just two of them.

Best of all, you'll ...
* Explore the darkest skies in the country in a star party with an expert at the McDonald Observatory.
* Travel back in time with a visit to Fort Davis National Historic Site.
* See a wide variety of plants and wildlife as you journey through deserts and mountains of Big Bend National Park.

SOME SCHEDULE CHANGES August 18, 2018. Mostly not good.

Group Leader: Linda Murray

DAY 1, Sunday, Oct 14 - Check-in, Registration, Orientation, Welcome Dinner
Activity note: Walk on uneven surfaces up to a mile each day, handle your own luggage. No elevators in Lajitas. No Wi-Fi in San Antonio. Bring your National Parks pass.

(D) Only a short round-trip flight to San Antonio and return. Schedule the shuttle for about 9:15.

United UA 2017Houston – San Antonio12:00 – 1:03 1:03

Take a long 10-mile taxi ride to the hotel for check-in from 3:00pm. Registration & Disorientaton: 4:00pm in a hotel conference room. The Group Leader will review the up-to-date program schedule, and answer questions. A Texas Master Naturalist will serve as our Study Leader as well as our Group Leader throughout the program, providing educational information on plants, animals, and birds of the areas we explore both on site and during travel and transfers. In this program, we will explore the rugged beauty of the Big Bend National Park area, learn about the diversity of geology as well as plant and animal life, and get an insider’s look at the McDonald Observatory and star gazing. At 5:30 p.m., you are welcome to enjoy the “Kickback” reception on the 2nd floor of the hotel, with free hot food and cold drinks.

At a nearby restaurant on the River Walk, we’ll have a plated meal.

We’ll begin our educational adventure with an informative and entertaining presentation about the colorful Big Bend region by a humorist who is an expert on Texas and its culture. Those who like can walk across the plaza to San Fernando Cathedral, adjacent to the hotel, and see it during a light show put together by French artist Xavier De Richemont. This quarter-hour show tells the story of San Antonio from its beginnings to the present day. The cathedral was built from 1738-50 by settlers from the Canary Islands who had been granted land by Spain’s King Philip V. Mexican general Santa Anna raised the red flag of “no quarter” from the church tower during the siege of the Alamo. One of the most interesting of the cathedral’s holdings is what purports to be the final resting place of Davy Crockett, William Travis, and Jim Bowie. Hotel: Drury Plaza Hotel San Antonio Riverwalk – NO INTERNET.

DAY 2, Monday, Oct 15 - Travel to Big Bend Region, Scenic Stops, Alpine
Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach. The drive to Alpine, TX is about 400 miles, approximately 8+ hours from San Antonio to Alpine including stops.

(BLD) We will check out of the hotel, board our motorcoach, and head out on our educational adventure into the least populated area of Texas. We’ll make stops along the way as we cross scenic Hill Country and enter the dramatic Chihuahuan Desert. We’ll have expert commentary along the way and learn about the natural and cultural history of San Antonio and West Texas. During a brief stop at the Amistad National Recreation Area visitor center near Del Rio, we’ll learn what archeologists know about life in this area from more than 4,000 years ago. We’ll be able to see what art on nearby rock shelter walls can teach us about early human and animal life in the area.

We’ll stop at a scenic spot and have pre-selected (turkey on wheat - very poor choices) box lunches.

Riding through the desert, we’ll see first-hand the remoteness of the area with commentary about geology and plant life. Heard about “The Law West of the Pecos?” That’s what Judge Roy Bean (1825-1903) called himself. We’ll see where the judge issued his often unusual rulings at the Judge Roy Bean Visitor Center in Langtry. In the cactus garden adjacent to the Jersey Lilly Saloon — that Bean named for English actress Lilly Langtry — we’ll start identifying desert plant species. We’ll then continue riding towards our destination and check in to our hotel in Alpine — named one of the Top Ten small towns in Texas — with some time to stretch our legs before dinner and enjoy a reception with the hotel manager.

At a local restaurant, we’ll have a fajita buffet. Later we’ll be joined by a local resident of the Big Bend area who will discuss some of the issues facing this region. We’ll begin to understand why some people thrive in the isolated region and wouldn't want to live anywhere else. Hotel: Hampton Inn Alpine, 2 nights (complimentary Wi-Fi?

DAY 3, Tuesday, Oct 16 – Fort Davis Historic Site, Star Viewing at McDonald Observatory, Fort Davis
Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach. The drive from Alpine to Fort Davis is about 45 miles, from Fort Davis to the Observatory about 10 miles. Walking uphill/downhill and standing at field trip sites. Evening star viewing in amphitheater involves climbing 5-10 steps to viewing platform area and telescopes. Dress warmly for colder higher elevation and wind.

(BLD) We’ll hop back on the motorcoach for a field trip to the Fort Davis National Historic Site. As the U.S. Park Service describes it, Fort Davis is one of the best surviving examples of an Indian Wars frontier military post in the Southwest. We’ll have a presentation by a docent about life here and begin to develop an appreciation of native inhabitants of the region, Buffalo Soldiers, early settlers, and the importance of mail coaches and freight wagons during the westward expansion of the United States. At the post hospital, we’ll get a glimpse of what frontier medicine was like.

We’ll ride to a guest ranch within the grounds of a local cattle ranch that is more than 100 years old and have a buffet lunch. Later we’ll hear from a long time resident who will tell us about life out west and share some of the area’s history. We’ll then head for the hills and the McDonald Observatory for an expert-led exploration. We’ll see several of the large, state-of-the-art telescopes and hear about the research conducted there, where scientists and university students continue to make important discoveries. Afterwards, we’ll have some time to look through exhibits in the visitor center and contemplate advances in the world of astronomy before returning to Fort Davis for dinner.

At a local restaurant with an award-winning chef, we’ll have a plated dinner. Then we’ll ride back to the McDonald Observatory for one of their famous star parties. An astronomer will give us a presentation on the observatory as well as visible planets and constellations. We’ll then do our gazing into one of the darkest and clearest night skies in the country, some with the naked eye. As our expert explains what we’re seeing, we’ll have an opportunity for views through the myriad of telescopes around the plaza. Then back to our hotel in Alpine, not Fort Davis.

Darn it, they changed the lodging and are taking us to Alpine tonight rather than staying in Fort Davis at the interesting old Limpia Hotel. DOUBLE DARN!!

DAY 4, Wednesday, Oct 17 – Museum of Big Bend; Mexican Border; Scenic Drive; Terlingua
Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach multiple times during the day. The driving distance is about 140 miles, approximately 4-5 hours including stops. Walking and standing in museum.

(BL-) After checking out, we'll take a field trip to the Museum of the Big Bend on the campus of Sul Ross State University. A professor will lead our exploration as we learn about the life, history, and culture of the Big Bend area and Northern Mexico. We’ll see how the area was shaped by the confluence of cultures brought by Native Americans, Europeans, and U.S. citizens. Next, we’ll head south and make a short visit to quirky Marfa, home of many artists who moved to the area seeking inspiration and tranquility. Originally established as a water stop on the railroad, the town’s motto is “Tough to Get Here. Tougher to Explain.”

In the border town of Presidio, we’ll have a buffet lunch. Later we’ll learn something about the colorful history of this town and its sister city, Ojinaga, Mexico. The drive from Presidio to the Big Bend National Park area is one of the most scenic in Texas, an opportunity to sit back and appreciate the remoteness of this rugged landscape. Upon arrival in Lajitas, we’ll check in to the resort with time to freshen up and relax before dinner. Or, take a walk around to get a sense of the surrounding natural beauty.

Dinner on your own to have what you like at one of the resort restaurants or the nearby deli and general store. Hotel: Lajitas Resort (2 nights) NO ELEVATORS so hauling our own luggage could be a problem. (complimentary Wi-Fi?)

DAY 5, Thursday, Oct 18 - Big Bend National Park; Santa Elena Canyon, Terlingua
Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach multiple times during the day. Walking up to 1 mile; uneven pathway, some uphill.

Rode Skalur sent an updated description for today, but it had to do with somewhere in France. So I'll stay with the original description.

We'll begin our exploration of Big Bend National Park with a scenic trip by motorcoach down the Ross Maxwell Drive. We’ll be joined by a local expert who will tell us about plant, animals, and life in this area 100 miles from the nearest grocery store. We’ll marvel at views from the Sotol Vista overlook where we can see the entire western side of the park. We’ll then head to Santa Elena Canyon with its dramatically beautiful cliffs rising high above Big Bend River. Elective: Those who wish may join our expert for a hike uphill to a canyon overlook. Those who prefer not to hike can continue to admire the exceptional views from the riverbank.

In Big Bend National Park we’ll make our own lunches with sandwich meats, cheeses, peanut butter, hummus, vegetables, pretzels, fruit and eat outdoors at picnic tables. We'll continue our field trip exploring the remote beauty of Big Bend National Park. Returning to the resort, the remainder of the afternoon is free before we ride to the ghost town of Terlingua and the Starlight Theater. This former mining town was based on the production of cinnabar, an ore that is a source of mercury, before being gradually abandoned. Today, with barely any light pollution, the evening skies display brilliant stars. We’ll have some time before dinner to wander around with opportunities to hear musicians, visit the general store, or rock on the restaurant front porch.

At the Starlight Theater in Terlingua, we’ll have a delicious chicken dinner.

DAY 6, Friday, Oct 19 - Driving & Hiking Big Bend National Park, Visitors Center, Alpine
Activity note: Participants will be given the opportunity to go on a short hike near the Chisos Mountain Lodge. Elevation near the lodge is approximately 5,000 feet. Getting on/off a motorcoach. Walking approximately 1 mile on a paved, ADA accessible trail; hiking approximately 1 mile on a natural trail with 50-60 steps along the trail up to an overlook; rocky and uneven in places.

(BLD) We’ll return to Big Bend National Park for a full-day field trip up. We’ll ride up to the Chisos Basin area, where we will see changes in vegetation and wildlife as the elevation increases. We’ll then ride to Chisos Mountain Lodge. Those who wish may join our resident naturalist for a short hike in the basin of the Chisos Mountains.

At the restaurant in the Chisos Mountain Lodge, we’ll have a pre-selected plated lunch (beef enchiladas, etc.). The lodge has a fascinating history with the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), one of the so-called “alphabet soup” agencies created during the first administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. As the National Park Service describes it, the CCC carved out roads in the early 1930s using only “picks, shovels, rakes, and a dump truck they loaded by hand. They scraped, dug, and blasted 10,000 truckloads of earth and rock and constructed 17 stone culverts, still in use today along the Basin road.”

Outdoors at the lodge, we’ll meet with a Park Ranger who will provide an overview of Big Bend National Park and answer questions about this large and diverse natural area. The park covers more than 800,000 acres, comprising spectacular geology, an amazing range of flora and fauna — with more types of birds, bats, and cacti than any other national park in the U.S. — and extensive natural resources. Next, we'll visit the Boquillas Canyon area of the park and hike along a nature trail. We’ll have a rest stop at the Panther Junction Visitor Center that also has exhibits. Our day in the park will end as we head through the Persimmon Gap section and exit through the north entrance as our naturalist continues our education about plants, wildlife, and area topography.

In Alpine, we’ll have a plated meal and enjoy our final evening in the wide open spaces. Hotel: Hampton Inn Alpine

DAY 7, Saturday, Oct 20 - Return to San Antonio; Farewell Dinner
Activity note: Primarily a very long travel day. Online source: 378 miles, 5:30 (plus “frequent pit stops” and lunch) driving time. Return to San Antonio via a very boring stretch of Interstate 10, with occasional rest stops along the way.

(BLD) A hot breakfast at your hotel is included. Bid farewell to the sprawling Big Bend region as you head out by bus. Stop in a scenic Hill Country town along the way. Stop for a well-deserved rest to stretch your legs and eat a hot lunch along the way. Enjoy some great Texas barbecue and all the trimmings!

Complete your return to San Antonio. Your group leader show a movie to watch as you travel and will share some thoughts to wrap up your westward journey. Beginning at 5:30 p.m. enjoy the kickback reception on the 2nd floor of the hotel, featuring free hot food and cold drinks.

We have a catered dinner in at the hotel after the long trip. Your group leader will lead a final discussion and present a slide show of photos collected during the week to wrap up your experience as you enjoy a catered meal. Hotel: Drury Plaza Hotel San Antonio Riverwalk

DAY 8, Sunday, Oct 21 - Program Concludes
(B) Free Time: Optional morning independent activities include a River Walk stroll along our hotel; or visit the Alamo or Historic Market District, which are located within walking distance from our hotel. Hotel check out is 11:00 a.m. I’ve chosen a later flight so that I will have time to do some of the exploring. Have the hotel hold my luggage and when the walks are over, take a taxi to the airport to get something to eat then fly home.

United UA 1930San Antonio – Houston4:16 – 5:25 1:09

Home about 7PM, maybe.

Drury Plaza Hotel San Antonio Riverwalk, nights 1 and 7, 210-220-2993
Enjoy spectacular views along the famous River Walk. Also a breath-taking view of sunset over the San Fernando Cathedral from hotel's 14th floor Cathedral Terrace. Free Hot Breakfast, Free 5:30 Kickback®, Free Soda & Popcorn, No Wi-Fi

Hampton Inn Alpine, nights 2-3, 6, 432-837-7344
Located near Big Bend National Park, named for the vast curve in the Rio Grande River, the Hampton Inn® Alpine offers convenient access to some of the most unique landscape in West Texas. Free Wi-Fi

Lajitas Resort, nights 4-5, 432-424-5000
Lajitas Resort and Spa is a 27,000 acre private estate community set against the beauty and majesty of the Big Bend National Park and Big Bend State Park. Free Wi-Fi