Saturday, September 5, 2015

Davis Mountains Scenic Loop

The Davis Mountains Scenic Loop is a good way to get to know the Davis Mountains. The loop begins and ends in Ft. Davis, and is about 80 miles long, give or take a few miles depending on your source. The highest elevation on the loop is about 6700 feet, and there are plenty of beautiful views and interesting sites along the way.

It really doesn't matter if you go in a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction. I've driven the loop two times now, and I've gone in a counter-clockwise direction both times.

From Ft. Davis, follow Texas 118 northwest up Limpia Canyon, following Limpia Creek and its beautiful cottonwood trees. About 3 or 4 twisting miles outside Ft. Davis, you'll pass the entrance to Davis Mountains State Park on your left. Just another mile or so past the park is the Prude Ranch, which provides various outdoor activities for young people and their families. Just beyond the Prude Ranch is Limpia Crossing, a private development consisting of home sites on small acreages.

The next few miles provide some of the most interesting views on the loop as you approach McDonald Observatory atop Mount Locke. If you keep your eyes open, you will see the observatories atop Mount Locke throughout the drive, even as you approach Ft. Davis near the end of the loop.

Observatories atop Mt. Locke (McDonald Observatory). Note top of observatory atop smaller mountain on right.

Mountain scenery along highway on the approach to Mt. Locke.
Up to Mount Locke, the road has been quite good, with smooth surface and solid shoulders. Once past Mount Locke, though, the quality of the road declines a bit. It becomes a bit bumpier, for example, and the shoulders disappear. The country takes on a little wilder look, too. There is little traffic along the loop, though, so take your time and enjoy the scenery.

One of the most beautiful places along the loop is Madera Canyon. There is a large roadside park here, so this shady area is a good place for a picnic lunch. The trailhead for the Madera Canyon Hiking Trail of the Davis Mountains Preserve of the Nature Conservancy is located here as well.

Trailhead to Madera Canyon Hiking Trail

View from Madera Canyon

Madera Canyon Roadside Park

A few miles past Madera Canyon, take Texas 166 to your left (west). You will now have Sawtooth Mountain in your sites. It stands at 7687 feet. Also in this area is Mount Livermore (Baldy Peak) at 8378 feet. It is the tallest mountain in the Davis Mountains and the fifth tallest in the state. The 4 tallest peaks in the state are all in the Guadalupe Mountains in Culberson County.

It's easy to see how Sawtooth Mountain got its name.
Of to the right, just before you come even with Sawtooth Mountain, is the Rock Pile. It looks exactly like what its name implies. The Rock Pile is on private property, so stay on the road to admire it. In fact, most of the land along the scenic loop is privately owned.

The Rock Pile
At times along this stretch, you'll cross cattle guards, so watch out for grazing livestock. Also start looking south, as some of the views extend to the Mexican border.

At Ranch Road 505 (the Valentine Highway), Highway 166 begins turning east. Soon on your right you will come to the Bloys Encampment, site of the Bloys Camp Meetings. Established in 1890, the camp meetings provided an opportunity for families in this remote area of mountainous West Texas to congregate each year to worship and seek fellowship. It has grown over the years and now attracts about 2500 people each year. It is quite a story of faith and frontier fellowship.

Some of the facilities at Bloys Encampment
About 10 or so miles outside of Ft. Davis, the Davis Mountains Resort is located on the left. This is another development providing small acreage and home sites. This development gained national attention in the late 1990s when one of its residents declared his home was the embassy for the Republic of Texas and that Texas had been illegally annexed to the United States. After numerous encounters with local and state law enforcement officials, he was arrested and removed from the property.

Closer in to Ft. Davis is an interesting road side park on your left. It looks much like a rock pile itself. It is reputed that Kit Carson carved his initials on a rock in this Point of Rocks park in December 1839, but I have been unable to verify this. In fact, there seems to be some confusion over which pile of rocks the name carving incident actually occurred. Some of the local literature I have read says it is the Point of Rocks roadside park (shown below) while other sources indicate the name carving incident occurred at the Rock Pile, mentioned a few paragraphs above. I have also been unable to find a picture of the name carving.

Roadside park
10 miles later the road intersects with Texas 17 for the final 2 or 3 miles back into Ft. Davis. Below is a map of the loop with points of interest indicated.

Guide to the Scenic Loop

  1. Davis Mountains State Park
  2. Prude Ranch
  3. Mt. Locke and McDonald Observatory
  4. Madera Canyon
  5. Rock Pile
  6. Sawtooth Mountain
  7. Bloys Encampment

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