Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Hike Report: Montezuma Quail and Indian Lodge Trails at Davis Mountains State Park

One of these days I'm going to know better. I keep setting off on these hikes that a man my age shouldn't be doing in the first place, and then I don't turn around when I know I should. This seems to be happening more and more as the years go by, and it's simply a matter of time before I don't return from one of these hikes.

But what a way to go . . . .

My latest adventure combined 2 trails at Davis Mountains State Park. When we were here last year, Donna and I watched people hiking the trails on the mountains just to our west. We decided at that time that we would hike those trails on our next visit. The trails on these mountains are the Montezuma Quail Trail and the Indian Lodge Trail. You can find both of these trails on the park map, but more information is provided on their newer trails map. The Montezuma Quail Trail is the shorter of the two trails. Named for the elusive Montezuma Quail, it is actually a loop trail. The 2 access points to this trail are about a quarter mile apart on the main park road from the entrance to the Indian Lodge. Depending on which map you refer to, the Montezuma Quail Trail is perhaps a total of 2 miles long. The Indian Lodge Trail is a linear trail that stretches from the backside of Indian Lodge to near the center of the Montezuma Quail Trail. It is roughly a mile and a half in length. So the entire length of my hike was probably about 2.5 miles long. Since I walked to and from the trail heads, you can add another mile to this total. Now, this isn't a great length, but the elevation change is what caused the problems, along with the nature of the trail surface.

Maps like this are located at all trailheads in the park.
I began my hike at the trail head for the Montezuma Quail Trail next to the Wildlife Viewing Area along the main park road, about halfway between park HQ and Indian Lodge. The trail briefly starts up the slope of the mountain, then veers back towards the road, where it intersects with the short Headquarters Trail. My trail then heads back up the mountain slope on a fairly gentle grade. A large rock outcropping appears up the mountain, and the trail skirts below it before a short series of switchbacks that climb the mountain to a cluster of trees. Once atop this crest, the trail heads west towards the neighboring, higher mountain. From the saddle, views towards the west are impressive. There is no place in the park that I know of where these views are available except from these trails. Limpia Creek carves a canyon along Highway 118 to the north, and views stretch to McDonald Observatory. On the day of my hike, the skies were overcast, so I could not see as clearly as I otherwise might.

Cairns and signposts such as this are located along the trail. This one is at the junction of the Montezuma Quail Trail and the Headquarters Trail.

This is near the beginning of the trail as it begins its ascent. It will skirt below the rock outcropping, then switchback gently up to the top.
This is a view of our campground from the top of the first slope. You can see how it is nestled in between hills. Note Skyline Drive on the slope of the mountain to the west.

I zoomed in the previous picture for this. Our campsite is in the red circle. You can see how this campground is open with few trees. The views from the campground are really good in all directions.

View of Indian Lodge from Montezuma Trail.

I took this shot from near the junction of the Montezuma Quail Trail and the Indian Lodge Trail. It is another view of our campground. If you click on the image, it will enlarge; you can then see Donna standing with Barney, a gentleman we met. They are in front of the restroom at lower center in the picture. Donna is in yellow, on the right. Our trailer is immediately above the restroom.
Soon the trail connects with the Indian Lodge Trail. At this point, you can head down the mountain on Montezuma Quail Trail or take the slightly longer Indian Lodge Trail. I opted for the latter. Almost immediately, the trail curved north along the side of the mountain, slowly climbing while doing a bit of ledge walking. The great views to the west continued. Then the trail turns abruptly to the west and begins perhaps the steepest climb of the hike. Up and up it goes, eventually topping out with views back to the east and the campground where our trailer was parked. Gosh, what beautiful, rugged country this is.

View of Limpia Creek running along Highway 118 towards Ft. Davis. With the good rains, the creek maintained a good flow of water throughout our stay.

This view of Limpia Creek is towards the northwest. The good water in Limpia Creek as well as the trees are 2 reasons why a military post was located in this area.

There's a little bit of ledge walking along this section of trail. That is my hiking pole at lower right. I neglected to move it for the picture.

Another great view of Limpia Creek. At right center of picture is entrance to the park off Highway 118. The land on the other side of the highway also belongs to the park. It was only acquired a few years ago.

It was overcast during much of our stay in the park, and this day was no exception. This is a view towards Mount Locke, home to McDonald Observatory. You can barely make out a dome on the mountain at center right.

The trail then continues west, passing 3 large, sprawling cairns, each at a slightly higher elevation than the previous one. The trail then runs along the western boundary of the park, along a barbed wire fence. Occasional views of Indian Lodge appear from time to time to the east. The trail then begins its descent, and Indian Lodge and the rock outcroppings behind it are in almost constant view. But it seemed that the Lodge and the end of my trail never got any closer, as the trail actually circles the lodge during its descent. But the trail does eventually end at the back of the Lodge.

This was the first of 3 large cairns I encountered on top. At first, I thought it marked the high point of the trail, but the other cairns were at higher elevarions. I added a single rock to each cairn.

Skyline Drive to the east.

I zoomed in for my first view of Indian Lodge as I neared it. The pool is clearly visible at lower left. The Black Bear Restaurant is located top center.

Water trough on neighboring ranch. Note barbed wire fence, which marks the boundary of park.

The trail loops past Indian Lodge. It works its way to an area just behind the rock outcropping at right in picture, then switchbacks down the slope.

Because of the good summer rains, parts of the trail were really overgrown, such as the section in this picture which almost completely disappears. I used my hiking pole much as a blind man might use a cane to work my way through the tall grass.

I've worked my way past the rock outcropping, and I'm looking up the valley. Indian Lodge, of course, is in foreground. In center of picture is the camping area.
The distance hiked is not that great, but the elevation change is considerable for older, arthritic knees. And the entire trail is rock. I don't believe I took a single step on dirt the entire hike. Every step is on loose rock, boulders, and every kind of rock in between. You have to make sure that every step you take is secure, especially on the ledges on slopes. Because of the good summer rains the grass was also quite tall along the trail, in many places completely hiding the trail and reaching my stomach or higher. I found this quite unnerving in rattlesnake country. As I mentioned earlier, the skies were overcast during my hike. I started by hike in very comfortable weather in short sleeves. Once on top of the mountain, though, the cloudy skies and high wind made conditions a bit cool. My ears, especially, were quite cool to the touch, and I wished I had brought my light jacket for a stretch there.

During the hike, I did not encounter another person. What a great place for solitude. The trail is well marked, and I never had any doubt as to my location.

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