Category Archives: Texas

3 New National Monuments

Nevada, California & Texas areas now protected.

When less-known public lands and sites are upgraded to National Monument status, they get added protection and also a boost in visitation. President Barack Obama has signed declarations of three new National Monuments  under three different federal agencies, appropriate to their size, settings and history.

NatlConservationArea-logoNevada’s Basin and Range National Monument is an extraordinary place featuring ecologically rich valleys framed by picturesque mountain ranges. It has long been threatened by oil and mineral development. Now, pronghorn deer, Pygmy rabbits, burrowing owls, red-tailed hawks, and the White River Catseye plant can roam, fly, and grow on protected lands.

A window to our past, Basin and Range tells the story of the many people who have called these mountains and valleys home. From the early people of the Great Basin, to the Native Americans who resided here, to 19th century settlers who traveled here in search of opportunity, these lands are a place to explore and learn. It is under the Bureau of Land Management.

USFS-logoNorthern California adventurers have long known that Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument is a fishing, hiking, camping, birding and horseback-riding paradise. Visitors can view the 80-foot-high Zim Zim waterfall, fly-fish in rivers and streams, and appreciate the wildflowers and wildlife. The 330,780-acre National Monument is partly a designated wilderness area north of the Bay Area and Sacramento is also one of the most biologically diverse regions in California filled with osprey, wild tule elk, river otters, bald eagles, rainbows of butterflies and half of California’s dragonfly species. It is U.S. Forest Service jurisdiction.

NatlParkServiceLogoTexas’ Waco Mammoth National Monument is a significant paleontological site that offers a glimpse into the lives of Pleistocene mammoths that roamed the region long ago. Tours are given daily to the sizable dig shelter operated by the National Park Service. It is the nation’s only recorded discovery of a nursery herd of Columbian mammoths. Visitors can view in situ such fossils as female mammoths, a bull mammoth and a camel that lived approximately 67,000 years ago.

Retired Baseball Star on Red River’s Slopes

Todd van Poppel & family favor New Mexico ski area

Todd Van Poppel at Red River

I’d be lying if I wrote that I skied with Todd Van Poppel, who was recruited right out of high school by the Oakland A’s in 1990 and played Major League ball for a dozen years.  But I did ski on the same slope at the same time on the same day at Red River, New Mexico, as the retired pitcher, and I figure that counts. 

Red River is a long-time favorite getaway of Texans. Van Poppel grew up in Arlington, and I think still lives somewhere in the Lone Star State. I was skiing with Red River Ski School director Wally Dobbs, who pointed him out. Todd was skiing with his wife and three children, and I got to shake the big hand that once threw blistering fastballs.  

For the record, there was enough snow on the slopes to ski on. What you see behind him in the picture is a bare south-facing hillside across the valley.

Daily Beast’s New Airport Rankings

The Daily Beast studied, rated and ranked 27 US airports

The Daily Beast’s provocative headline, “Airports from Hell,” is affixed to an analysis of 27 top airports in the US in eight specific areas, including on-time arrivals/departures so far in 2009 and a separate evaluation of holiday arrivals and departures, which is oh-so timely. The subtitle is “first to worst,” which means they can’t all be “from hell.”

The best, according to The Beast, is Houston Intercontinental Airport (IAH) 

On-time departures 2009: 86.19%
On-time arrivals 2009: 84.73%
On-time holiday departures: 90% (ranked first)
On-time holiday arrivals: 86%
Average security wait time: 6.1 minutes
Tarmac nightmares: 22nd out 27
Safety: 5th out of 27
Amenities: 8th out of 27

The worst is Newark International Airport (EWR)
On-time departures 2009: 73.76%

On-time arrivals 2009: 64.14% (ranked last)
On-time holiday departures: 70% (ranked last)
On-time holiday arrivals: 75%
Average security wait time: 7 minutes
Tarmac nightmares: 23rd out of 27
Safety: 25th out of 27
Amenities: 15th out of 27

Denver International Airport (DIA) ranked 17th
On-time departures 2009: 79.23%

On-time arrivals 2009: 80.84%
On-time holiday departures: 84%
On-time holiday arrivals: 80%
Average security wait time: 11.3 minutes
Tarmac nightmares: 9th out of 27
Safety: 23rd out of 27
Amenities: 24th out of 27

According to The Beast, getting through DIA’s security lines took several minutes longer than at the speediest airports, on average, and its “Safety” was downgraded significantly after an incident last year when a Continental plane skidded off a taxiway into a shallow gully (often described as a “ravine,” making it seem far deeper than it is), injuring 30 people. A hotel at the terminal, fancy Gucci-esque shops and a better selection of more interesting restaurants might have elevated it in the Amenities category. The Beast quoted Matt Daimler of who said, “It’s one of the better airports to experience.” As for on-time arrivals and departures, IMHO, when there are delays in Denver, more often than not they are due to delays elsewhere in the country’s obsolete air-travel system. The Beast’s  report is accompanied by a gallery of airport pictures three screens, nine airports to a screen, or as a slide show.

Visiting Fort Davis, a West Texas Civil Rights Site

The election of America’s first black president underscores the story of the US Army’s Buffalo Soldiers

With Barack Obama set to become the first American president of African-American descent, 3,000 or so of the 19th century Army veterans who served at Fort Davis must be high-fiving each other somewhere in the beyond. The remote post in a high, dry valley in West Texas was home to about that many Buffalo Soldiers — black troops who safeguarded the 600-mile-long road between San Antonio and El Paso from Apache and Comanche raids for more than 20 years.

Fort Davis was established in 1854 and abandoned in 1862, a time period now referred to as “the first fort.” Ironically, given the events that followed its beginnings, it was named after Jefferson Davis. In 1854, West Point graduate Davis served in President Franklin Pierce’s cabinet as Secretary of War. Eight years later, he was president of the Confederate States of America – and there lies the irony.

In 1967, the Army sent Lieutenant Colonel Wesley Merritt, who was white, to rebuild Fort Davis (“the second fort”) and to command hundreds of largely black troops. Exhibits in the small, compelling museum depict those times, This Fort Davis National Historic Site is an important stop for people interested in African-American history, as well as military history, and with the presidency of Barack Obama, should become even more so.

In the post-Civil War era, about 20 percent of the military in the West were black, but at Fort Davis, the combination of Union veterans and former slaves amounted to about 50 percent. In addition to protecting emigrants, settlers, mail coaches and freight wagons during the subsequent Indian Wars, the Buffalo Soldiers explored and mapped large areas of the Southwest. They strung telegraph lines to connect frontier outposts that they were also instrumental in building. After the Texas frontier quieted down, the government decommissioned the fort for good in 1891.

Meanwhile, in 1877, Second Lieutenant Henry Ossian Flipper, the first African-American West Point graduate, had been assigned to Fort Davis. He was an officer in the Tenth U. S. Cavalry, one of two African American-cavalry regiments. Four years later, he was court-martialed in the post chapel (ruins and interpretive sign, below) for embezzlement of commissary funds and for “conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.”

He pleaded not guilty and was acquitted on the embezzlement charge but convicted for making a false statement, signing financial records he knew to be incorrect and for writing a check on a nonexistent bank account. The conviction, which historians studying the court martial records much later recognized as bias-based, carried an automatic sentence of dismissal from the army. In 1999 President Bill Clinton posthumously pardoned him.

To Chuck Hunt, superintendent of the Fort Davis National Historic Site, it is a civil rights landmark as well as a military outpost. “The Army was the first federal job for many African-Americans. It was an important transitional role for men who went from slave to soldier to citizen.” What a fitting waypost to the present time with an African-American poised to become the First Citizen of the United States of America.

Like many Western posts, Fort Davis was never walled. The Army presence was enough to deter most Indian raiders. At its peak, the post comprised enlisted men’s barracks and officers’ quarters facing each other across the parade ground. On the periphery were storehouses, stables (after all, it was a cavalry fort), the post chapel, the post hospital and other outbuildings.
The fort, which had fallen into disrepair, was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960 and became a unit of the National Park System the following year. Park Service policy is to restore more intact buildings (below) and stabilize others, to that today, 24 four restored historic buildings, five furnished to the style of the 1880s and more 100 ruins and foundations are found on the 474-acre site.

work is continuing on several buildings, notably the post hospital (below), which received a ave Our American Treasures grant. Students from the University of Vermont have coming to Fort Davis on summer restoration workshops to stabilize the structure. When the building’s restoration is completed, the North Ward and the surgeon’s quarters will be furnished too.

The past comes to life through a seasonal interpretive program by rangers and volunteers in period costumes. And the past is being honored with the protection of its historic viewshed. The fort sits on a flat parcel at the mouth of Hospital Canyon. The cliffs of Davis Mountains State Park and Sleeping Lion Mountain form the backdrop for the site. Thirty-seven acres visible from the fort were at one point threatened with a real estate development. An unnamed angel purchased the land and is holding it until the government can take possession of it – a process that literally requires an act of Congress. Write to your Senators and Representative to ask them to support such legislation.


Along Highway 17 (near the junction with Highway 118) just outside of Fort Davis, Tex. The closest airports are in El Paso about 220 miles (4 hours) and Midland/Odessa 175 miles (2½ hours). Amtrak and Greyhound serve Alpine (22 miles).
Open: 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily except Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday.
$3 for ages 16 and older, free for 15 and under. All National Parks Passes are valid.


The closest accommodations are in Davis Mountains State Park, P. O. Box 1707, Fort Davis, TX 79734; 432-426-3337. There are sites with and without RV water, electricity and sewer hookups – and even cable TV, plus primitive campsites for backpackers and equestrians. Within the park is Indian Lodge, a historic adobe inn built by the Civilian Conservation Corps and recently expanded and restored; 432-426-3254.

Hotels, motels, B&Bs and campgrounds can also be found in Fort Davis (Fort Davis Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 378; Fort Davis, TX. 79734; 800-524-3015 or 432-426-3015) and Alpine (Alpine Visitor Bureau, 106 North Third Street, Alpine, TX 79830; 800-561-3735 or 432-837-2326).

Fort Davis National Historic Site, P.O. Box 1379, Fort Davis, TX 79734.