Day 55 - Alpine to McDonald Observatory
I had a great stay in Alpine but was ready to hit the road especially with the forecast for 60 mph winds on Sunday. I woke early and hit the road right at day break. The ride to the observatory is almost exactly 40 miles from Alpine, so it was a very comfortable distance. The first 8 miles out of Alpine are dead flat with sweeping views of the plains on the left and right and the Davis mountain range in front of you. There was no doubt that the flats were ending and the mountains were coming. The elevation change of the entire day was about 2200 feet with the first 30 miles increasing around 1000 feet and the last 5 miles, the remaining 1200.
As I rolled out of the flats you enter a magnificent ride through the canyons leading to Fort Davis. I have to say, this stretch of 15 miles or so was the prettiest stretch of my trip, surpassing the route along the Guadelope river as my favorite ride to date. The climbs were gentle, interspersed with rolling hills and some flats. I actually came across the first body of water that I had seen since the Pecos river, a spring fed stream/pond that ran for a half or mile along the road. Normally one would not even notice such an occurrence, but riding in the desert, the lack of water is on your mind at all times.
As you exit the canyon you come upon another set of rolling plains, once again, the Davis mountains in the distance with glimpses of the McDonald Observatory telescopes peaking in between the mountain peaks. Fort Davis was a very quaint little town, with the most amazing little grocery store in a long while. It was at odds with the normal Texas small town market, instead of shelves lined with junk food this market had nice organic items, things with real nutritional value. It was a welcome place to shop, and I took advantage to pick up a new type of breakfast oats and some potato gnocchi to spice up a dinner or two. I am definitely looking forward to those two meals.
The girl scouts were out in full swing, running their yearly cookie sale, which I felt a great need to support. I talked to the girls and their parents about the fundraising efforts for Childhood Obesity and they are a great willing audience. After some question and answers about my trip, I rooted through my change supply and managed to pull together enough coins to part with a box of peanut butter cookies, my all time Girl Scout fave. Later in the day I managed to consume half of the box in one sitting, but as you will see I earned them.
Leaving Fort Davis it is a mere 10 miles to the observatory, but for those of you that have done the math, you already realize that the bulk of the elevation gain occurs in a very small distance, in other words, straight up. The last 5 miles up the mountain were just brutal, and I was once again grateful to AJ and the Peddlers bike shop in Austin for convincing me to add a very low granny gear to the setup. Without it I would have been walking, which I don't have an issue with, but still, I would prefer to peddle if at all possible. Thankfully their was a little picnic area about 2 miles from the top and I was able to take a break without looking like a total wimp, eat some trail mix and prepare myself for the final assault on the climb. The views here were simply spectacular as you looked back out to the south east and the area just covered.
My host, John, works for the observatory, so after arriving and resting up a bit, I got a wonderful sunset tour of the two main telescopes. The view at sunset was just unreal, and something not to be forgotten soon. I will post pictures of it later, but they just won't do it justice. From the top of the mountain and the catwalk that goes around the telescope, you have an amazing 360 degree view, where you can see over 100 miles away. It was a breathtaking scene as the sun set off in the west back lighting the original telescope that was endowed to the university all those years ago and is still in operation today.
The forecast for high winds means I will rest on Sunday and then make the final 3 day push out of Texas and into New Mexico and Arizona.