Monday, April 6, 2009

Frontiers: Western to Out of this World

Fort Davis with the enlisted men's barracks in the background, the parade grounds and the officers' housing. Notice the two outlines of the officers' houses from the original fort in the foreground. They are aligned to true north while new ones are aligned to magnetic north.
The hospital has been restored and is much different than the one I worked in when I was a GI.
Interior of an officer's home.
Interior of the enlisted men's barracks. Other then the stove in the middle of the floor this is not much different than the barracks I stayed in.
Courtyard entrance of the El Paisano Hotel
Room of Giant memorabilia.
The dome in the foreground holds one of the telescopes used for the star party.
The sunset was fabulous, but it signaled a cloudy night that cut the star party viewing short.
Dome protecting the 433" HET.
This woman was Jupiter while Nanc was Mars in the demonstration of the orbiting planets.

We ended our time in Texas with a five day stay at the Overland Trail RV Park in Fort Davis. There is a lot to do here for an area that is so sparsely populated that the local NPR radio station's traffic report was the announcer stating he had passed eleven cars on his 25 mile drive to work. We toured the Fort Davis National Historical Site that includes many restored buildings from the fort that was originally built in the 1850's. The fort, town and surrounding county is named for Secretary of War Jefferson Davis who later became the president of the Confederacy. During the Civil War it was occupied by Southern soldiers who spent more time fighting Indians than Yankees. After the Civil War a new fort was built on the same site and became an important post for protecting travellers on the San Antonio - El Paso Road, which ran through the middle of the post, and in the Indian Wars of the late 1800's. The restored buildings, which include officers' housing, enlisted men's barracks and the hospital, show what it was like being a soldier on the frontier in the late 1800's. At that time many of the soldiers stationed there were units of "Buffalo Soldiers," blacks who were brought into the army starting in 1866. Most of the officers were white, but Henry O. Flipper, the first black West Point grad, served at the fort in 1880 - 81. Unfortunately, Flipper was court-martialed on trumped up issues and was dismissed from the army in 1882. He went on to be a successful civil engineer and become an Assistant Secretary of the Interior in 1921. In 1976 he was posthumously given an honorable discharge after the controversial case was reviewed. In 1999 President Clinton issued a full presidential pardon. The fort is an excellent example of the many posts that protected people and trade during the western migration.

In nearby Marfa we visited El Paisano Hotel that was used in 1955 as headquarters for the filming of the movie Giant staring Liz Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean. The hotel has recently been restored and we had an excellent meal in Jett's Grill. There are displays of photos, props and other memorabilia about the movie and its stars.

The high point "literally" of our stay here was the star party at McDonald Observatory. The observatory has several optical telescopes including the 433 inch (HET) Hobby-Ebert Telescope, one of the largest in the world and two others that have 107" and 82" mirrors. No, they did not let us look through the big ones but they had several, from a 12" to a 22," set up for public use during the party. Even though it was a little cloudy (just our luck) we got wonderful views of the moon, Saturn and its moons, and the nebula M-3. We were able to see tremendous details on the moon's surface and clearly see the rings around Saturn. Before the star party we attended the twilight program, a class on the movement of the planets that included an outdoors demonstration. Even though the viewing was limited by the clouds it was an AWESOME experience seeing the heavenly bodies and having an astronomer there to explain it all.

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