We struggled against strong headwinds uphill into the Davis Mountains two days after leaving El Paso. It was spectacular scenery, each climb through a twisty canyon brought us to the edge of another volcanic plateau, before getting into the higher mountains.
The Davis Mountains are one of the darkest regions left in the US, with very little light pollution. This dark hole is home to the McDonald Observatory, which boasts three large telescopes, an 82, and a 107 inch, and a much larger composite telescope built for spectrometry.
We stayed with John, an observatory employee, whom we found on the warm showers list. His family and his pets were gracious and generous hosts, feeding us and giving us backstage tours of the telescopes.
At a "star party", put on by the observatory, we got a look through many of the smaller telescopes on site, and learned some more constellations. We were especially excited about this. Spending so much time laying outside, looking at the stars, we have been looking for some more education on what we were seeing.
Before leaving, John called ahead for us down to Alpine, home of the only bike shop for hundreds of miles. The shop would be closed when we arrived, but the owner was willing to meet us and sell us some inner tubes, as the mesquite thorns have been tearing through our supplies of spares at an alarming rate.
After yet another wearying ride against the wind we pulled into Alpine and called the Bikeman, also named John. Unfortunately, he was occupied, and could not meet. Fortunately, he was occupied at a BBQ, and invited us to join him!
After a donation to the family crisis center, we had a great meal of brisket, potato salad, beans, and beer.
The next day, winds were strong out of the southwest, and we had decided to skip our intended trip south to Big Bend National Patk, cutting out 100 miles of fighting the wind. At breakfast, however, we were befriended by a local businessman, Ron, who offered to drive us halfway there, if that would tip the scales.
We accepted his offer, and it has been a great decision! We rode through the park entry at 3:30 in a surreal atmosphere. A wind storm had picked up, and we rode through an alien landscape of jagged peaks and rugged washes in a brown murky haze. 40 mph gusts of wind slammed into our flanks, threatening to push us off the road as we began to climb. 2500 verticle feet later we crested the pass and rode down in the darkening night to our destination, the bunk house for the trail workers at the park. One of the guys here is on the crew, and also on the warm showers list.
Today we took a 10 mile round trip hike up into the mountains, where we found more spectacular scenery, and more wind threatening to blow us off the trail. By the time we reached the summit, snow was again blowing in our faces.
Tomorrow we have scheduled a river expedition down the Rio Grande, through one of the park's famous canyons. We splurged on a guide, and are looking forward to having someone fix our meals and set up camp on our two-day, one night trip.
There is no cellular service in the area, and no access to Internet, so this will not go out until tomorrow morning.
We have been keeping a good pace, and we broke 1000 miles of riding before we got to the observatory, and we're currently at around 1200 miles total for the trip.
Not sure when I'll be able to post again, we won't have cell signal for a couple days at least. Next time I get to a computer terminal, I'll have so much to post!