August 2007 Park of the Month
Restored Indian Lodge Worth West Texas Trip
From my table inside the Black Bear Restaurant, I find myself eye-to-beak with a pair of black-chinned hummingbirds. As I sip my coffee and munch on a fresh-from-the-skillet breakfast taco, the hummers just beyond the window pane several stories up suck nectar from a mature desert willow. I would venture that few restaurants in Texas can top the view from the Black Bear at historic Indian Lodge just outside Fort Davis.
The original 16-room Indian Lodge rose from the grassy slopes of the Davis Mountains in the 1930s as a result of the tireless labors of unemployed young men during the Depression years when eating breakfast was considered a luxury by many. Teenager Charles Potter Brody Bassett was one of several hundred men of the federally funded Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) companies who helped build the Pueblo-style adobe inn at Davis Mountains State Park, as well as park roads and other facilities.
"It was when I quit being hungry," Bassett told his son years later about his Davis Mountains CCC experience. James A. Bassett's letter recounting his father's reminisces about his CCC days hangs on the wall of the inn's original lobby that today serves as a sort of mini museum and lounging area for lodge guests. With its massive fireplace, polished, hand-hewn Ponderosa pine columns and vigas (beams), latillas (river cane) and handmade cedar furnishings from a CCC camp in Bastrop, the lobby is a must-see architectural showplace.
Here, too, are found historic artifacts, vintage photographs and tributes to the "Enduring Legacy" of the CCC boys. Be sure to check out the memorabilia display case that includes one of the 120,000 adobe bricks made on site in 1933 uncovered during last year's extensive renovations, an original handcrafted cedar lamp base, a CCC pocket knife and original Indian Lodge room keys. Don't miss the panoramic black-and-white photo of 400 enrollees from Companies 1879 and 1881, who worked in the Davis Mountain camps in what was one of Texas' first CCC camps.
To stay at Indian Lodge is to step back into the early 20th century when automobile travel and tourism were in their infancy and life unfolded at a slower pace. But that doesn't mean Indian Lodge's accommodations aren't up to modern standards.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has spent more than $4 million over the past five years renovating the original 16 (numbered in the 100s) historic rooms, as well as the 24 "modern" (200s and 300s) rooms added in the 1960s. Many of the original pine ceilings and floors have been restored, heating/air conditioning and plumbing systems upgraded and almost 200 pieces of original rustic cedar furniture refinished. In rooms that were "modernized" in the 1960s, workers removed old carpeting and suspended acoustic tile ceilings, installed wood flooring and applied a stucco finish to interior cement block walls to mimic the look of the more historic part of the lodge.
"All and all," says Indian Lodge manager Alfred Tobola Jr., "seeing how it looks today compared to the way it was before renovations is truly amazing. The rooms were stripped down to the bare bones and totally redone with new drapery, bedspreads, carpeting, lamps and vanities added."
The patio area, too, has been restored to its original look with a stone-lined concrete terrace, reactivated wishing well and wall fountain, improved drainage and native plantings, such as Texas madrone, red yucca, agave, autumn sage, firecracker bush and Texas mountain laurel. New portals have been added to the more modern wings of the lodge and the parking lots and state park roads have been enlarged and repaved.
Since the second and final phase of Indian Lodge's renovation was completed in October of 2006, occupancy has been setting a torrid pace, according to Tabola. Through June of this year, just under 10,000 people have stayed at the inn.
When guests aren't lounging in a comfortable bed watching cable television or gazing at the amazing scenery of Limpia Canyon and the surrounding mountains, they may be found taking a dip in the lodge swimming pool, driving up nearby Skyline Drive to take in the postcard-quality sunsets or hiking on one of Davis Mountain State Park's several trails. Wildlife watching in the 2,700-acre park is often rewarded with sightings of the unusual Montezuma quail, mule deer, javelina, antelope, fox or perhaps even a black bear at higher elevations of the Davis Mountains.
Speaking of black bear, the on-premise Black Bear Restaurant is slated next for renovation, but for now serves a fine chicken fried steak, home-style Mexican food and hearty breakfasts fit for a CCC worker. It is open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, staying open an hour later on Fridays and Saturday to accommodate those heading to the McDonald Observatory star parties.
Indian Lodge also has meeting facilities to accommodate from 35 to 75 guests. The larger assembly room below the restaurant, when not being used for meetings or family reunions, is open to lodge guests. It houses the Smithers Collection on loan from Sul Ross University's Museum of the Big Bend. Black-and-white prints of early 20th century photographer Wilfred Dudley Smithers' transparencies contrast how the Davis Mountains, including Indian Lodge, and the Big Bend looks today compared to more than half century ago. Indian Lodge's original dining room located just downstairs from the lobby is ideal for smaller groups.
Spend a day or two at Indian Lodge in this scenic "mountain island" at 5,200 feet elevation and you'll understand why the Southwestern Pueblo-style inn reigns as the "crown jewel" of the state's CCC properties.
Other things to see while visiting the Fort Davis area include: the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center & Botanical Gardens; Fort Davis National Historic Site (one of the best examples of a Southwestern frontier citadel); the famed McDonald Observatory (Star Parties every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday nights); Overland Trail Museum and the 72-mile Scenic Loop through the Davis Mountains.
Indian Lodge is located inside Davis Mountains State Park State Park four miles west of Fort Davis on State Highway 118. It is one of 112 state parks that make up the Texas State Park system. For more information about the park visit the Indian Lodge web site.
Article by Rob McCorkle