We chose Fort Davis as our temporary home for riding in the Big Bend area because it looked like the riding roads near that town were pretty good. If you choose to visit the Big Bend area (also referred to as the Davis Mountains), a really good book that describes the rides and points of interest is The Biker’s Guide to Texas by Dorothy Waldman. You can purchase the book through Amazon.com. Fort Davis is home to the Fort Davis National Historic Site. If you have time to visit you will definitely get educated on how the soldiers defended the road leading from San Antonio to California and how people lived and survived in the area back around 1850 – 1890.
There are many restaurants in Fort Davis so it makes a good lunch and or breakfast break stop plus there is enough quirkiness in the town to make it interesting.
Our reasoning for visiting the area was to ride the River Road, RM-170, which follows the Rio Grande River bordering Texas and Mexico. RM-170 has been described in many motorcycle road web sites as a ~70 mile stretch of very curvy must ride road. So, of course, we had to try it.
On our first ride in the Davis Mountains though, we thought we would stick with a shorter ride closer to our temporary home (Fort Davis, TX). We first rode to Alpine for lunch via TX-118 S then turned around going back via TX-118 N through Fort Davis and on past the McDonald’s observatory.
For the most part TX-118 between Alpine and the observatory is in pretty good shape and there are a lot of fun curves and some tighter turns especially between Fort Davis and the observatory.
Once we rode north past the observatory on TX-118, the road remained wonderfully curvy but became extremely bumpy so we had to slow down. We rode TX-118 S until the road appeared to start straightening up. We then turned around and headed back to Fort Davis. Continuing on TX-118 N to Kent, TX and then turning around is an option, but there is no food or gas in Kent. There is food and gas in both Alpine and Fort Davis.
The 15-mile stretch of TX-118 between Fort Davis and the McDonald Observatory going back and forth has become our favorite ride, riding it many times in 2017 and in 2018. There are plenty of picnic areas and places to pull over, so we just turn around at the picnic area 0.2 mi after the observatory (after the north entrance on Spur 78 to the observatory) and head back to Fort Davis. When we have time, we try to repeat the 30 mi ride two more times. That is enough to wear us out if we ride it hard, and it is good practice and good fun!
We also have taken a day off from riding and visited the observatory. You can enter the observatory and go through the exhibits for free; there is also a cafe there. We purchased tickets for two of the guided tours ($10 for two tours per person) and the tours were really cool! On one, we got to see the sun shooting out gasses (hydrogen and helium) from the surface in real time (well really it takes 8 min for the light from the sun to hit the earth). And in the second tour we visited and saw the workings of the Harlan J. Smith telescope with a 107 in primary mirror. The tour guides made the tours fun and were very good at explaining things so they were easy to understand.
The detailed description of the riding route is shown below:
Fort Davis →Alpine→Turn around→Fort Davis→TX-118 S past observatory then turn around at RM-166→Fort Davis – 150 mi
Start at Fort Davis TX-17 and TX-118, south side of town
Right/ Southeast on TX-118 S to Alpine 23 mi
Left on E Gallego. Go ~0.7 mi to Alica’s restaurant, 708 E. Gallago, on right
Restaurant food is good but food took a very long time and chips were stale.
Turn around and return to Fort Davis via TX-118 23 mi
Right/ Northeast on TX-118 N/ TX-17 through town
After 0.6 mi, you will see a Porter’s Thriftway-Ft Davis with gas on right.
Continue on TX-17/TX-118 for 0.2 more miles
North/ left on TX-118 N
Go ~30 mi.
Left onto RM-166 (scenic loop) to turn around.
Alternately, once you pass the second entrance of TX-78 Spur to the McDonald Observatory, there will be a picnic area about 0.1 mi from that entrance. This picnic area is exactly 15 mi from Porter’s Thriftway, the grocery store in Ft. Davis. The picnic area is in a straight section so it is a good turn-around spot. The road after this picnic area becomes bumpy and not as much fun so we always turn around here.
Turn around and return on TX-118 S going ~30 mi (or ~15 mile if you turn around at the picnic area) to Fort Davis, TX.
If desired, you can continue on TX-118 N to Kent and turn around there. The road starts straightening out after 30 mi but there is still good scenery. It is 55 mi to Kent from Fort Davis. There is no gas or food in Kent, TX.