Trip Report: Sproul Ranch, Fort Davis, Texas

On Saturday, May 12, Debbie and I drove to Fort Davis to attend the annual fundraiser for the Marfa public radio station (KRTS 93.5). This year’s event was held at the H.E. Sproul Ranch, located about seven miles northwest of Fort Davis, and included a donated artwork sale, catered dinner, and barn dance. We never pass up the opportunity for dancing in interesting places, and this event took place in a spectacular setting.

If you’re familiar with the Fort Davis area, but have never been to the Sproul Ranch, you take Highway 118 toward McDonald Observatory, then turn onto an unpaved road immediately before you come to Prude Ranch. The ranch lodge is about 2.5 miles down that rather rough and occasionally treacherous road.

Photo of ranch road

Despite some recent rain, the landscape was still obviously suffering from the ongoing drought. Nevertheless, the natural and manmade scenery is awe-inspiring, as shown below. The structures on the top of the mountain are part of the McDonald Observatory complex.

Photo from ranch road

The ranch complex consists of a lodge, several suites, a barn, and a beautiful swimming pool that epitomizes the concept of an oasis.


The preceding photo represents one of the abundant visual anachronisms that occur where 21st century technology is placed into an Old West setting. The rather large contraption in the background is a radio telescope, and it wasn’t until I did some research that I learned that it’s part of a network of such devices called the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA). The VLBA consists of ten radio telescopes spanning more than 5,000 miles, from Hawaii to the Virgin Islands, and is used to conduct a wide variety of scientific research. (For another photographic perspective of the Sproul Ranch telescope, scroll down a bit on this page.)

The art show was an interesting event. All the pieces were 5″x5″ and were for sale at the set price of $93.50 (corresponding to the radio station’s broadcast frequency). It was sold on a first-come, first-served basis, and while Debbie and I didn’t get there early enough to get our favorite piece, we did score a pretty cool quilted square made by a Fort Davis artist named Kathleen Morris. Here’s a scan of the piece:

Scan of artwork

Note the wonderful little ocotillo in the lower right corner, complete with red flowers. I think we got a great deal.

At the beginning, I implied that our primary motivation for attending this event was the dance, and we weren’t disappointed. Doug Moreland grew up in Fort Davis (his dad now lives there), and his brand of western swing is a lot of fun to listen and dance to. I got the impression that this isn’t necessarily his regular group – there were just three of them – but they had a great sound and each one was a gifted musician. Moreland is shown below playing the fiddle; according to his website, he’s also a chainsaw artist.

Photo of Doug Moreland and band

The dance floor wasn’t large, and it got even smaller when they moved tables in from the dining tent, but, fortunately, not a lot of people danced. The only downside was when a well-meaning but inexperienced volunteer dumped a two-pound bag of white cornmeal on the concrete floor to make it easier to dance on. We tried to politely warn her that she was overdoing it, without effect, and sure enough, a little later an older couple (older than us, even!) slipped and fell. Fortunately, only their pride was injured. The photo below shows how the floor looked after a several dances; it looks like we were two-stepping on an ice rink! You can imagine how our boots looked after kicking through the corn meal dust.

Photo of cornmeal covered dance floor

Overall, it was a great time and we’d do it again in a heartbeat. I have no idea how much money the station raised, but there were several hundred in attendance, including at least four couples from Midland.

We didn’t stay at the ranch lodge; it was booked up. Instead, we stayed at the Harvard Hotel in Fort Davis (across the street from the Limpia Hotel, and next door to the drugstore). The Harvard is owned and operated by the Sproul Ranch, and offers very nice, quiet accommodations. And breakfast at the drugstore is hard to beat!