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Monday, March 28, 2011

Spies? Who was that couple in Fort Davis?

At first I thought they were dangerous spies, the couple I saw down the porch, chatting together in hushed voices. I imagined I overheard a thick Russian accent and I thought I glimpsed an attaché case filled with maps and spy gear. My over-active imagination was wrong, of course; they weren't spies. But it was true they were on a mission.
I saw them this past summer, when Carolyn and I spent some time in Fort Davis, Texas. We usually go to Fort Davis at least once a summer to escape the heat and visit our friends there. We've been to the little town so many times it feels like we know most of the 1050 people who live there, including the bearded man who shuffles up and down the street singing to himself, and who, despite his appearance, is not homeless, but in fact has both a home and an advanced degree in mathematics. We know the clerks at the grocery store, business owners up and down the main street, and some folks there who run the Prude Ranch summer camp for children.
Our friends Joe and Lanna Duncan own the historic Hotel Limpia, there by the Jeff Davis County Courthouse, as well as other lodging and guest houses in Fort Davis, including the Stone Village Motel.
Until last summer, we'd never stayed at the Stone Village Tourist Camp. It dates from the travel court days, when motels (and automobiles) were a new concept. The Duncans have restored the vintage motel, putting in modern conveniences, and even experimenting with some "camp rooms" which are screened porches with rustic but comfortable furniture.
Since we were meeting Carolyn's family there for a reunion, we chose Stone Village as our "home base" for our visit, though none of us dared the "camp rooms."   Carolyn's parents even rode Amtrak's "Sunset Limited" from Houston to Alpine, where we picked them up at the Alpine station.
Despite being surrounded by family, I kept an eye on that couple down the porch. They were awfully intriguing. They were staying in one of the "camp rooms," were early risers, consulted with each other over coffee, then headed out, not returning until after dark.
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Finally curiosity overcame my natural shyness, and I struck up a conversation with the fellow. Turns out he had no Russian accent at all. They live in Austin. He was writing a book about the area and he and his wife were traveling every day to the principal cities in the region as part of the research for the book.
And that's how I met Byron Browne and his wife Angie. We talked about writing and deadlines (he writes a column, too), talked about the loveliness of the Davis Mountains, and after our first visit, when I confirmed they were not spies, we spoke almost every day.
A few weeks ago I got a copy of Mr. Browne's book, "Driving Southwest Texas."  Man, it's good!   The couple not only did their research, but took some great photos, too. And they're unfailingly nice in the book.
Reading the book is like traveling through the region with a good friend, one who introduces you to the right people and helps you find your way. I heartily recommend the book to anyone interested in the Big Bend Country of Texas. I learned a lot about Fort Davis -- even though I've been there often and thought I'd visited every forgotten corner of the place. Before your next foray out west, get a copy of Browne's book. You'll be glad you did.
Until next week, all the best.
This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times March 26, 2011.

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