The wild and remote Davis Mountains is considered one of the most scenic areas of Texas. Indeed it is one of the most biologically diverse. Rising above the Chihuahuan desert, the range forms a unique “sky island” surrounded by the lowland desert. Animals and plants living above 5,000 feet are isolated from other similar mountain ranges by vast distances. These are true ecological islands, preserving living remnants that occur otherwise nowhere else in Texas.
The 33,000-acre Davis Mountains Preserve (with conservation easements on 65,830 acres of adjoining property) includes Mount Livermore, the summit of the Davis Mountains. It encompasses the heart of a functioning landscape with intact watersheds and a unique assemblage of animals and plants.
Plant life is diverse and presents interesting contrasts. On the wetter, shaded slopes is a montane forest, including ponderosa pine and small but thick stands of quaking aspens sheltered under a cliff beneath Mount Livermore. South-facing slopes are dominated by pinyon pine, gray oak, alligator juniper and mountain mahogany. Madrone trees dot the valleys and deep canyon streambeds. Eleven rare species of plant are known, including the Livermore sandwort, many-flowered unicorn plant and fringed paintbrush.
Mountain dwelling wild animals include the black bear and mountain lion. The group of birds in the higher elevations, including the common black-hawk, golden eagle, dusky-capped flycatcher, and Montezuma quail, is more closely associated with western mountain ranges than birds across the rest of Texas. Some species nest here and nowhere else in Texas.
This system is also of importance for bird migration. Various birds of prey, ten species of hummingbirds and some of the other gems of America, including the painted redstart and Grace’s warbler, migrate through the Davis Mountains. In just a relatively short time we have found on the property Mexican spotted Owls and slate-throated redstarts, two very rare birds for Texas.
The Davis Mountains comprise a unique and limited ecosystem. Adapted to natural processes of fire and drought, the system is slow to recover from impacts inflicted by humans. Overgrazing, habitat fragmentation through ranch subdivision and overuse of the water resources by a growing population are potential threats to one of Texas’ most ecologically diverse landscapes.
The Conservancy has known of the importance of preserving this natural area for some time. Three priorities guided us to action: the conservation of a landscape-scale “sky island”, the preservation of West Texas’ ranching legacy by keeping a large and historical part of that heritage intact, and safekeeping the dark skies surrounding University of Texas McDonald Observatory.
With the 32,000-acre purchase of part of the historic U Up U Down Ranch, the subsequent additions of other parcels and the donations of conservation easements on some 70,000 acres thus creating a buffer around the core preserve, roughly 100,000 acres of the Davis Mountains are under protection.
Water found in surface streams, springs or shallow ground-water tables is the lifeblood of this arid portion of the state. Conservation on the Davis Mountains Preserve and on neighboring lands is crucial to the protection of the hydrological system that originates at Tobe Gap and Bridge Gap on Mount Livermore, extends through rugged canyon lands and opens out into the desert flats near the town of Balmorhea.
For information about visiting the preserve, contact Davis Mountains Preserve Manager, Shawn Benedict at firstname.lastname@example.org or (432) 480-6860.
Davis Mountains Preserve in Jeff Davis County is situated in the northeastern Chihuahuan Desert.
Watch our roving reporters Matt and Riley's video diary of their trip to the Davis Mountains Preserve.
In the far reaches of West Texas lie the Davis Mountains, known as "sky islands" -- high, forested mountaintops surrounded by deserts and grasslands.