Mount Livermore • Highpoint: Jeff Davis County
• Range Highpoint: Davis Mountains

Date: August 19, 2000 • Elevation: 8,378 feet • Prominence: 3,918 feet • Distance: 2 miles • Time: 3 hours (hiking), half the day (driving, etc) • Gain: 1,000 feet • Conditions: Hazy skies, but nice overall • Teammates: About thirty others

Entrance to the U-up-U-down
Ranch, with Livermore way
off in the distance

Livermore as seen from
Mount Locke (January 2004)

On the summit

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The Davis Mountains are in the center of the West Texas panhandle, with its summit, Mount Livermore, the second highest peak in the state after Guadalupe Peak. The range is lush with forests and grassy meadows, less desert-like than the other main Texas ranges. Mount Livermore rises above the forest and ridges, appearing as a fin of exposed rock. Most of the surrounding lands are private, with little to no public access to most of the range.

Around 1990, the Nature Conservancy purchased the U-up-U-down Ranch, which sits to the northeast of Mount Livermore and includes the peak within its boundaries. The Nature Conservancy features this property as a showcase, opening it periodically for visitation. Aside from hikers, many people come here for the birding, camping, or the chance to relax a weekend in a rustic ranch setting. The only feasible way to explore in the heart of the range is through the Nature Conservancy.

I was first here during the 1999-2000 New Years rollover. I spent a day driving around the mountains and the town of Fort Davis. I played tourist, including spending some time at the old Army Garrison in town. Fort Davis is Texas' highest town in elevation, at about 5,100 feet. I also explored the Davis Mountains camping area not far from town, but saw that it gets nowhere near the peak. I discovered very fast that the peak is off-limits. Astronomy fans (like me) can also visit the nearby McDonald Observatory.

After returning to Arizona, I did my homework and learned of the Nature Conservancy angle, so I got into contact with them, paid my dues, and saw they had an open weekend set of that August. I purchased a plane ticket and looked forward to this opportunity to explore and hike Mount Livermore.

When that weekend finally came about, I flew into El Paso a few days early and planned to hike Sierra Blanca in New Mexico. A hurricane had barrelled through south Texas a few days earlier and its remnants were still active in the mountains of New Mexico. I stayed the night in Ruidoso. Early the following morning, the fog and storms were so thick that I immediately cancelled my plans for Sierra Blanca, and instead drove south and enjoyed a leisurely sight-seeing drive through Carlsbad, the Guadalupe Mountains, and Fort Davis.

There is an amusing post-script: I'd left my hotel in Ruidoso at around 4 a.m., but couldn't get the door to lock. So I left it unlocked and left the key in the room, not planning to come back. Anyway, when I got back into Ruidoso after turning around on Sierra Blanca, I was tired and had no other plans so I simply "broke" into my own room again and slept some more. Who would know, right?

I arrived at the U-up-U-down Ranch about 3 in the afternoon. Many people were there, probably numbering about 60. The Nature Conservancy had a few people there and they were leading casual walking tours of the grounds, plus some short walks for birders. Birding seems to be a popular pastime in Texas and some of these people take it very seriously. I went on one short walk and just hung in the back. That evening, I slept in the open under a large tree. Conditions were pleasant and I slept soundly.

Early the next morning, I met up with the others interested in the Livermore hike at the main ranch complex. Our group numbered about 20, and we piled into two or three big SUVs, each driven by a guide, as we lumbered slowly up the rough tracks into Madera Canyon toward Livermore Peak. The drive covered about 7 miles and gained 1,500 feet as I recall. It was steep with some rough sections and stream crossings, and the drivers did very well. We eventually parked at an opening on Bridge Gap located east of the peak.

The hike covered about 1.5 miles one way to the top, with a gain of 1,000 feet. The initial leg was along a steep track, but easy to follow. The guides were locals and knew a lot about the region, and they gave talks on just about everything under the sun. As it was, we moved slowly and had to stop often to listen to the talks and let the slow-pokes catch up. We were in no hurry so this wasn't a problem. Normally I'm one of the slow-pokes but today, I was a sprinter compared to some of the others. Another guy with hair and beard longer than mine was also in the lead. He was cool and we'd often sit up a few yards ahead while the group convened and the guides pointed at things.

In about 90 minutes, we reached the end of the road, where it curls around the north side of Livermore's summit, its bare rock forming a small but impressive palisade of cliffs on all sides. From the end of the road, the final vertical hundred feet involves a gain up loose talus to get to the solid rock, then a short scramble to the top. While the scramble was blessed with solid rock all the way up, it was exposed and a few people decided to stay back.

In short order, about a dozen of us had convened on top. The summit is an elongated platform of bare rock, with some small repeater boxes. There was a small depression filled with thousands of old arrowheads and shards, a remarkable archeological artifact with a great story attached, I am sure.

The guides told us about everything, and I had fun picking out peaks all around me. The Guadalupes were plainly visible to the north, and the Eagles off to the west. The day was slightly humid and hazy, so far-off peaks were obscured. We stayed on top for 15 minutes before working our way down to firmer ground. Hiking down, we followed an old trail instead of the road, which was much more interesting and lead us right back to the cars. Our total time: three hours.

Once all heads were accounted for, we got back in the vehicles for the slow drive out. I didn't stick around much afterwards, as I had to be in El Paso that evening for my flight home, and needed a place to clean up. I got moving, found a truck stop near El Paso to shower, and flew home that night. The next day classes started at ASU and I needed to be ready to go.

In all, the trip went very well and with nearly no logistical issues. I wish to thank the Nature Conservancy as well as the guides for the hike. They all did a top-rate job and I had a great time. The Davis Mountains are very beautiful and I have been back since a couple times, once to bring my wife and do some sight-seeing at the observatory and around the lonely highways.

(c) 2000, 2016 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.