Mission to Marfa

Copyright © 2003-2011, Scott D. Murdock
5 Apr 2004 - Added notes for Lonestar Pecos Electronic Scoring Site, Smithers Emitter Site, and Imperial Emitter Site.
19 Jun 2010 - Added additional photos.
22 May 2011 - Added photos and lat/lon for Lonestar Pecos Electronic Scoring Site, Smithers Emitter Site, and Imperial Emitter Site.

Marfa is what you might call an out-of-the-way place. I was not likely to just happen to be in the area. But I did need to visit the former Marfa AAFld. So, a dedicated trip was called for.

Saturday, 6 Sep 2003

Hitting the road at 0600, I headed west on I-10 to Sheffield.  From there, I went south on SR 340 to Dryden, and looked for the Terrell County Airport (6R6).  Located at 30-03, 102-13, this was formerly an intermediate field, Site 29, EO-JI.  In June 1941, it was listed as an Army Air Corps station.

Taking US 90 west to Sanderson, then US 285 north, I drove to Fort Stockton.  My first stop was the former Win Field, an auxiliary field to Gibbs Field during W.W.II.  Located at 30-53-15, 102-49-50, I believe this was an existing private airport pressed into service.  One hangar remains, just off the I-20 access road.

Motoring across town to the west, I visited the Fort Stockton - Pecos County Airport (FST), at 30-55, 102-55.  During W.W.II this was Gibbs Field, a contract flying school operated by Pacific Air Schools, Inc., from June 1942 until approximately early 1944.  Several vintage hangars remain on the airport, as does the operations building.  The foundation remnants of other buildings are visible.  I was pleased to see the heritage of the field prominently displayed.

From Fort Stockton I drove west on I-10, then south on US 67 toward Marfa.  Several miles east of town, I looked for the former Marfa Army Airfield, 30-16-00, 103-52-30.  Just west of the former main entrance, is the Marfa Lights Viewing Area.  This roadside stop has picnic tables, restrooms, and educational information.  Seems the best view of the legendary Marfa Lights is from this area, looking directly across the former Army Airfield.  Sadly, the field is unrecognizable from this vantage point.  One foundation visible from the viewing area may be vintage, and traces of curbs or foundations are visible through the fence along the highway to the east.  A distinctive gate east of the viewing area may have been the main entrance to the base.

A few miles closer to Marfa, I noted the current Marfa VOR, an FAA-operated NAVAID.  Based on vintage plans, I believe this modern NAVAID is on the same property as the W.W.II vintage Marfa Radio Range and Transmitter Station, at 30-17-54, 103-57-17.

In the southwest part of Marfa, I looked for and found the former Fort D.A. Russell, at 30-18-00, 104-01-40.  The entrance gate was open, and I noted some vintage buildings on the property.  This installation, originally called Camp Albert and then Camp Marfa, hosted Signal Corps biplanes that patrolled the Mexican Border.  In 1920, it listed as a U.S. Border Patrol Station of the Air Service.  (The current Border Patrol has a facility adjacent to the former main gate.)  In September 1945, Fort D.A. Russell was listed as a subbase of Marfa AAFld.

While I was in the area, I found the current Marfa Radar Site (TARS #4).  This tethered aerostat radar site was activated in 1992, under Air Combat Command.  The aerostat was flying high, visible for several miles.

Just a few miles north of Marfa, I stopped at the Marfa Municipal Airport (MRF), 30-21-20, 104-00-40.  This airfield, then known as either C.A.A. Airport or Marfa New Municipal Airport, served as Marfa Auxiliary Field #4 during W.W.II.  Now it's a sleepy little general aviation field.  A sign advertised glider rides, but no one was home when I approached the facility.  Too bad -- I had brief hopes of an aerial photo of Marfa AAFld, with the Marfa Lights Viewing Area in the foreground!

Driving north from Marfa, I encountered a maximum elevation of 5,255 feet -- and some great scenery.  As I neared Pecos, I found the new Lonestar Pecos Electronic Scoring Site, PECO, at 31-13-02, 103-39-35.  Activated as Pecos Electronic Scoring Site on 12 Apr 2001, it was renamed on 6 Mar 2002 (the special order uses "Lonestar" though the facility sign uses "Lone Star").  The site became operational in early 2002, replacing the facility at La Junta, Colorado. 

I had previously visited Pecos AAFld, but back in 1997 I didn't realize that part of the industrial and cantonment areas was north of the present-day I-20.  Comparing old layout plans against current maps and photos, I found some W.W.II vintage warehouses, and some remnants of federal public housing (probably Lanham Act civilian war worker).

I secured accommodations in the Best Western Swiss Clock Inn, calling it quits for the day after covering 676 miles in 13 hours.

Sunday, 7 Sep 2003

With wheels in the well at a leisurely 0645, I looked for an emitter site, supporting the Pecos ESS.  Described as LS #59 in RBTI documents, and activated as Smithers Emitter Site on 1 Mar 2001, the signs indicated RBTI Smithers Emitter Site.  Located at 31-19-32, 103-14-27, It looked like a typical Mini-MUTE site.

Driving toward Pyote, I stopped on the I-20 access road to peer at Pyote Air Force Station, 3300, at 31-28-40, 103-10-07.   The operations area was visible in the distance.

I noted that the side walls of a hangar on Pyote Air Force Base, 31-31-00, 103-08-30, still stand.  I also noted the Pyote Housing Annex was still in good shape and in use, 31-31-35, 103-07-40.

Aerial photos still show the distinctive pattern of the "Jeep range" on Pyote Small Arms Range.  Unfortunately, this range, at 31-33-14, 103-07-10, is private oil company property -- fenced and out of reach.

The former Pyote Water Supply Annex, at 31-32-34, 103-03-51, served Pyote AFS.  It is in an overgrown area between SR 57 and I-20; current use is unknown.

The former Pyote Waste Annex, at 31-31-01, 103-07-11, was not visible from the nearby road.

Next on my list was another Mini-MUTE site of Pecos ESS.  This one was activated as Imperial Emitter Site on 1 Mar 2001, and is described in documents as LS #82.  The signs, at 31-14-57, 102-39-23, call it the RBTI Imperial Emitter Site.

Driving south, I picked up I-10 heading east.  One last stop was along US 190, where I was able to see the distant McCamey Gap Filler Annex.  Located at 30-54-10, 102-04-42, the former site TM-197A is now on a wind turbine farm.  As a gap filler radar site supporting Ozona Air Force Station, this site was acquired in 1957 and inactivated in 1963.

From there I jumped back on I-10 and headed back to San Antonio.  This was a short day of 462 miles, in 8.5 hours.  This weekend trip covered a total of 1,138 miles.