Sunday, July 24, 2016

DESTINATION: Caddo Lake State Park, Texas

While visiting the historic town of Jefferson we could not pass up the opportunity to make a short visit to Caddo Lake State Park.  The park sits near the small town of Karnack, in east Texas.  The name of this park is a bit deceiving as the park doesn't sit on the shores of Caddo Lake (the only natural, fresh water lake in Texas) but on Big Cypress Bayou.

Entrance sign

Entrance signs to Caddo Lake State Park

Big Cypress Bayou from boat ramp (west)

Big Cypress Bayou looking east.  Follow the bayou east to reach Caddo Lake.

Like most Texas state parks the structures within Caddo Lake SP were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Company 889 began the work, in June to November of 1933. Company 857 continued construction from October 1934 to March 1937.

One of the cabins that can be rented at the park

CCC workers converted 15 U.S. Army barracks and an Army mess hall into the nine log cabins and group recreation hall that can be used today.  Other facilities built by the CCC include picnic sites, a pavilion, Park Road 2 and trails.

Fishing pier at the park

Bald cypress trees draped with Span­ish moss tower over the maze of bayous, sloughs and ponds of Caddo Lake State Park. Under these big cypress trees visitors can fish, paddle, hike, picnic, camp or stay in a cabin, or go boating.

Another view of the fishing pier in use

Although we did not see one, alligators live in the park.  When obtaining your park pass at the park's office you will be informed of alligators.

Another fisherman

Saturday, July 23, 2016

DESTINATION: Lake O' The Pines, Texas

Our next camping adventure was approximately 12 to 15 miles west of Jefferson at the beautiful Lake O' The Pines.  Lake O’ the Pines (formerly known as "Ferrell's Bridge Reservoir") was created by the construction of the Ferrells Bridge Dam on the Big Cypress Bayou approximately 81 miles upstream from the bayou's confluence with the Red River The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began construction of the dam in January 1955 and the dam was completed on December 11, 1959.

View of Lake O' The Pines dam

This 18,680 acre lake spreads out over Marion, Harrison, Upshur, Morris and Camp counties of east Texas.  The lake is surrounded by gorgeous pines trees that stretch up to the sky like a fortress that guards the lake.  Fishing species include large mouth bass, spotted bass, catfish, white bass, crappie, sunfish and chain pickerel.   

View of lake from our campsite at Alley Creek

Park entrance sign

Campsite E223 in Alley Creek

There are seven parks spread out around the lake and four of them offer camping.  We chose Alley Creek Campground because half of Alley Creek's 67 sites are for RV only.   This time we made our reservations through the website.  Like Reserve America, allows you to select a campsite from either a photo or map.  We picked a campsite that was on the shoreline offering lake views. We were not disappointed with how clean and level the site was.  A closed fire ring, picnic table and trash/lantern pole made this campsite complete.

Tall pines dwarf the RVs camped at Alley Creek

Another view of pines

Buzzards rest on resting boat in cove of Lake O' The Pines

Around 5:00 in the afternoon a summer thunderstorm moved in.  The pines surrounding our camp began to sway but not our Forest River! Inside the trailer you would never know that there was a storm going on outside.  After the storm passed we had a front row view of a rainbow.  The setting sun, filtered by the clouds, lit up the orange east Texas dirt shoreline across the lake.  Maybe that rainbow led to a pot of gold? 

Rainbow and pot of gold?

DESTINATION: Jefferson, Texas

It was a hot and humid July day when we decided to make our way to the historic east Texas town of Jefferson.  Located along the Big Cypress Bayou, Jefferson dates back to around 1841 when it was founded on land ceded from the Caddo Indians.  

Map of Jefferson, Texas, 1872

Steamboat on Cypress Bayou
At the time Jefferson was formed a log jam on the Red River, in Louisiana, acted as a dam raising the water levels of Caddo Lake and the Red River several feet. The corresponding rise of water in the Big Cypress Bayou permitted commercial riverboats to travel to Jefferson from ports such as St. Louis, New Orleans, the Mississippi River and Red River. Thus, Jefferson became known as "The Riverport to the Southwest."  Many attempts were made, but failed, to clear the log jam until 1873, when the discovery of nitroglycerin allowed the Army Corps of Engineers to clear the jam.  This lowered the level of Caddo Lake and Big Cypress Bayou to the point that riverboat traffic to Jefferson was no longer commercially feasible. 

Near Jefferson on Big Cypress Bayou

Jefferson now considers itself, "The Town that Time Forgot." Almost every commercial building and home along the old water front has a historical marker. 

Confederate Civil War Memorial outside of Marion County Courthouse

Tourists come to Jefferson to enjoy the ambiance of the past, stay in the many bed and breakfast inns, shop, enjoy boat, train and surrey rides or to hunt for ghosts or Bigfoot. Every weekend ghost tours of Jefferson (the most haunted town in Texas) are available and every year the Jefferson Visitor Center hosts the Original Texas Bigfoot Conference.

Our first stop in Jefferson was to the Jefferson Tourism and Visitors Center where we were allowed to park our truck and trailer in the parking lot.  We spent the afternoon roaming the streets of Jefferson, antiquing, and catching up on Jefferson's history by reading the historical markers.

Excelsior House Hotel

The Excelsior House Hotel (above) opened in the late 1850’s. Famous people registered at the Excelsior House include Ulysses S. Grant, Oscar Wilde, Rutherford B. Hayes and Lady Bird Johnson to name a few. 

Jefferson Playhouse

The Jefferson Playhouse (above), once a Synagogue, was added in 1876 as an addition to the now Ruth Lester Memorial House. It is a transitional building between Victorian and Greek Revival designs. The Jefferson Playhouse is now used as a local theatre that includes seating for 92 guests, stage and lighting systems. The Playhouse is available to rent for theatrical performances, meetings and events.

Joseph's Riverport BBQ

We ate a delicious BBQ lunch at Joseph's Riverport BBQ located on the corner of N. Polk St. and W. Lafayette St. We then made our way to Auntie Skinner's Riverboat Club located on Austin St. for a cold adult beverage. 

Auntie Skinner's River Boat Club

Outside the Jefferson General Store

Feeling revived from the oppressive heat we headed to the Jefferson General Store. In the store we spent some time shopping for souvenirs and reminiscing about our youth at the candy bins.  

Although there was much more to see in the historic city of Jefferson it was time for us to hit the road and move on to our camping site at Lake O' the Pines.