These past three nights, our pilgrimage to here has taken us east and then south, across Texas, at first keeping the Red River and the Oklahoma border on our north side. That landscape, to borrow a line from T. S. Eliot, lies wide open “like a patient etherized upon a table”. Even the trees hunker down here, hugging the ground, as if attempting to stay below the wind’s radar.
Our first campsite, 250 miles from Amarillo, was at Lake Arrowhead, just south of Wichita Falls, and east of the panhandle and the grassy, wind-swept high plains of Texas. We took a bike ride here and passed two prairie dog towns, but we didn’t find them at all appealing. They have squeaky little barks and they run random road races right in front of our tires. We learned that they did not like Piggy’s voice and would run for the nearest burrow whenever they heard it. In a perverse way, it was the most amusing part of the ride.
The second day, another 250 miles away, took us further east as we gave the congestion of Dallas/Fort Worth a wide berth. At the town of Paris, Texas (where the movie of the same name captured the terrain pretty accurately) we turned south. Within about twenty minutes, the land changed dramatically rolling into low hills and curves, dotted by random hardwoods, and looking a lot like the savannas of north Florida and the wooded stretches of Ocala National Forest, in north Florida. No irrigation was keeping these fields green. We passed several horse ranches and even a kangaroo ranch. Our campsite at Lake Bob Sandlin State Park was spacious and full of oak trees and sweet gum and yellow southern pines, with a canopy at about 30 feet.
The evening’s entertainment was provided by the gathering of the East Texas Bikers who occupied several of the cute little cabins and campsites in our neighborhood. They had parked and decorated their RV/trailers with lots of Harley-themed details, complementing their very fine looking rides.
Leaving for our third one-night-stand of camping, we found even more evidence we were moving back into the deep south. We crossed a cultural marker as we encountered many donut shops (all busy on Sunday morning in these small towns), country stores selling sweet potato pie, and farm stands selling pumpkins and local sweet potatoes. The center of towns now feature antique “shoppes” (really, that’s how they spell it!). We crossed the Sabine River, the original border of Texas. Now, shotgun shacks show up, mounted on cement blocks. We observe more flags than ever before, people proudly showing colors that are meaningful to them. More Texas.
We stayed on the blue highways whenever possible and about 100 miles north of Houston, noticed the traffic increasing and the retail along the highways changing. Billboards return to the roadsides. Truck stops are all new construction with smart looking signs for Cinnabon Bakery and Subway. Peter said we are witnessing the end of our wide-open spaces patterns as we turn to the more congested east.
Eventually, our south facing path lead us to our third campground, 650 miles from Amarillo, at the exquisitely beautiful Sandy Creek Park, a Corps of Engineers site on Steinhagen Lake near Jasper, Texas. It was a complete surprise to us to find this much water, these mature hardwoods, and a gorgeous campsite. Our next door neighbor came over, as we are setting up, to point out that the resident alligator is showing up for munchies, so small dogs are on alert. So noted.
As we biked around the park, we felt a twinge of regret that we are only going to be here for one night since we know that the sunrise will be glorious from our breakfast table and tonight’s sunset merely whetted the appetite for more of the glory of this wildly beautiful place. But Louisiana awaits, so off we go. Come on along…
Liz and Peter are on a pilgrimage to here, traveling across Texas, and the rest of the U.S., in their Airstream.