Enchanted Forest, Magic Lake

We spent the weekend at Caddo Lake State Park, where we celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Heart of Texas Camping Unit of the Wally Byam Caravan Club International. The park was an enchanting, magical place, made even better by good company, lively conversation, and a memorable early-morning boat trip amid Spanish moss-draped Cyprus trees.

Caddo Lake, the only naturally formed lake in Texas, is a maze of slow-moving bayous, wetlands and backwaters that covers about 25,000 acres. The lake is named after the Caddo Indians who settled the land and occupied the area for thousands of years. For centuries, they hunted and gathered among the wetlands, forests and broad floodplains, until they were driven from the area in the early 19th century. The lake itself is thought to have been formed by a massive log jam that resulted from a series of Midwest earthquakes in 1811 and 1812. 

Today Caddo Lake has one of the largest flooded cypress forests in the United States and is an internationally protected wetland. In 1933, Thomas Jefferson Taylor, a wealthy businessman from nearby Karnak (and the father of Lady Bird Johnson), joined other landowners to contribute property for the development of a state park. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built the park according to the natural design style that was popularized by the National Park Service, incorporating natural materials from the surrounding landscape to construct roads, trails, and buildings, including the entrance portals, recreation hall, cabins and a pavilion. 

The dense forest of pine, oak and hickory provided a high canopy to filter the sunlight and frame the starlight. Upon arrival, we were welcomed by our friends, Rob and Linda Pritchett, who showed up bearing fine spiced rum. A quick visit gave way to happy hour around the unit campfire, where we heard David Tidmore tell the story of how he founded the unit. While listening, we feasted on local delicacies: crawfish, boudin and alligator sausage. Afterwards, we toured “Fortune Cookie” (the Pritchetts’ rig), and then made our way back to Cloud 9 to commence with preparations for Date Night: steak, asparagus and carrots, complemented by our favorite old-vine Zinfandel.

Saturday morning found us back at the unit campfire, enjoying a company breakfast and good company. A recommendation for a local restaurant with a river view took us to Big Pines Lodge, where we lunched on hamburgers and beer. A late afternoon nap gave way to another happy hour with the Pritchetts, followed by shredded chicken nachos and drinks around the unit campfire.

Sunday morning brought the highlight of our trip: a tour of the Saw Mill Pond and Big Cypress Bayou in a flat-bottom boat captained by John Coppage. His wife, Susan, accompanied us to highlight points of interest, as well as the variety of flora and fauna. The serene water of the lake, punctuated by towering baldcypress trees draped in Spanish moss, was magical.  We felt as though we had entered another world. All around us were signs of giant salvinia, a fast-spreading aquatic fern that threatens the very existence of Caddo Lake. Introduced accidentally by boaters, the weed doubles in size every two to four days, killing off everything beneath the surface. For years, efforts have been made to eradicate the weed using beetles and herbicides, but they’ve met with little success.

At one point, our captain cut the motor and allowed the silence to surround us. For a moment it was as though we were in a cathedral constructed by the hand of God.

A return to the unit campfire found us saying our goodbyes to departing friends, all while continuing to linger. The 2 p.m. checkout time came and went, finding us staying just a little longer. The conversation was simply too good to leave. Eventually, we heard our doggies barking from afar, drawing us back to the reality of responsibility. So off we went to pack up for the return trip to Dallas.

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