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Trip Report (Sept '08) - Tx/Ok Panhandle



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Trip Report (Oct '08) - Caddo Lake / Uncertain, Texas

Anna and I were trying to decided on a weekend trip to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary. Nothing with too much driving for a two and a half day trip. Anna came up with the great idea of going back to Caddo Lake. We love this lake, and it has been over 3 years since we were last able to go. Anna called our favorite B&B cabins there, Hodge Podge Cottages. It was late notice, but we were in luck. They had just had a cancellation on one cottage about 10 minutes earlier.

First, I would like give you a little info on Caddo Lake. It's a very special place!

  Caddo Lake is a 26,000 acre lake that is situated half in Louisiana and half in Texas, near Marshal. It is the only naturally formed lake in Texas. It is also an internationally recognized Ramsar “Wetland of International Importance”. The eastern half in Louisiana is more of a normal open lake, but the Texas side is a vast cypress swamp of bayous and lily pad covered ponds. The only way to navigate the western Texas side is by using marked and cleared "boat roads"

through the maze of cypress trees. It is this western side of the lake that we love. It is truly a beautiful place. You will find it being described as being a "mysterious and intriguing Texas treasure" or "one of the best kept secrets of Texas". This is especially true in the spring when everything is a vibrant green, and wildlife abounds.

Watch a Texas State Parks video on Caddo Lake:

A little history on Caddo:

In the 1800's Caddo Lake was a major depot and shipping port for the steamboat traffic running up to the northern most port at Jefferson, Texas. Then in the early 1900's oil was discovered under the lake. In 1911 the lake became the site of the first ever underwater oil drilling operation, conducted by Howard Hughes Sr. It was on this lake that he perfected many of the practices that later made him successful and very rich. A couple of decades later Caddo became the site of a vast freshwater pearl harvesting company. In the time since then Caddo has become a popular site for the filming of movies and TV show (just watch the Burt Reynolds' movie Gator). And it has always continued to be a retreat and paradise for fisherman and nature lovers.

  Our favorite area is around the small community of Uncertain, Texas. There are three different stories (that we've heard) about how the town came by the unusual name of Uncertain, but no one seems to know for sure which one is true. There are only about 150 full time residences here. They make their living running B&B's and rental cabins, as fishing and hunting guides, giving lake tours, and in the general tourism that comes from visitors to the lake. In general

they're a very welcoming and friendly group of people.

On this visit to Uncertain we stayed in the "Shipwreck" house at Hodge Podge Cottages. This is a unique cottage, now sitting a few hundred feet from the lake, that was constructed out of an old custom built 9-1/2 ton houseboat. The houseboat was built out of 1/4" steel plates from old railroad cars. The renovated houseboat is now a cozy weekend get-away for two people or a small family.
Our weekend at Uncertain didn't include a lot of activities. The idea was to relax and spend time together for our anniversary, after all. We spent much of our time enjoying the unique cottage, laying in a hammock under the trees, or stretching out in the sun to enjoy the peace and quite. We, of course, took a couple of walks along the lake.

We have a couple of favorite restaurants that we have really enjoyed in the past. But it seems that every restaurant near Uncertain has closed or changed hands since our last visit. Our favorite lunch stop was always the Shady Glade Cafe. They had a wonderful traditional patty melt and home-made onion rings. They were so large we always just split both the sandwich and rings. Sorry to say, the onion rings are gone, and the patty melt (although still huge) was nothing more than a cheese burger with grilled onions. Still, I would say that this is still a good stop for a hand made juicy hamburger. Or stop at the popular Caddo Grocery for barbecue.

Our choice for dinner was closed. So we tried the new restaurant in town, the Uncertain General Store & Grill. I was planning on their advertised catfish dinners. Anna order a ribeye steak, and was very pleased. I sampled the her's too, and agree that they did a very good job on the steak. However, the catfish I was first given was horrible and I ended up sending it back (very usual for me). The fish was just mush inside a salty breading. Disgusting. They apologized, including the owner, and brought out a new batch. These were better but still just barely average, and still quite salty. We'll go back. But we will stick with steaks and burgers. If you want catfish in Uncertain go to the Big Pines Lodge, although it has changed hands too and the reviews are just so so now.

  Our big event for Saturday was to take a lake tour on the Graceful Ghost. A true wood-fired steam driven paddlewheel boat that has been giving tours on the lake for almost 20 years. We had never taken this particular lake tour, and had always planned to do it one day. When we found out that they were ending their tours and moving the boat out of Texas, we immediately bought ticket for that day. The only ticket available were for the 5pm sunset tour. We
learned that this was actually the last official cruise tour for the steamboat. As we took the 1 1/2 hour tour many people were out on the lake taking pictures of us, or of the Ghost on her last lake tour. It's kind of a passing of an icon of Caddo Lake. Anna and I were very glad to be a part of the final tour! Only wishing that we had also taken a tour or two during our earlier visits.

Sunday morning we stopped at Marshal to visit the famous Marshal Pottery factory, only to find out that they are not open on Sundays. Oh well. We decided to go ahead and return home from Marshal. Taking our time and traveling only back roads all the way home. Stopping a flea markets, junk shops, and anything else interesting on the way home. All in all it was a very relaxing and great weekend!


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Trip Report (Sept '08) - Texas & Oklahoma Pan Handle

Anna and I are both starting new jobs or new positions at work soon. So we decided to take some time off for some traveling while we could. We had planned on a whole week. But Hurricane Ike changed those plans. With my company's headquarters being in Houston, my time off got postponed. Most of the other employees in my department had to evacuate town, or lost power and phones for many days.

We started off on Wednesday. Making our vacation only 5 days, instead of 9. With the hurricane tearing up south and east Texas we also changed our travel plans (we had planned on San Antonio and the central Texas coast). On the spur of the moment we decided to visit Anna's nephew in the Oklahoma pan-handle. We've never visit him at home before. Besides, neither of us had never spend much time in the pan-handle area. We were always driving through on our way somewhere else, but never stopping to see the sights.

After loading up the dog, we left Wednesday morning heading north to Oklahoma City and then west on I-40. After that, is was back roads and state highways for the rest of our trip (not much else in the pan-handle of Oklahoma). As we were leaving the Interstate we stopped at an Indian trading post and found a very interesting map of the old Indian tribes that Anna's father will love.

Not to far down the two lane highways we started seeing several very large and spectacular field of sunflowers. We stopped to admire the sight and for some pictures, but the light in the middle of the day was horrible for pictures.

Continuing on, we stopped at two local wineries that only use Oklahoma grapes. Anna picked up a special variety wine and a couple of sweet dessert wines. I wasn't much impressed with either wineries (wines from the last one were just all too sweet for me).
  One place on the way that I had wanted to stop at for some time was the Gloss (or Glass) Mountains State Park of Oklahoma. These are a range of small mountains (or large hills depend how you look at it), that get their name because of all the crystallized gypsum and selenite that cover their surfaces. None of the material is gem quality, and it is a state park, so there is no collecting. But seeing these brilliantly red

mountains rising up from the Oklahoma plains; with their glittering white coatings of gypsum and sparkling selenite crystal shining in the afternoon sun was an amazing sight. Unfortunately our time was limited, and some of the trails have been washed out be recent torrential rains. So, after a short hike, and all too soon we had to move on.

One of our reasons for moving on was to have time to also visit the Little Sahara State Park. The last time we visited this park was when Anna and I first started dating. It was part of our first outdoor road trip together. The Little Sahara is basically what it sounds like. About 1600 acres of sand dune covered desert in the middle of Oklahoma, with dunes reaching 75 feet high. Not having the time to rent a dune-buggy, we settled for a short walk and some pictures.

Our stop was cut short when Anna was stung a couple of time inside her mouth by honey bees. They had crawled inside a soda can that Anna picked up for a drink. In the past Anna has had bad allergic reactions to bee stings and we usually carry an "epy pen" with us for emergencies. But, of course, we didn't have one this time. Anna took a couple a Benadryl capsules and kept a mouth full of ice. I loaded her in the car, and started burning up the road to get to the nearest town with an hospital emergency room. That was Woodward. Luckily, this time, Anna's reaction was pretty minor. But we decided to stay in Woodward over night, just in case.

Everything turned out alright with the bee stings, and we left in the morning to meet John in the little town of Goodwell, where he is attending Oklahoma Panhandle State University.

We had a nice, but short, visit with John. We all went to lunch. Then, with him being a poor college student and all, we took him to the grocery store and tried to get him to fill up a shopping cart with food (not beer). The three of us also toured the No Man's Land Historical Museum. A nice little museum on the pan handle just off the college campus. They have everything from old household and farm equipment to exhibits on Indian artifacts and local fossils.

Saying goodbye, Anna and I were on the road again. Planning to stay in Amarillo for the night. All

the way from Woodward to Amarillo we pasted numerous windmill farms. They seem to be spouting up everywhere. North of Amarillo we also started seeing small herds of prong horned antelope. I've always had a fascination with these animals, and wished we could have gotten closer for some better pictures.

We also had a lot a fun driving through the town of Dumas, Texas. Pronouncing the name "dumbass", and making fun of the names of the businesses in town. Names like Dumbass Towing, the Dumbass Laundry, and .... well you get the idea. We kept looking for the Dumbass Lawyer's sign, but we must have missed it. We're sure there's one in town somewhere. In case you're wondering, this is a take-off from the movie Shawshank Redemption and their talk of the author Alexander Dumas.

Arriving at Amarillo we stopped by the visitor information center, grabbed a hotel, and headed out for Thai food for dinner. It's amazing at the number of Thai restaurants in Amarillo. Most are right together. Several with good recommendations. Amarillo also has what seems to be Texas' only authentic Laotian restaurant. We choose the Thai House, and were quite pleased with the food (but the atmosphere was kinda crappy).

  In the morning we visited the Buffalo Lake National Wildlife Refuge, and planned to tour the Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument that afternoon. At the wildlife refuge we saw flocks of wild turkeys, mule deer, pheasants, prairie falcons, black tailed prairie dogs, and millions of mosquitoes. I got my first ever good close up pictures of mule deer that morning! I would love to spend more time here with my camera!

By the time we arrived back in Amarillo we were not sure that we could make the Flint Quarries by the time the tours started. So we changed plans. Instead, we went to lunch at the Blue Sky for what was reported to be a very good hamburger. We were not disappointed! They turned out to be some of the best burgers that we have had anywhere in the US. Definitely in the top 3 or 4. Anna had a plain burger, and commented several times on how good it was. I went for my first ever green chile cheeseburger. The cooked green chiles had an excellent flavor, and the combination on a cheese burger works better than I expected. Wonderful!

After our burgers we went on to the famous Cadillac Ranch. You know; the place where the guy buried several cadillac cars standing upright in a field back in the mid 1970's. Over the years they've been spray painted by visitors so many times that the paint is several inches thick in places. We snapped a few pictures of the cars and loaded the dog back in the car.

Back in town we stopped at several other roadside landmarks. A big talk texan man in Canyon. And the Big Texan Stake House, where you can get the free 72oz steak for free if you can eat it in an hour. After our burgers we didn't think we were up to trying the steak, so we opted for dessert instead (along with a few more pictures).

Dinner was at El Tejavan. It was reported to be more strongly Mexican food, and not Tex-Mex. This is proving to be more difficult to find in northern Texas than in Houston where we are used to living. The reports turned out to be very true. Just a glance at their menu proved that. Everything was excellent! We ate way to much. Especially me; as I ate everything on my plate including the crumbs, and that much food would have normally made two whole meals for me. I would definitely recommend El Tajavan to anyone traveling through Amarillo that wants a true taste of northern Mexican food.

  The next morning saw us driving south to visit Palo Duro Canyon. This is the second largest canyon in North American, after the Grand Canyon of course. I have wanted to visit here for some time. The canyon is, of course, huge. We only got to tour the area around the Texas State Park. The area reminded Anna and I a lot of northern Arizona and the Painted Desert there. It's full of wind sculpted hills, spires, and rock faces. All brightly colored in reds and yellows.
The canyon itself has a large flat bottom, covered in west Texas scrub vegetation. As with most wild places it take some hiking to get to the best places. Alas, as it always seems, we were short on time and settled for a few walks out into the canyon floor. I have to say the the Texas State Parks have done an excellent job here. There are tons of nice camp sites and amenities that don't spoil the wildness of the canyon. Anna and I left talking about coming back for a camping trip in the state park (in cooler weather when the rattlesnakes are all denned up).


That afternoon saw through the little town of Qitaque (quit-ee-kay), and into Caprock Canyons State Park. This canyons area is still real a part of the same canyons as Palo Duro. Just further down the river basin. Again, these canyons are amazingly beautiful. I'm surprised that they are not National Parks. In fact, Anna thought that Caprock was much prettier and more interesting than Palo Duro.

The unique claim to fame for Caprock is that it is the largest native american "buffalo kill" site found in North America. But the vista and landscapes of the wind and water carved canyons are the true attraction. Another interesting aspect of Caprock is the numerous massive gypsum outcroppings in the park. Some 2 or 3 foot thick veins (layers) of pure gypsum.

The time was getting late, and we were tired and hungry when we left the park. Because of this we stopped sooner than we expected that night in Childress. We ate a quick dinner in a BBQ drive through recommended by the hotel clerk, and collapsed into bed early. The next day, our last, was uneventful. We kept looking for something to do. But couldn't find anything worth a side trip or stopping for between Childress and Denton. So we arrived back home in the early afternoon, with a nap in the near future.


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