We in Texas are arrogant folks who believe that spring or summer is ALWAYS just around the corner. We hold this belief with solid evidence to back us up . . . well, at least most of the time.
This past weekend found me travelling on an East Texas backroads trip for a bit of birthday celebration. Hubby didn’t want a big fuss for his BD, didn’t want entertaining, just some quiet time for the two of us.
He had fond memories of a lovely drive through the Davy Crockett National Forest and into Lufkin, Texas. (for map clarification, this is East Texas.)
Of course, these memories came from one of his trucking runs, which meant it was mainly made in the dead of night. Lots of things look great in the dead of night. I don’t need to go further with that explanation.
Before we embarked on our journey, I engaged in my usual Internet research. If I’m headed out to a destination, I WILL load up on area sites of interest, restaurants to enjoy and to AVOID, hotel reviews, and perhaps more importantly, off the beaten path points of interest.
I don’t always get it right. And what would be the fun of a vacation without one horror story, but we generally find unique stops and undiscovered gems in eateries.
What is there to learn while travelling the back road of Texas?
1) Do not go to East Texas in the dead of winter for the scenery.
- When it’s been fairly cold, when Texas has actually suffered through a hard freeze or two . . . the trees will be bare and bereft of leaves. Please, don’t misunderstand me. There are times that barren landscapes feed my soul. But when I’m after a cozy getaway—not so much. Consider that if you’re headed into an area or part of the country that’s known for its GREEN, don’t go during the dead of winter. That much barrenness simply becomes bleak.
2) Be cautious about museums that sport only a handful of ‘open’ hours per week.
- Also, if you are completely unfamiliar with an area, call in advance to confirm address and hours. Our excursion hunting the Houston County Museum in Crockett, TX turned out to be an exercise in futility. Either the address (from 3 references) was woefully incorrect or my GPS lost its mind. We drove down poorly maintained roads, drove in circles, drove for waaay too long, and still couldn’t discover the missing museum. A call to the location netted their answering machine (quaint accent, but not a live person) and a Google search for the exact museum name from the answering machine listed a location 112 miles away. Um . . . I don’t think so. We did explore Goliad Avenue. Several times. We found the local DQ and shared their last Dilly Bar. And we found our way out of town.
3) Enjoy the unexpected.
- The DQ visit netted a couple of good ole cowboys, one complete with spurs. No chaps, but boots, jeans, hat and . . . the spurs. In Texas pickup trucks rule the roads. Freeways, city streets, country roads will all sport a plethora of brand spanking-new to old enough to be held together by rust, duct tape, and memories. Dusty windshields, grimy bumpers, mud-crusted wheels, the working pickup trucks dotted the Crocket DQ parking lot. Hubby & I figured – which is what you do when in Texas – that the cowboys belonged to one of the pickup trucks. We figured right. They climbed into a King cab, complete with animal trailer and one serious-looking bull then were off in a cloud of Dairy Queen parking lot dust. Small Texas towns provide their own eclectic version of everyday folks and for those of us who watch the world, loads of moment-by-moment entertainment.
4) If the area that you visit delivers any type of local newspaper or glad rag, pick it up.
- A great meal was found at the Clear Spring Café in Nacogdoches, TX. That locale didn’t show up on my Google searches or my Yelp request. I can’t answer why as once I researched the specific name, Yelp loaded scads of happy Texans reviews. Their webpage loaded easily and had all the things that tick the boxes for me. It was a win. The freshly prepped onion rings are worth the stop, and this close to the Louisiana border, the Cajun influence could be found.
5) Talk to the hotel front desk.
- I will warn you . . . this can provide hit-or-miss results. If the desk clerk responds to your area questions, with a blank look – don’t pursue it. They often struggle to be helpful and you end up with less than sterling results. If, however, the clerk offers ready suggestions and knows details, then you’ve found a mining source for your stay.
6) State & National Parks can add to the adventure.
- We have now purchased a National Geographic book and are hoping for better results on our future impromptu road trips. A National or State park always seems like a good excursion, but driving through the Davy Crockett National Forest did disappoint. The posted speed limit is 70. Do you know what scenery looks like @ 70? A blur. We saw several upcoming historical marker signs, but never actually saw the memorial. Again, at 70, and below – we were in the right-hand lane – who knows what all we missed.
7) Historic downtown areas can be a sure score.
- In Nacogdoches, which is billed as the oldest town in Texas, we found old brick streets, buildings with the well-worn wooden floors – creaky and sloped, twenty foot ceilings, even a few with original lead glass. Historic Nacogdoches didn’t disappoint. Most clerks in the stores were the actual owners. Loads of great stories and folks who’d spent their lives in the area. We discovered an Artesian Stained-glass window & door builder (his shop is part of the store); antique stores (some set-up with the booths for browsing), but one was a shotgun building no more than fifteen feet wide, filled with widgets and gadgets from the former century and that musty, dusty scent you can only find in truly dated buildings; the last store find was filled with a barrel-chested fiddle maker with his pot-bellied red hot stove and his trusty banjo companions strumming away in one warm corner. It was fabulous.