This happens to be my most amazing and mysterious experience of any lake. Staying in Austin, lakes are not new to me. In fact, Texas is full of lakes and I experienced this fact, when I visited places like Holly Lake Ranch near Tyler, Montgomery and off course Lake Travis near Austin. But Caddo Lake is unique and one-off experiences.
This was also my first solo road trip in Texas. Going on a solo trip has its own challenges and I was afraid to go on this adventure on my own for sure. What if the car breaks down, how do I take care of all my belongings, hopefully, my health stays in right shape all the time et al. But then traveler in me pushed me out of all these uncertainties, to get my four days long weekend to a fruitful use.
Few of the Caddo lake photos I googled, actually had a lot of resemblance to some of the rain forests in north east India and I remember having read about places, where few thick forests are full of carnivorous trees. The mysterious look of this place gave me that feel of an adventure.
Marshall, which is half an hour from Caddo lake offered reasonable options to stay. The Tx-43 highway is an equally beautiful route towards Caddo lake, passing through Karnack. The tall pine tree greenery and vast green expanses of cattle fields give you the experience of beauty and peaceful life.
Before we get into the beauty of the lake, it makes sense to understand the reason for its uniqueness and also the kind of ecology it exhibits. There are different theories about how the lake was formed. The most famous amongst them is the log-jam theory. In 1800 there was this famous log jam on the red river where the water entered these thick woods of Bald Cypress trees. The water turned the place into a huge swamp and it remained so, for several years now. There have been efforts to remove the log jam over a period of time, but still, a huge portion of the land still remained under water and this was how the present-day Caddo Lake was born.
The trees might be 300-350 years old and cannot reproduce. The strong root system of cypress trees has made them survive the swamp for years. The miles and miles of Caddo lake expanses, with the trees forming tunnels and pathways, is an amazing site. These tunnels are called as Cathedrals. The feeling is of being on a different planet as you keep passing through these massive trees, a bit afraid of spotting the alligators and enjoying the sight of large herons waiting for their meal.
It’s a magical wonderland. Wes was our tour guy, who came here around 30 years back and kept visiting this place. Now he is more like a local and speaks about the lake with passion. He explained us the history as well as the geography of the lake and he was thorough in his knowledge about the lake. Wes also showed us a couple of beaver nests. Most of these trees or clusters also have names and that is how the locals navigate or refer to the spots inside lake here.
The cypress trees are really something, as they hold their grounds strong and are part of this amazing ecosystem, that not only hosts some of the amazing species of fish and birds but also creates a source of income for the locals in the form of fishing and tourist activities. The swamp is not very deep, probably four feet deep. We were told that the Alligators haven’t ever attacked humans, in fact, they are very shy and go into hiding and surface only during nights.
It also made me wonder about the vast creativity of nature which humans can’t imagine. It again brings me back to the point, where we are still a very small entity on this planet called as earth and nature still decides and morphs itself in the form it likes to and keeps us awestruck with its beauty as well as calamities.
A giant salvinia, type of fern crept into the lake few years back and is growing quite rapidly, taking over large portions of the lake. This is a major threat to Lake’s geology at this moment and attempts are to eradicate this invasive fern completely.
I was warned by my family to keep away from any kayaking activities, as that would have a danger of getting too close to alligators. In fact, I did carry that fear when I reached here. So, on the first day, I did restrict myself to a group tour and it is definitely a recommended experience, as you get to hear from the local. Secondly, the lake is so vast that there are chances of getting lost and you would not really be able to enjoy the tour in that situation.
Johnson’s Ranch is the oldest tour operator and been there since 1919 and has been operation throughout this period. There is a hut called as Dick and Charlee’s hut and they seem to have been running a brothel house in there. According to a popular local story, the customer would get a ride to this hut but would need to swim across on his return journey.
Caddo Lake state park does not cover all the portions of the lake. The lake is maintained by the locals and there is no government fund towards those activities.
The state park is quite beautiful and very well-maintained. The information desk provided a map and a pass to enter. They have activities like canoeing, fishing, camping, hiking. A $10 fee for canoeing for an hour is quite reasonable with an entry fee of $4. Camp sites are also quite nice and if you have an RV you are good to go for $20 a night. The cabins are also quite reasonable as well. The log cabins are very cute and their scenic location in the midst of thick pine forest makes it a desirable experience.
It’s fun kayaking along those massive Cypress trees, passing through them, watching their huge typically conical trucks with branches covered with Spanish moss, giving them a very different look. The calm of the place, the different shapes formed by the threes, the tortoise taking rest on the lotus leaves, the secretive birds waiting to catch fish, it’s a powerful ethereal experience. The only sound you would hear is the rhythmic paddling sound in water.
The trails are very green and give that fulfillment of being in the thick pine forest. There are mainly two types of pines Loblolly pine and Shortleaf pine, but as you move towards lake you would see the pines being replaced by Maple, Oak, and Walnut trees. This location was once part of the gulf, around 60 million years ago and then the Rockies started rising. The sea got pushed back to almost 200 miles from this place to present day Galveston.
My cell phone signal was lost as soon as I enter road 2198 from TX-43. I had to use primitive means of finding a boat tour company and navigating along the lake. But got lucky to have found shady glade resort and soon I had booked a place for a boat tour, with Wes.
Make sure you have downloaded the map before you enter uncertain because as the name suggests, there is no certainty to find signal here, irrespective of your mobile network. So, call up few tour operators even before you leave for uncertain. The Shady glade cafe is right on the bank and gives you a homely feeling. The staff is very welcoming and friendly.
I reserved some time on the last day to explore Marshal a little bit and it did not disappoint me at all. Being a very old town, it does have some historical background I did happen to hit upon few of those.
This turned out to be the most interesting tour in Texas so far. Some of the surprises on the way were spotting pet Lamas just after I left Corsicana and tool left on I-31. It was very thrilling to see them in this part of the world as they are more common in few South American countries. I was also lucky to stumble upon a Deer sanctuary right somewhere between Powell and Karen and they seem to be having a diverse range of deer’s.