Big Cypress Bayou is perhaps best known these days as the source of scenic Caddo Lake, often called the only natural lake in Texas. Yet, as the displays on the walls of Caddo Lake State Park demonstrate, its water level has been manipulated by man more than once, including the current Caddo Dam in Caddo Parish, La. So natural? Not really.
RELATED: How to Trace the Medina River.
Before we got to Caddo Lake to begin the tracing, we couldn’t resist stopping at Lady Bird Johnson’s childhood home in Karnack. While a historical markers stands in the center of this scruffy town, it is nowhere near the house, and there was no indication of where it might be. We were not deterred! Once we found the stately manse on a highway to the south, we discovered that the current owners of the home did not take kindly to unannounced visitors, or so their signs screamed. Still, we pulled over to take a quick snap in Lady Bird’s memory.
Caddo Lake might be the best place to find archetypical East Texas swamp scenery. Stands of bald cypress line the shore and rise from the shallow lake. There are pleasant lakeside paths and boardwalks extending over the lake for unobstructed views. The main entry point, however, in the state park is an oxbow lake should make for a pretty tame, but beautiful boat ride.
Related: Tracking down good reads on Texas rivers.
The bayou also famously served the river port of Jefferson, which, before the arrival of the railroads, was the fulcrum for East Texas transportation and distribution. Now a tourist magnet, among its many improved, renovated or restored sites is a park at the turning basin on the bayou. In Jefferson’s historic district is Excelsior House, a hotel in continuous operation since the late 1850s where Oscar Wilde once stayed during one of his American tours.
To confuse matters at this point, three miles west of Jefferson, Big Cypress Bayou is met by Big Cypress Creek. Which to follow? We followed the creek to Lake Bob Sandlin. More on that later.
Upstream of Jefferson, we stopped by the gorgeous Lake o’ the Pines, which attracts anglers and recreational boaters and gave us the opportunity to do a little nature watching. Amazing how the river changes so quickly once a few hills begin to define the terrain.
Lake o’ the Pines on Big Cypress Bayou? Creek?
We remained uncertain — and there was a town, Uncertain, that echoed our concerns — about the bayou/creek designations at this point. But we ended up in Bob Sandlin State Park, a quiet place with, this December, an unusual number of large seasonal decorations. It also features an historic cemetery near a now-disappeared fort. We asked at the front desk, of course: Who was Bob Sandlin? Turns out he was a car dealer from the area who lobbied for years for the lovely lake that accompanies the park.
This day of river tracing was fairly short. After two nights in Texarkana, we took refuge in Marshall, which turns out is not a very welcoming place for tourists. Dry as a bone, it did offer a tiny barbecue place, Porky’s Smokehouse and Grill, which reminded us how far away we were from Central Texas.