Our trip back into Texas was not long, taking only about 2 hours, even though none of the trip was along interstates. We traveled to the shore of Lake Sam Rayburn, which is the largest man made lake in Texas, to Twin Dikes Park. This is another Corps of Engineers Campground and, like others, is very nicely laid out along the shore of a lake. The sites are all large with paved RV pad. In this case, many of the sites have full hookups, which is essential since we stayed for two weeks, and even had a cover over the picnic table. This was very nice whenever the weather turned wet. The only drawback to the campground was that the bathroom within easy walking distance, was closed for repairs. So we had to drive to the other camping area to use the bathroom there. Once again we had a long view over the lake and watch some truly spectacular sunsets over the next two weeks.
The main reason for camping in this area was to explore the Big Thicket National Preserve, however, we held off on this until Wednesday since Tuesday was cold and very windy. After spending a day in the campground, we loaded up on Wednesday and drove south to the Visitor Center of the Big Thicket National Preserve. As the name implies this National Park Service site is mostly a cooperative effort with other federal agencies (US Forest Service and US Fish and Wildlife Service), state parks, and private preserves to a very small part of the original Big Thicket region. Due to a complex mosaic of soils and relatively flat terrain, the Big Thicket region of southeast Texas, is one of the most biologically diverse regions in the world. There are at least 8 separate ecosystems ranging from dry savannas and longleaf pine stands through side slopes of mixed pine-hardwood thickets, to riparian zones along rivers and many cypress bogs. Throughout this entire region there are miles of hiking trails and water courses that could be explored. We found out a lot more information at the Visitor Center which has a number of nice exhibits about each of the ecosystems that make up the Big Thicket. We opted to stay close to the Visitor Center and explored the plant communities on the Kirby Nature Trail. This trail includes a number of interlocking loops that can be used to create hikes from 1.5 to 2.5 miles in length. We did a number of the loops that added up to about 2 miles in length. The trail was very easy as it meanders from a slope forest of longleaf and loblolly to a riparian zone along Village Creek. There was also a side loop that descended into a cypress bog. It was a nice walk on a cool, but calm and sunny, winter afternoon.
On Thursday I took care of another of the reasons for camping in the area and that was to take the truck into the Ford dealership in Jasper to get its first oil change. While they were doing that they also took care of two recalls and checked out everything. Friday was another cold day, so we decided to stay close and just drove into Jasper to check out the Jasper County Historical Museum on the courthouse square in the center of Jasper. This is a small museum of only two rooms that was jam packed with historical artifacts from the county. They obviously need to have a much larger space and, especially since they were in the process of reorganizing the exhibits, it was mostly a jumble of items. We found a number of interesting items and learned the basic history of the county from the volunteer working at the museum. We also ran into a local resident that is the nephew of E.V. Smith from Alabama. Due to this he had a direct tie to Auburn and we enjoyed talking to him about his uncle and memories of Auburn. All totaled we spent about two hours in the museum and then went to lunch at a local Mexican restaurant before heading back to the campground.
Saturday was spent doing laundry and cleaning the RV and on Sunday we got ready to travel back to Dallas for Christmas. From Jasper we had just over a 4 hour drive back to Mark’s house in Frisco. We got an early start to make yet another appointment with my dentist to once again adjust my new denture. Hopefully, this will be the last adjustment. I am hopeful since most of my problem was due to an infection that had set in due to a piece of a tooth that did not get removed. Armed with some prescription mouthwash to deal with the infection, I am looking forward to begin finally able to eat a complete meal again. Tuesday was Christmas Eve, and we spent the day with Mark and his family. Christmas morning began with breakfast at the hotel where we ran into Phil and his family that had drove all the way from Birmingham on Christmas Eve. We had a good time getting caught up before heading over to Mark for Christmas. Unlike last year where Christmas was just us and Kal’s father, it was nice to have a house full of family including all ages from us to the very young. After opening the presents the day became a time to visit and await a very fancy Christmas dinner. We had not only ham, but also duck along with more side dishes then we could possibly consume, although we made a grand effort. I ate what I could, which was unfortunately not as much as I would have like. After dinner the kids took off to spend the evening out and we headed back to the hotel.
Thursday was spent traveling back to Jasper and Friday we just stayed and relaxed in the campground. However, on Saturday we traveled north to Lufkin to check out the Texas Forestry Museum. As a forester, this museum was a requirement. However, I would recommend it to anyone who visits the area. They do a very good job of telling the history of forest management practices, logging, and forest industry in the state. As with the rest of the south, forestry began as a logging operation which increased in intensity as railroads transformed the transportation of logs out of the woods. Forest industry began with small sawmills scattered throughout the region, beginning along rivers where logs were floated to the mill, to literally anywhere railroads could be used to congregate the harvest. Today, as with the rest of the south, the main product is pulp and paper and the logging of smaller pine on logging trucks. The museum does a very good job of telling this story including a detailed description of the pulp and paper process. Outside they have a number of machines, including planters, skidders, harvesting machines, and even a logging train with loading crane. This was something I had not seen outside of pictures. There was even a short urban forestry trail where they identified all the trees along the trail. There was even some surprises on the trail, for instance, a swamp sugar maple, that I never heard of.
Sunday was spent again in the campground before heading out on Monday for the coast.