Spotlight on East Texas
Written by T.J. MACK
As a native East Texan, I will never forget my first exposure to the Cypress Bayous of our area. I was probably six years old when I watched a movie on the Sunday episode of the Wonderful World of Disney television show. The story was of a young man battling a large alligator to recover an old submerged church bell in the swampy waters by his village. I sat glued to the TV. My parents told me they had read a story that morning in the local newspaper telling of how the Disney movie I was watching had been filmed at Pine Island Point on Caddo Lake, where my father and grandfather had fished many times. I begged them to take me to see this place I was so fascinated with on TV.
Just a couple of weeks later, my wish was granted with a Sunday afternoon drive to Caddo Lake. As my dad turned the car onto Pine Island Road I held my head out the window to get a better look at the moss that hung from the trees. I can’t describe the feeling of intrigue with this area then, but it still fills me today when I make that same turn off the highway. My parents and I made the drive down the little road tunneled by arching trees, following the lane until it dead ended at the movie set that still stood as I had seen it on TV. I remember the sights, the sounds, and even the smells of that day. That day I developed a love for the Caddo Lake area that is still with me over 40 years later.
Caddo Lake and the Cypress rivers of East Texas are a unique and natural treasure to our area. Although Caddo is truly not “the only natural lake in Texas” as often reported, it is quite different from most other bodies of water found across the state. The Caddo region is heavily vegetated with cypress trees, known for their beauty and the numerous cypress “knees” which rise from the water surrounding the tree. The Spanish moss that has grown naturally hand in hand with the cypress trees casts a romantic feeling of mystery as it seems to dance in the light of a full moon over the alligator populated waters.
In the early twentieth century steamboats brought provisions, culture and music from New Orleans to the river port town of Jefferson through the waterways of Caddo via the Red River. Much of the historical music of days gone by could be heard echoing over the waters, coming from honky-tonk shanties buried far into the swampy areas away from the long arm of the law. Many outlaws were rumored to come out of their swampy hiding places for a drink of illegal whiskey during the Saturday night sessions of these makeshift bars.
The moss and cypress tree landscape of the lake area lends itself to a Louisiana bayou, or swamp, and has drawn Hollywood to East Texas many times to use the area for movie backdrops. From the early days of cinematography to Universal Soldier, even a Sci Fi channel shark movie filmed just a few years ago, the beauty of Caddo has starred in more films than the average leading actor.
For the last 50 years, fishing and boating have been the primary attractions of Caddo Lake. Other than an occasional oil well and a few modern dwellings, industry and technology seems to have bypassed this area, leaving the overall appearance of the lake and rivers much as it was over 100 years ago. On the banks of the Big Cypress River you’ll find Texas’ Caddo State Park, the Graceful Ghost steamship tours, two benchmark area restaurants, and numerous fishing guides. Whether sightseeing for a day or camping for a week, the beautiful, natural area of Caddo Lake lies waiting to be explored on you next adventure.