Slow down and savor East Texas’ dreamscape of autumn splendor
By Joe Lowery
In the part of East Texas I call home, there are at least as many miles of country roads as there are official highways. Some of these byways have stripes and some don’t; some are paved and some aren’t. But they all weave a wonderful web through the Piney Woods, one of the prettiest regions of the state.
As a photographer for Texas Highways for more than 15 years, I have spent a lot of time wandering woods, hiking trails, and climbing hills to capture images, but I’ve found that some of the most beautiful views and vistas can be enjoyed from the comfort of a car. I’m often asked how I found a certain scenic location, and how difficult it was to reach the spot. While I have a few adventurous tales to share, for the most part photography is about slowing down long enough to see what we normally rush past. And I don’t dismiss the joy in wandering; many of my favorite images were taken when I was lost.
I live in Angelina County, close to Angelina and Davy Crockett national forests, both webbed by backroads that come alive with autumn hues, usually from late October to early December. The season’s splendor varies depending on the weather, and, unlike the riotous bursts of color in other parts of the country, Texas’ fall color comes and goes quietly with understated elegance.
In my autumnal exploration of the area, I make a point to visit Daingerfield State Park in Morris County, where the brilliance of sweetgum, southern red oak, red maple, and other tree species is reflected in the namesake lake. Another favorite spot is Ratcliff Lake Recreation Area, off Texas 7 between Lufkin and Crockett in Houston County, where cypress radiate orange against water and sky, sometimes through Thanksgiving. (The recreation area is temporarily closed—see Essentials.) And photographs hardly do justice to Boykin Springs Recreation Area near Zavalla, with its painterly mix of longleaf pine and hardwoods. The six-inch pinecones alone are worth the trip.
Some days, just to check on the progress of fall color, I take a half-day drive through a variety of East Texas landscapes, ranging from creeks in Houston County to gentle hills in Cherokee County. (Two reliably scenic legs of the loop are FM 227 out of Ratcliff and FM 23 south of Rusk.) And I always look forward to the maples—which glow lemon yellow, then orange—on FM 343 east of Rusk.
I’ll let the photos on the following pages further speak to the glory of autumn in East Texas. My rule for this story is that I had to be photographing within sight of my car, so there’s no excuse: Take a road trip, slow down, and enjoy the fine fall show.
See full story and more fabulous fall photos in the October 2012 issue.
From the September 2012 issue.