What defines the perfect road trip? A launching point and a destination, a loose itinerary, plenty of time for detours, and a keen eye for unexpected opportunities that crop up along the way. Good tunes always liven things up, and taking along a kindred spirit never hurts. For this trip, I choose my husband, Rusty, an untiring road warrior.
We know we’re starting in Nacogdoches and landing in Texarkana, and we’ve plotted a squiggly line right through the heart of East Texas, allowing for forks in the road and meanderings along the way. Our route will take in the gentility of the Old South, a few history lessons, savory country cooking, and the magical, mystical swamps of Caddo Lake. The rest we leave to the twists and turns of the road.
Nacogdoches always makes a good starting point for exploring East Texas. It lays claim to being the oldest town in Texas, and while that’s disputed by some, there’s no denying it’s a venerable community, traced back to the Spanish who colonized it, and the Caddo Indian tribes who settled the area long before the Europeans arrived. In the late 1800s, Nacogdoches transformed from a pioneer town of simple, wooden structures into the quaint town it remains today. The charming, brick-lined streets form a neat grid for the classic red-brick buildings and elegant homes, many of them designed by German architect Diedrich Anton Wilhelm Rulfs.
Part of what makes Nacogdoches so enchanting is the profusion of flowers in the springtime. Every March, the Azalea Trail draws visitors on a winding trail through the town’s showpiece, the Ruby M. Mize Azalea Garden, and on to private homes and gardens blossoming not only with azaleas, but also dogwoods, wisteria, roses, camellias, and grand magnolia trees dripping with large, richly perfumed, and ivory-colored flowers.
Our route from Nacogdoches to Texarkana was mostly on US 59, along the Louisiana border, but allow time for detours and side trips off the main road. For general information or details on sites not mentioned in the story, contact the chamber or convention and visitor’s bureau listed for each town. The area code is 903 unless otherwise noted.
Nacogdoches—The Nacogdoches Azalea Trail blossoms each Mar. and Apr. (Mar. 19-Apr. 9, 2005). Its centerpiece is the Ruby M. Mize Azalea Garden, on the Stephen F. Austin State Univ. campus.
Pine Creek Lodge is a country inn on rolling, wooded acreage a few miles outside Nacogdoches. Rates: $95-$150, full breakfast included. At 341 Pine Creek Rd.; 888/714-1414; www.pinecreeklodge.com.
Clear Springs Cafe serves catfish, steaks, and country cooking. At 211 Old Tyler Rd.; 936/569-0489; www.clearspringscafe.com.
Nacogdoches CVB, 200 E. Main St.; 888/653-3788; www.visitnacogdoches.org.
Carthage—The Tex Ritter Museum is inside the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame, which honors Texas-born country-music legends. At 300 W. Panola St.; 693-6634; www.carthagetexas.com.
The Panola County Heritage Museum displays Caddo Indian artifacts, old photographs, and remnants of pioneer life. At 100 E. Sabine; 693-8689; www.carthagetexas.com.
The Texas Tea Room serves tea, soups, salads, and sandwiches. At 100 E. Sabine; 693-8689; www.carthagetexas.com.
Panola Co. Chamber of Commerce, 300 W. Panola St.; 693-6634; www.carthagetexas.com.
Marshall—Marshall Pottery is the largest manufacturer of clay pots in the U.S. At 4901 Elysian Fields Rd. (take Exit 620 from I-20); 938-9201; www.marshallpotterystore.com.
The Harrison Co. Historical Museum and Research Library is in the former Ginocchio Hotel. At 707 N. Washington; 938-2680; http://txgenes.com/TXHarrison/NewHome.htm.
The Michelson Museum of Art houses the works of Leo Michelson and other artists. At 216 N. Bolivar St.; 935-9480; www.michelsonmuseum.org.
The self-guided Lale Trail takes visitors through historic Marshall. Pick up a trail map at the Marshall Chamber of Commerce office (see chamber listing).
Wisteria Garden Bed & Breakfast is in the 1884 Wood-Boone home. Rates: $75-$85, full breakfast included. At 215 E. Rusk; 938-7611; www.wisteriagarden.com.
Neely’s Sandwich Shop is the home of the Brown Pig sandwich. At 1404 E. Grand Ave.; 935-9040.
Venue 105 offers upscale dining. At 105 E. Houston St.; 923-0260; www.Venue105.com.
Marshall Chamber of Commerce, 213 W. Austin; 935-7868; www.marshall-chamber.com.
Scottsville—Scottsville Cemetery, off FM 1998, is the home of the Grieving Angel and other tombstones dating to the 1800s.
Jonesville—T.C. Lindsey & Co. general store is at 2293 FM 134; 687-3382. Call ahead for hours.
Uncertain/Karnack—Ms. Betty’s Caddo Grocery offers guided pontoon tours of Caddo Lake year round. Cost: $15 per person, $10 age 12 and younger. At 312 Cypress Dr. in Uncertain; 789-3495.
Cypress Moon Cottages are on a secluded cove on Caddo Lake. Rate: $110, continental breakfast included. At 520 Private Rd. 2422, just outside of Uncertain; 679-3154; www.cypressmooncottage.com.
Bayou Landing Restaurant serves catfish, steaks, seafood, and alligator. At 300 Cypress Dr. in Uncertain; 789-3394; www.uncertain-tx.com/bayoulanding.
Big Pines Lodge serves fish, shrimp, steak, and burgers. At 747 Pine Island Rd. in Karnack; 679-3466.
Caddo Lake State Park headquarters are 0.4 mile off Texas 43, on FM 2198, near Karnack. (New interactive exhibits at park headquarters provide a good orientation to the park and Caddo Lake.) Entrance fee: $2 per person, $1 age 65 and older, free age 12 and younger. Cabins: $75-$100 per night. Campsites: $8-$20 per night. Call 679-3351 for park information, 512/389-8900 for reservations; www.tpwd.state.tx.us/ park/caddo.
Caddo Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, Box 228, Karnack 75661; 679-3500 or 866/AT-CADDO; http://caddolake.org.
Jefferson—Jefferson Bottling Works sells antiques and bottled-drink memorabilia. At 203 N. Polk St.; 665-3736.
Der Baskit Kase restores and sells musical instruments and phonographs. At 215 N. Polk St.; 665-7996; www.dbkmusicstore.hypermart.net.
The Excelsior House historic hotel is at 211 W. Austin; 665-2513 or 800/490-7270; http://theexcelsiorhouse.com.
The Jefferson General Store offers a little bit of everything and features an old-fashioned soda fountain. At 113 E. Austin St.; 665-8481.
Riverport Bar-B-Que is at 201 N. Polk St.; 665-2341.
Marion Co. Chamber of Commerce, 118 N. Vale St.; 888/GORELAX; www.jefferson-texas.com.
Texarkana The U.S. Post Office is the only U.S. federal building to sit in 2 states. At 500 N. State Line Ave.; 792-3793.
The Perot Theatre is at 219 Main St.; 792-4992.
The Ace of Clubs House is at 420 Pine St.; 793-4831.
Bryce’s Cafeteria is at 2021 Mall Dr. (take Exit 222 from I-30); 792-1611.
Texarkana Chamber of Commerce, 819 N. State Line Ave.; 877/ARK-LATX; www.texarkana.org.