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Let’s Go Wild

No. 11 Goat Island

Caddo Lake Wildlife Management Area

Canoeing across Caddo Lake, my seven-year-old daughter, Ursula, and I were struck by its eerie beauty. Spanish moss hung from the limbs of centuries-old bald cypress like a shroud. We’d spent the night in one of the air-conditioned log cabins at Caddo Lake State Park, even roasting marshmallows before bed, but now we were on a primordial quest to uncover the lake’s mysteries.

The indigenous tribes that loaned this body of water their name—the Caddo—believed an earthquake formed the lake; modern geologists theorize that its origins trace back to a logjam on the Red River. Though at forty square miles it is considered the largest “natural” lake in the state, its water levels are in fact controlled by the Army Corps of Engineers. This hardly mattered to Ursula or me: in the maze of bayous, we felt as if we’d entered an old, unspoiled world.

Our destination was Goat Island, a woodsy landmass tucked away within the Caddo Lake WMA that we reached by paddling Carter’s Chute. The lake is home to a vast range of species (220 birds, 93 fish, 47 mammals, 46 reptiles), and a concert of diverse voices surrounded us: frogs, owls, chuck-will’s-widows. We grounded our canoe amid the cypress and counted stars before hitting our sleeping bags. Mystery asserted itself again the next morning when I missed the turn for the boat ramp where we’d parked the car and ended up in a bayou called Hell’s Half Acre. But after passing a mess of lily pads and water hyacinth, we decided to set up a picnic on the secluded shore, content to bask in Caddo Lake’s secrets for just a while longer.

Getting There: From Marshall, travel 13 miles north on Texas Highway 43, then turn right onto FM 2198. Continue for half a mile to Caddo Lake State Park headquarters for canoe and cabin rentals. (Open daily, $3 entry. 903-679-3351.) The WMA is adjacent to the park and requires a $12 limited-use permit. To reach Carter’s Chute, travel a mile north on Highway 43, take a right onto FM 805 East, then follow CR 3444 to the lake. Goat Island is 4.5 miles away across the water.

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