When I set off for Toledo Bend Reservoir out in East Texas to do some reporting for my September 2016 travel column, I had one goal in mind: I wanted to catch a largemouth bass. My trip happened to coincide with the announcement that the 185,000-acre lake—the largest man-made body of water in the South—had just been named the best bass-fishing lake in the country by Bassmasters for an unprecedented second time in a row, so I was feeling pretty good about my odds (spoiler alert below).
The water may have been what lured me all the way out there (Toledo Bend straddles the Texas-Louisiana line), but the Sabine National Forest sure wasn’t giving an inch in the local popularity contest either, and I found myself drawn into the dense curtains of loblolly pines to explore recreational areas like Red Hills Lake and Indian Mounds. Though I hunkered down in Hemphill in the evenings, I took as many back roads as I could find during the day, out to Willow Oak and Milam, San Augustine and Patroon, and yes, even to nearby Louisiana, the only place I could get cell service (Verizon customers be warned).
Here are a few of the many Instagrammable moments from my wanderings, which I hope entice you to plan your own East Texas excursion soon.
#TXTripGuides | For September's Wanderer column, I headed to East Texas to Toledo Bend Reservoir, the largest man-made lake in the South. This summer, it was declared the top bass lake in the US by @bass_nation (for an unprecedented second time), so I had to try my luck at landing one of the ten-pound hawgs that love these stump-riddled waters. Went out mid-lake with local guide Miles McDaniel, of Milam's Holly Park Marina, and started reeling 'em in, mostly bar fish, white bass, and gaspergou. Even caught a catfish with a crankbait. We only hooked a couple of two-pound largemouth but I know if I'd only had time for a few more casts I would have landed the big one. Will be sharing more from my East Texas travels here and at my personal account for the next few days. Stay tuned! – @jordanbreal
#TXTripGuides | After stints in Dallas & Brooklyn, native son Samuel Melton has returned home to Hemphill to turn this old East Texas feed store into @LonesomePineMercantile, a furniture and home goods mini-mecca. I wanted to buy up a truckload of his vintage, reclaimed, and locally made finds from Texas makers like @throstudio, @hemlockandheather, @wdurablegoods, and @newtonsupplyco. Oh, and that map of Toledo Bend Reservoir on the wall? It used to hang in the local KC Drugs, where Samuel fondly remembers going to "get milkshakes every time after a dentist appointment." 🙂 [email protected]
I have a feeling the opening of @lonesomepinemercantile, in Hemphill, could kickstart a little small-town downtown East Texas revival, y'all. The head picker extraordinaire, Samuel Melton, is from these parts and boy does he have an eye for the coolest finds. If you get to stop in, ask about all the Texas makers whose wares he stocks, like his next-door neighbor's amazing @throstudio pottery.
#TXTripGuides | Situated on the western slopes of the Sabine River watershed, the Sabine National Forest is a gorgeous patchwork of second- and third-growth plots of loblolly pines, oaks, and gums that stretches across 160,656 acres of East Texas. You can hunt, camp, hike, horseback ride, or mountain bike your way through several recreational sites, including: • Indian Mounds (pictured) • the swimmable, 19-acre Red Hills Lake (where I spotted a magnificent bald eagle) • and the 28-mile Trail Between the Lakes, which runs from Toledo Bend to the Sam Rayburn Reservoir. [email protected]
Putting the finishing touches on my upcoming East Texas Trip Guide and wishing I were back at Red Hills Lake, an unexpected swimming spot in the gorgeous Sabine National Forest. (Not pictured because I was too slow: several bald eagles hanging out in the pines!) #EastTexas #Texastravel #SabineNationalForest #Milam #PineyWoods #tbt
#TXTripGuides | I was itching to get back out on the back roads to explore more of East Texas, so I took my coconut cream pie from @ImogenesCafe, in San Augustine, to go. They've got nearly two dozen homemade desserts listed on their chalkboard menu and clearly subscribe to the belief that the higher the meringue, the closer to heaven. They also serve up daily specials that range from "stick it to your ribs" pork roast with fresh cornbread to shrimp avocado salad. (A note about my paper map: if you have Verizon like me, cell service will be nonexistent in the San Augustine/Hemphill/Milam area. When I needed to make calls, I had to drive across the three-mile bridge, aka TX-21/LA-6, to Louisiana, but it was such a pretty drive I didn't mind a bit.) [email protected]
#TXTripGuides | On February 1, 2003, when the space shuttle Columbia broke apart on reentry, debris rained down on East Texas. For the next several weeks, the citizens of Hemphill and Sabine counties (and beyond) came together to volunteer in the search and recovery efforts. On February 1, 2011, the Patricia Huffman Smith NASA "Remembering Columbia" Museum was opened in Hemphill to honor the lives of the seven lost crewmembers as well as the Texas Forest Service employee and helicopter pilot who died during recovery efforts. The museum's exhibits take you through all 28 of STS-107's missions and respectfully display personal mementos and recovered items, like those belonging to Commander Rick Husband, pictured here. [email protected]
#TXTripGuides | Whether you book one of the six cabins, eight motel rooms, or nineteen extra-wide RV sites at Harborlight Marina and Resort, in Hemphill, you'll have access to the waterfront property's fishing pier (and fish-cleaning station), boat launch, swimming beach, charcoal grills, picnic tables, and more. [email protected]
#TXTripGuides | This is East Texan for "commemorative plaque." 🙂 These golden boots once belonged to sheriff and Texas Ranger Everett Smith and are now on display, along with a number of artifacts and belongings from the area's oldest families, at the old Sabine County Jail Museum, on Hemphill's downtown square. To see what I spotted upstairs in the 1904 jail's original cells, check out my personal account > @jordanbreal. And for all the details abut my wanderings around Toledo Bend (as well as 27 other trip guides), go to texasmonthly.com/trip-guides. Happy travels, y'all! -JB
The highlight of my tour of the old Sabine County jail, built in 1904, was coming across the barbed-wire collection displayed in an upstairs cell. How about that purty "Best of Show" county fair ribbon! And those names! ~ Stovers Corsicana Clip ~ Fentress Split Diamond ~ Merrills Twirl on Two Lines ~ Kittleson Half Hitch ~ Uphams Snail Barb ~ Makes me want to take up barbed-wire making!