Hello East Texas! – Gladewater and Onalaska

wpid32036-2014-11-03-TX-1670363.jpgJust like the migratory White Pelicans that have been following us (or have we been following them?), we’re getting close to our wintering grounds for this year in the Lone Star state of Texas.

East Texas Oil Museum Derrick
A derrick in front of the museum

Those of you who have followed us since we first embarked on this journey know that we’re heading into our third winter on the road.  The first one in 2012 was spent in the deserts of Arizona (here are our stories ), then in 2013 we enjoyed the weather of sunny Florida (here are those adventures).  During the 2014 winter we’ll be traveling and exploring throughout the biggest state of the lower 48.  Our first two stops in Texas were at Gladewater and Onalaska, in the eastern part of the state.


In Kilgore, right up the road from Gladewater, we saw dozens of oil derricks around town and wondered what they were about.  We decided to drop in at the East Texas Oil Museum to learn more about the story of the area, and it turned out to be a good stop.  It housed several impressive exhibits and included a simulation ride down through the layers of rock below the town.

For those who may not know exactly what a derrick is, it’s a tall wooden framework that is placed over an oil well.  Attached to it is a machine that is designed to raise and lower heavy equipment.

Wooden Oil Derrick mural, Oil Museum
One of the museum’s Texas-sized hand-painted murals of derricks

We weren’t surprised to learn that east Texas has the largest oil fields within the U.S.  The discovery of major reserves in the 1930’s brought thousands of oil producers and drillers to this area.  Oil wells were drilled on almost every street corner, and numbered close to 1,200 at the height of the boom – just in Kilgore!  Wooden derricks lined the town’s streets around that time, and at one point production soared to almost one million barrels a day. Even though the reserves aren’t nearly as prolific now, oil remains a big part of the economy of Kilgore.

Worlds Richest Acre, Kilgore, TX
Worlds richest acre?

Today the derricks in and around Kilgore are steel replicas of the originals, thanks to the efforts of the Kilgore Historical Preservation Foundation.  A 1/2-block park in town, called “The World’s Richest Acre”, once had 24 oil wells that yielded 2.5 million barrels of oil during those boom years.  One original derrick, and over 70 restored units are considered testaments to the pioneer oil families of east Texas.

East Texas Oil Museum
A re-created boom town street scene at the museum

At the museum, we felt like we had traveled back in time to the oil boom.  Every aspect was re-created through full-size dioramas, films, sounds, and mementos of the oil fields. The centerpiece was a life-like scene of a muddy boomtown street.

There was also a simulated 3,800-foot elevator ride down to the oil formations within the earth, which provided us with a technical explanation of how oil is found beneath the surface.  Overall, we were really impressed with how the museum has carefully preserved the legacy of the east Texas oil boom of the early 1930’s.

If you come this way, the East Texas Oil Museum is definitely a worthwhile stop.

East Texas Oil Museum, Kilgore TX
First time we’ve seen huge pipe wrenches as door handles

The World’s Richest Acre was also the venue for many events in town, one of which we happily attended.  The East Texas Oilmen’s Chili Cook Off was held on the day we had to move to our next stop, but we were so excited about it that we decided to hang around town for just a little while.

East Texas Oilmens Chili Cook Off
The derricks as backdrop to the Chili Cook Off

We left Betsy parked at the museum and took the car to witness over 100 oil industry companies competing to make “the best chili on earth”.  We paid only $5.00 to enter and give our opinions about which chili was best.  Of course, there was no way we could taste 100 samples of chili, no matter how good they were!

I thought chili had mostly one flavor, but the ones we tried were all so different.  Some were a bit runny, some very meaty and some were just blah.  It was fun to choose the top five from the many who claimed to have the best chili on earth, and it was great to attend our first-ever chili cook off.


Remember how I said at the top that we had been following the White Pelicans?  Well, at our next stop at the KOA near Lake Livingston (Steve’s review here), our site was facing the lake.  And one morning we were thrilled when we heard a rustling on the water and saw hundreds of birds feeding on the lake.  With binoculars in hand, we determined they were Cormorants and White Pelicans intermingled for some food time.  Fortunately, Steve didn’t have to hit the brakes to see these feathered friends, he just grabbed the binoculars and stepped out of the house to watch them do their thing.

Lake Livingston KOA
I’m always happy to see Steve with binoculars and enjoying the birds with me!

Lake Livingston

Cormorants and White Pelicans

Cormorants and White Pelicans
Can’t we all just get along?

On several evenings after dark, hundreds of White Pelicans came near us on the lake and started a feeding frenzy. When they arrive we would turn on our headlights and watch them with awe.  Our site was also an excellent spot to not only watch for the birds that swooped down in great numbers, but also to see our two favorite residents in the area. Steve called them our “guard birds”.

The Great Blue Heron would just stand there for hours before going after his meal, while the Great Egret was more active and walked back and forth while fishing along the beach.

Great Egret and Great Blue Heron
Steve couldn’t wait to see if the “guard birds” were on duty when he got up in the morning
Great Egret
Breakfast is served!
Great Blue Heron
He preferred to wait for the big one!
Buck Deer
This poor guy seemed to be stuck for over an hour.   Steve notified the office and they went out on a boat to get him back to shore.
This beautiful Buckeye butterfly landed right on Steve’s hand!

But of course we couldn’t sit around and watch the birds every day – we had to give our aching muscles a workout.  Unfortunately, there were no hiking trails close by.  We lamented that we had to drive quite a ways to hit good trails at the nearest state parks. Our first hike was at nearby Lake Livingston State Park, and we followed all of their trails in one day.  They were fairly flat, and a piece of cake.  To top it off, we were the only ones on all of the trails 🙂

Lake Livingston State Park
At Lake Livingston – where is everybody?

Then we drove to Huntsville State Park, the next-nearest place where we could have a decent hike.  We liked this park better, because the trails and maps were in-synch and well marked.  We followed the Chinquapin Trail for 7 miles as it encircled Lake Raven with a few small elevation gains.  What  was notable on this trail was that it was lined with blooming Beauty Berries, which were dwarfed by the tall Pineywoods.

Back at our site, we had a front-row view of beautiful sunsets over the water.  Before the forecasted big chill arrived, we hung around outside and enjoyed campfires and a glass of wine as we soaked in the different hues of the setting sun.  We got a different glow every evening!

Lake Livingston Sunset

Lake Livingston Sunset

Lake Livingston Sunset

We left Lake Livingston after a week of relatively good weather, only to arrive at Galveston Island to face a freeze warning!



  1. Stay warm you guys… We have not checked out Texas at all and await your campground reviews and good birding locations. When wintering someplace in Texas, Florida, or Arizona, do you have to reserve all your sites well in advance, or can you still find sites calling that day?

      • Thanks… I have wondered how far in advance you need to reserve sites if wintering in Florida, Arizona, or Texas. Every once in a while, John brings up the topic of full timing but I really like checking in with family, friends and home, and hibernating near the fireplace when it’s cold with my kindle.

  2. Welcome to Texas … sorry about the coldish temps ;-)) Very interesting about the museum. When we lived in Utah, I was member of an educational organization named Desk & Derrick. It was founded originally to give women employed in the various oil and gas industries a means to educate themselves in what used to traditionally be a men’s industry.

    Wonderful sunset.

  3. We’ve not spent any time in this part of Texas so I look forward your future posts. I loved how the “downtown” of Kilgore is filled with the old style derricks, a real interesting picture. Your site at Lake Livingston looks to be about perfect to me! Water and birds out the windshield and cocktails at sunset. Pretty nice.

  4. Our daughter, Carrie, would love this museum. The elevator ride is a excellent idea.

    A few years back, we were here at the Elks when they had their chili cook off. We were judges. We had to taste 35 different ones. They gave us all the beer we could drink while tasting. I hate beer, so that wasn’t a biggie to me. After about the 23 taste, we were all ready to gag. Many were excellent but some were horrible. We made it through the day but didn’t look a chili for a long time.

    If you are going to stay at state parks in Texas, we sure to get the state park pass….http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/state-parks/park-information/passes/park-passes
    When we traveled Texas a few years back, we purchased one. We used it so much, it paid for itself plus tons more.

  5. The museum looked like the perfect first stop if one is spending time in Texas. Sounds like you have a good background for some of the things you will be seeing around the state. This is a museum I could enjoy. I love hands on and recreations. Sure makes the museum come alive.

    Chili Cook Offs are great fun. It is amazing what can be called chili:) Clever idea with the numbers to vote on the bracelet! And the price most definitely right.

    Your site on the lake is gorgeous. So glad you got to enjoy some sunshine and warmth before the chill hit. I am not a birder but I do enjoy the large birds, so this would have been fun to watch all those white pelicans. I hope your guide birds flew to warmer grounds somewhere.

    Yah, Steve!!! So glad you helped rescue that poor buck. He looks scared to death. Happy to hear they could help get him to land.

    Happy hiking Texas style:) Any hike is better than no hiking:)

    • Yup you got that right Pam, our Kilgore stop was a good intro about Texas and was we stop by the the museum.
      Our lakeside spot was the perfect spot for those feathered friends. Our guide birds took us to Galveston Island which is not warm at all! I will have to fire them 🙂
      What hiking? The sun has not shown for the past four days! its been cold, wet and oh my 30mph wind.

  6. With all of the time we’ve spent in Texas, we’ve not been to that museum. You guys always find such interesting places! I loved seeing Steve with the binoculars and enjoying the birds. The white pelicans are always among our favorites. I’m excited to accompany you on your birding adventures in Texas, sure wish we were there with you.

    • Laurel, that museum is tuck amongst the pinewoods in East Texas. Should you decide to go to the Ozarks, then maybe when you head down south, you can stop by Kilgore.
      So far our birding has been n the back burner, the sun has been hiding for the past four days now. Its been cold, wet and windy here.

  7. Super cool stuff and a bunch of it. Love those museums especially the sounds of that one! Bet the Chili was great. That huge buck made it back to shore unhurt?? Stay warm.

  8. Texas is full of wonderful state parks – I see you are going to Galveston. We did some volunteering at Galveston Island State Park a couple of years ago – just as it was recovering from Hurricane Irene – I think Galveston is now in the midst of a major beach and dunes rehab. Lots to see and do there – Enjoy!

  9. I so enjoyed your photos, Mona. What wonderful wildlife you saw. Thank goodness you saw that deer was in trouble and got help for him. Gorgeous sunset pics too. 🙂 Hope you’re managing to keep warm.

  10. Oh wow, oh wow, oh wow… what a birding site that has my photographic saliva glands drooling… those birds in your area absolutely magnificent, that would have kept me there another two weeks odd… Your photos are brilliant and those sunsets….. oh man oh man oh man… what a brilliant place to be…
    Love this blog, takes me to such enjoyable places that I will never get to… as for all the derricks and oil history, how interesting… Thank you…

    • Thank you bulldog. I just wished I had those long lenses so I can have some closeups. That was our perfect spot for the year and we watch wildlife right out of our windshield.
      Texas is the biggest state in the lower 48 and Oil is one of the big industry here.

  11. Lake front camping, birds, a deer, oil derricks, beautiful sunsets, and a chili cook off! What a great place! Sounds like a place we would love. I really enjoyed this post.

  12. You two always seem to find the most unusual, interesting places in your travels. I can’t wait for some of your upcoming birding posts! 🙂

  13. How cool that I’ve been following you for a long time now! 🙂 Isn’t Ingrid in Texas right now?
    … and my heart just sank at those last three pics.

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