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.

Gladewater

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.

Onalaska

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.

Butterfly

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!

Next up:  A reunion with good friends in Galveston Island!