It was a few years ago when I first visited Uncertain, TX (You can see my March 2012 Post here.). As a matter fact, it was on a cold day in February 2012 when I stopped by to see it for my first time. The real draw for me initially, was the name of the town, but the bigger draw ended up being the beautiful swamp-like setting of Caddo Lake.
This past weekend (Feb. 10, 2017) I had an opportunity again to visit this beautiful setting, this time with my daughter and her three children. Unlike my visit to Uncertain before, we had bigger sights set on seeing Caddo Lake and some of the swamp.
Upon arrival, we noticed that there was a group of people in a boat taking a tour of the lake and that looked very appealing. We continued driving around until we got to the main dock area and the tour had just arrived back and we were able to talk to the guy that ran the tour on the boat, Aaron Applebaum (see more at on their Facebook Page.).
Now, I am not one that usually will spend $25 per adult for any kind of thing as I consider that to be fairly expensive. But the opportunity to take a ride into the swamp on a boat and see the beauty of the swamp, birds in their natural habitat and to hear some of the history, coupled with my daughter wishing they could do it was a little bit too much and so we decided to pitch in and we took a boat ride into Caddo Lake with Aaron…just my daughter, my three grandkids and me. This is one of those instances where it was well worth it!
Our guide and boat driver Aaron grew up in this area and currently resides in Uncertain. His father was also a boat guide on the lake for many many years and so he knows the lake very well. Not only was he informative, he was also courteous, and fun. There was one spot where he even let the three young children drive the boat in the lake. And that without him touching the steering wheel!!
Eerie Sunshine through the trees
Honestly, the views from the shore are pretty impressive, but once you are in the midst of the lake and floating through the various bayous and channels amidst the bald cypress trees, there is nothing that can express the awe and intrigue.
This lake, Caddo Lake, is the largest naturally formed lake in the state of Texas. Scientists believe the lake formed when floodwater, blocked by massive log jams on the Red River, backed up into the Cypress Bayou watershed. Caddo Lake was artificially dammed in the early 1900s, when oil was found, and for flood control in 1914. A new dam replaced the old one in 1971.
The lake covers about 26,810 acres of cypress swamp, depending on rainfall. According to the Caddo Lake State Park Website, the lake’s average depth is 8 to 10 feet, while the deep water in the bayou averages about 20 feet. Aaron tells us that much of the lake only has a depth of around 4 to 5 feet.
The lake has its own “roadway” with marked signs that guide and direct those taking their boats and pontoons through the lake. These are areas where a dredge has cleared all of the stumps so there is room for the boats to pass and not scrape bottom. Having been on the lake for many years, Aaron knows the route very well and was able to traverses without any problems whatsoever.
In terms of seeing wildlife, February is probably not the best time to go see the lake. We were fortunate enough to see two or three blue herons, a couple of egrets, some turkey vultures and even caught a glimpse of a cormorant, which they call water turkey in the region.
Apparently, in the summertime, there are opportunities to catch glimpses of alligators and other wildlife on these boat tours. But the benefit of our trip in February, was low humidity, cooler temperatures and no mosquitoes! Doing without those skeeters was probably the best part of the tour (besides the expert guiding by Aaron.)
We learned during the tour that the famous singer Don Henley, of the Eagles, owns a house on the lake and we got to see that. Apparently it’s been used for a couple of music videos. Henley is originally from the area and actually caught his first fish in Caddo Lake while a youth. He loves the lake and the natural habitat in the area and has provided funding to help conserve the lake. The Caddo Lake Institute (CLI) is a non-profit scientific and educational organization founded in 1992 by Henley with the mission of protecting the ecological, cultural and economic integrity of Caddo Lake, its associated wetlands and watershed.
The village of Uncertain also has a number of little resort cabins that can be rented and one can drive around and see all of them. Many of them have themes. One section had four cabins all with Moon in the name. Others had frogs in the name. But they are all very unique and would be a fun place to stay for a week sometime.
Overall, this was a wonderful adventure for all of us. Thanks to Aaron for the tour and thanks to all of the residents of Uncertain that make this place a worthy destination. you can be certain of a good time in Uncertain!!
Just a week after a nice three-day visit to northern Ohio (see post HERE), Julianne and I made our way to Canonsburg, PA, which is south of Pittsburgh. Julianne’s sister Laura recently moved there from Idaho with her husband and daughter and wanted us to visit.
From Lexington, Canonsburg is about a 5 Hour drive. We loaded Julianne’s bicycle onto the bike rack and were off shortly after she got off of work. We also took our first trip with one of our grandchildren, our oldest named Autumn. She has traveled with her mother and me on a long trip to Wisconsin, but this is her first trip alone with Grampz and Grandma.
Most of the trip was fairly uneventful as we headed east on Interstate 64 into West Virginia and then north on Interstate 79 just outside of Charleston, West Virginia.
Along the way, we decided to stop for a couple of snacks and found a unique Amish market located in Flatwoods, WV. The shop is
located in the Flatwoods Factory Outlet. As is often the case when making an unknown stop, there’s always a surprise in store. We were looking for some interesting food items and/or snack items to enjoy, but while there, we found that they have a giant Amish-made chair to sit in. Always have to include the quirky things!
We also picked up some goodies to leave with her sister and we got some hot mustard that was absolutely amazing! The view from behind the store into the hilly farmlands of Pennsylvania was very nice and I’ve included a photo of that above. After our break and an ice cream cone for Autumn, we were back on the road heading towards Canonsburg.
After arriving in Canonsburg, and having a nice evening together, we spent the next day touring around Pittsburgh (that post will follow this one).
The next morning, Julianne and her sister decided to take a bike ride down the Montour Trail Bike Trail, a 46 mile trail from Moon Township (northwest of Pittsburgh) to Clairton. This is one of a number of Rail Trails that Julianne will take over the next few weeks (I’ll write about each of those in upcoming special “Bike Trail posts – watch for them!). This trail is actually part of a larger set of trails that stretch nearly 330 miles to Washington, D.C. (Known as the Great Allegheny Passage) Julianne and Laura hope to ride that complete trail in 2017 (And maybe I’ll be ready by then too!!)
While they were doing that, I arose early took a ride into the countryside nearby and captured a beautiful sunrise early in the morning. It was a beautiful drive up US Hwy 19 into Upper St. Clair, PA. There was a hint of fog in the air and the sun came up over the rolling hills and verdant farmland.
After breakfast, I took another ride to visit the small town of Prosperity, PA. The small unincorporated village is south of Washington, PA on PA Hwy 18. Obviously, I wanted to add this as another of those uniquely named towns that I like to visit. Prosperity really doesn’t look like it’s that prosperous of a town, but did have some unique old buildings and of course the Prosperity Post Office! (I have also found Success, Romance and Uncertain, among many others in my travels.)
On my way back from Prosperity, I made my way through the city of Washington, PA. The city is the County Seat of Washington County, which was the first county in the U.S. to be named Washington – done so in 1781. As the home of the old Washington and Jefferson College (the oldest college west of the Alleghenies), it is definitely a college style town but has some very old charm and many old historical buildings and some unique history.
Most impressive about Washington was the amazing looking historic courthouse with a large golden statue of George Washington on top. This is apparently the fifth version of the county courthouse, with this one being built in 1900.
Washington also gained notoriety in 1794 as a result of the Whiskey Rebellion, which was led by David Bradford. The Whiskey Rebellion, also known as the Whiskey Insurrection, was a tax protest in the United States beginning in 1791, during the presidency of George Washington. The so-called “whiskey tax” was the first tax imposed on a domestic product by the newly formed federal government. It became law in 1791, and was intended to generate revenue to help reduce the national debt.
Washington, is also the home of the PONY League, one of the well-known youth baseball and softball organizations that can be found throughout the world. They have a World Series event every August in Washington.
But, I would have to say that the small Borough of Canonsburg actually holds some merit as one of the more interesting places to see in the area. First off, it was the home to two famed singers from the 1960s – Perry Como and Bobby Vinton. And the local McDonald’s restaurant offers a rare glimpse of them and their lives with an in-restaurant little museum (the second such “Fast Food Museum” I had seen in as many weeks – the other being the Wendy’s/Dave Thomas Museum in Dublin, Ohio – see that one HERE). The museum display includes photos, albums, yearbooks, clothing and instruments, as well as the statues.
And then down the road from the McDonald’s is another statue honoring Perry Como. It is located in front of the bourough offices.
The statue of Como was unveiled in May 1999 and the city pipes his music 12 hours a day. (I must have missed it the day we were there).
A couple of historic pieces are also in the Canonsburg downtown area.
Canonsburg is also home to one of the quirky and iconic Turtle Twist Ice Cream Shop, shaped like an ice cream cone. The Ice Cream Shaped building was originally created by Twistee Treat Ice Cream out of Florida. The buildings are 28 feet tall and 20 feet wide and made of fiberglass. The original Twistee Treat company went out of business in 1990, but a new company was formed in 1996. Turtle Twist is a former Twistee Treat building. Their building was previously installed in 1992 at an amusement park in Lakewood, NY in 1992. It was then purchased and reassembled in Canonsburg in 2004. I have only seen one other of these in my travels (see M&M Twistee Treat in E. Peoria, IL)
Speaking of Ice Cream, there is another well known place in Canonsburg known for its ice cream and as well as its chocolate and chocolate art work. The Sarris Candies Factory and Ice Cream Parlour covers an area the size of a full city block, and carries over 100 yards of chocolate, penny candy, ice cream and life-like plush toys. Not sure what it is about Pennsylvania and chocolate. In other visits I have seen the huge Hershey’s facility in Hershey, PA and also Daffin’s Chocolate in Sharon, PA, known for its huge chocolate sculptures (see my post about Hershey HERE and my Daffin’s post HERE) . Both Daffin’s and Sarris claim to have the world’s largest candy stores. Sarris does also lay claim to an amazing 2600 pound Chocolate Castle (Daffin’s has a 400 pound chocolate turtle in their Chocolate Kingdom).
Some of the facts that Sarris notes about their castle:
Weighs 2600 pounds
It is 12 feet tall from floor to ceiling
It is 8 feet long and 3 feet long
It took 8 people three months and 2000 man hours to create
The whole confection room is also surrounded by 65 feet of beautiful hand-painted wall murals depicting a circus train ride through Candyland.
The shop has tons of candy products, massive plush toys including some life size ones and then there is the amazing Ice Cream shop.
Finally, some mention of a couple more places nearby that I visited. Not too many towns are named with a number, but Eighty Four, PA is one of the few numbered towns. There are a number of stories surrounding the name, but the town was actually founded in 1884 and the Post Office sought the name of Smithville, but it was already taken. So, apparently, the Postmaster H.F. Weir asked the post office be named after the year founded.
In 1957 a lumber company was created in town and was named 84 Lumber. It has grown dramatically with more than 250 stores, component manufacturing plants, custom door shops, custom millwork shops, and engineered wood products (EWP) centers in 30 states, representing the top 130 markets in the US.
Not too far from Washington is a place called Laboratory, PA, yet another strange name. But I also noticed an historic plaque with the name of Pancake. But there was already another Pancake in Pennsylvania. Some internet research warranted the following explanation (found on Jim’s Journey Website HERE):
Earle Forrest wrote about this area in his 1926 History of Washington County, Pennsylvania in the chapter on South Strabane Township. He discusses first George Pancake, then Jonathan Martin and adds this paragraph:
“About thirty years ago the late Dr. Byron Clark, who resided near the end of East Maiden Street, Washington, established a chemical laboratory for the manufacture of patent medicine, which he sold throughout the country. He had a post office established and named the place Laboratory, by which it is still known, although the original name of Pancake still sticks.
And finally, there was the Library Volunteer Fire Company in South Park, PA, near Washington. How did it get that name?? The Library Volunteer Fire Company was organized in October 1939 and was comprised of 21 firefighters and one truck housed at the corner of Brownsville and Library Road. Presently, the company is located at 6581 Library Road in South Park Township.
My next post will cover some of our visit to Pittsburgh
Our last couple of days in Washington and we finally made it to Mt. Rainier National Park. This was a fabulous day trip from Port Orchard and we were blessed with amazing weather.
For this trip we headed south to Tacoma and then eventually made our way to WA 410 and to the small picturesque town of Enumclaw. We had a couple of hours to get there, so we stopped for a play break for the kids and a stretch break for the adults. We found a nice park that afforded us all some time to get stretched and even take a few photos.
From Enumclaw we continued west on 410, also called the “Chinook Byway,” along the White River to Greenwater, WA. The historic Naches Trail brought ox and horse drawn wagons through this area carrying early settlers west. Many years later, touring cars carried early visitors through Greenwater to the newly dedicated Mt. Rainier National Park. Today, this place
is a dot on the map with a couple of touristy stops and a bar/cafe. Lots of Sasquatch carvings around the place as well. By the time we got to Greenwater, everyone was hungry. So we stopped at a place called Naches Tavern to get some lunch. They had a nice picnic area on the side (the kids couldn’t go into the tavern portion) and actually had a pretty good menu.
Naches Tavern is a rustic old place and has apparently been around as a watering hole since the early 20th Century. The inside is decorated with old memorabilia of the Naches Trail and a covering of dollar bills all over the walls.
After lunch we were back on WA 410 heading towards Mt. Rainier National Park. Chalk up another National Park visit for me!
The drive on 410 offers up some wonderful scnic views of Mt. Rainier but also of other mountains. We got to a wonderful overlook near Naches Peak Overlook called the Tipsoo Lake Parking Area.
From the parking area there is a wonderful easy trail that walks along the ridge allowing a great view of Tipsoo Lake as well as wildflowers and wildlife. We all walked that trail to the point where it started a decline down to the lake. We wanted to get to Mt. Rainier, so we only went that far. Along the walk I got some great closeup shots of birds in action, a chipmunk scurrying off and then the breathtaking view of Tipsoo Lake.
After our little hiking break we were back on the road to return to Cayuse Pass and then north to visit the Sunrise Visitor’s Center. This location offered some amazing views of Mt. Rainier as well as of the Cowlitz Chimneys. This is also the highest point that can be reached by vehicle at Mount Rainier National Park.
From Sunrise, we headed back to 410 and south to Cayuse Pass and WA 123 which would take us into Stevens Canyon and then around the east end of the mountain on the windy road towards Paradise.
We reached Paradise and it most certainly matched the name. Splendid views of the mountain.
Paradise is not as high up as Sunset, but it still offered a different perspective of Rainier and the Cascades.
After visiting the mountain we were soon on our way back to Port Orchard via Longmire, WA on WA 706 and then on to Elbe, WA. The road was lined with giant redwoods and other tall trees. It was a splendid drive.
The Mt. Rainier Railroad Dining Company includes a caboose motel (The Hobo Inn), a gift shop, the Cascadian Dinner Train and a restaurant and lounge. Great for railroad buffs, the Cascadian Dinner Train, once known as the American Freedom Train, apparently toured the country with 26 cars displaying over 500 treasures of Americana. It was a unique place for all of us to eat.
Elbe is also know for its historic Elbe Church. This tiny (18-by-24 foot) church sits on its original location and has a rich German heritage. It bears the name of the founders’ origin, the Elbe River valley near Hamburg, Germany. The church has been around since 1906. Forged by the town’s first blacksmith, a 4-foot iron cross tops the 46-foot steeple, which houses the first bell. The church still features its original altar and elevated pulpit as well as one of the hand-carved pews. Lettered prominently on the steeple of the landmark Elbe Lutheran Church is “Ev. Luth. KIRCHE” (Evangelische Lutherische Kirche), a reminder of the founders’ German origins.
From Elbe, we drove along the eerily picturesque and spooky Alder Lake.
The lake is dotted with old tree stumps and is really kind of “out of this world” looking. And, some of these are really quite huge stumps. Quite an amazing site after all of the magnificent trees we had seen throughout the day.
Finally, as we approached the small town of Eatonville, we got one fabulous view of Mt. Rainier, which, in my opinion, was probably the highlight photo of my entire 10 day visit to Washington!
It was a glorious day of travel and a wonderfully scenic drive around one of America’a most amazing mountains!!