Category Archives: Travel with grandchildren

The Shack Burger Resort in Cypress, Texas

The Shack Burger Resort in Cypress, TX

I occasionally write about unique eateries that I come across in my travels.  In the past I have written about Hillbilly Hot Dogs in Lesage, WV (see link), Voodoo Doughnut in Portland, OR (see link), Lambert’s Cafe – the Home of Throwed Rolls in Sykston, MO (see link), the Wigwam in Ravenna, KY (see link), Fat Smitty’s Burgers in Port Townsend, WA (see link) and dozens of other unique places.  Last week (Feb.  8, 2017) we were introduced to another fabulous place called The Shack Burger Resort in Cypress, TX.  Much like Fat Smitty’s in Washington or Hillbilly Hot Dogs in West Virginia, this is a quirky themed eatery (or in this case, a resort…).

The Shack Burger Resort storefront – Texas style fun
Outdoor eating area at The Shack
The Shack
The Shack Road Sign
The Shack Playground

The place is huge and includes a giant playground for the kids, which includes two old school buses and more. Funky art and rustic decor  surround the resort.  Its setting in an almost rural area of Houston makes it even more fun.

The Shack Bus – one of two
Dino accompanies granddaughter in play area at the shack
Awesome burgers at The Shack – this one is the Dang Dang with their Dang Dang Sauce

Of course, decor and quirkiness are a great draw, but if the food is so so, one may not want to return.  Not the case at The Shack.  Their burgers are huge, flavorful and there is a great variety to choose from.  For those that like to imbibe, there is also a full bar.  And their Fried Pickle Chips are to die for!

The Shack Menu
Restrooms this way

As I noted above, the place is quirky.  For instance, the Men’s Restroom is totally quirky/rustic.  A really nice touch…

The Men’s Room had wooden Saloon Doors for the stalls and an old rustic sink for washing hands.  There was art on the doors and on the walls.  No themes….just quirky all the way!!

Men’s Stall Door in restroom
The Rustic Sink in the Men’s Room
Restroom Wall Decor in Men’s Room at The Shack
The other stall door in the Men’s Room
A nice 70s style mural painted on the wall outside the restrooms

Everywhere you look there was fun art and unique kitsch.  Here are a few more shots of this fun place.  Definitely worth a visit if in the Houston area.

A painted trailer in the front yard of the lot
Grandkid fun in an old bathtub and by an old truck
A portion of a wall mural on the indoor dining section of The Shack
One of many offbeat random paintings to be found on wood, fences, beams and doors at the Shack
A nice place for R & R at front of The Shack
Have a seat
Wall Art at The Shack
Painted Fences and Pink Flamingos
A bottle cap adorned arm rest on one of the couches
Selfie Fun at the Shack
Cowboy Stop Sign at the Shack
More outdoor seating
The Shack

 

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Uncertain Revisited: A Tour of Caddo Lake

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.

Our guide, Aaron Applebaum with Mystique Tours
Hanging with Aaron on our Swamp Tour

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.).

A scene from Bald Cypress Swamp in Caddo Lake
Caddo Lake

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!

One of Many Bayous in the lake
Bald Cypress Swamp
Check it out…8 year old Landen driving in the swamp while Aaron looks on.

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!!

I truly enjoyed the one hour tour

Eerie Sunshine through the trees

We enjoyed a lovely February Sky

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.

Caddo Lake, largest Natural Lake in Texas
Daughter Marissa enjoys the tour of Caddo Lake

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.

Another scene from Caddo Lake
Boaters heading out to fish on Caddo Lake

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.

Enjoying time with my granddaughter Joselyn
Old Lakehouse….used to serve as a place to drink on the “Wet County” side of the lake

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.

A blue heron flies by on Caddo Lake
A Great Egret relaxes in the swamp

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.

A Blue Heron caught in the act of swallowing its dinner. Had to be a big fish as it struggled for a while
Another Egret sits in the shallows as the wind blows its plumage
A Turkey Vulture, also called a buzzard, flew way overhead
A blue heron flies into the trees

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.)

A serene capture of an egret in the swamp (photo by Marissa Noe)
Sun shining through the trees
Caddo Lake Institute was founded by singer Don Henley

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.

Uncertain Inn
A typical rental cabin in Uncertain

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.

Swamp Plank Trail near one of the many rental cabins. (Photo by Marissa Noe)
Watch out for Bigfoot in Uncertain (photo by Marissa Noe)

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!!

Cabin Signs…Spatterdock is one rental group
Blue Heron
Yes, there is a Church of Uncertain!!
Bigfoot sighting in Uncertain!!
Panoramic view of Caddo Lake

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The Year in Travel: 2016 from A to Z

The year 2016 was not a banner year for travel for me as there were no super long  cross country trips taken like I had done form 2012-2015. However, over the course of the year we did take a number of smaller trips and a couple of fairly long trips. I visited 11 states during the year and made it to some places where I hadn’t been for nearly 30 years. Even made it into towns from A (Abingdon, VA) to Z (Zanesville, OH) and one with an X too (Xenia, OH)!!

Here is a map that includes many of the places:

Abingdon, VA – Eastern terminus of the Virginia Creeper Trail
Zanesville, Ohio home of the Y Bridge
Julianne and David at Xenia Station on the Little Miami Scenic Trail

During the course of the year we visited a few major cities including Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Washington DC, Houston and the Dallas-Fort Worth area. We also visited Nashville and Memphis in Tennessee.

Panoramic View of Pittsburgh from atop Mt. Washington
Julianne and Laura at the North Bend Rail Trail HQ in Cairo, WV

A good portion of my travel in 2016 was related to rails to trails bike trails that my wife Julianne had desired to ride. We visited some lovely bike trails in Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia. While Julianne rode, I would take the back roads and meet her along the trails. This was until I got my own bicycle on my birthday in October.

All of us at Whitetop Station at the beginning of the 10 mile downhill Virginia Creeper Bike Trail near Damascus, VA
Flying to Houston from Cincinnati

We took one flight during the year which was to Houston to celebrate a calling for my son in church and to visit our grandsons. In late October, we also drove to Fort Worth, Texas for the funeral of my father. Not as joyous a trip, but we did visit a few locations along the way for fun.

Visiting my youngest grandchild Sam in Houston
Sumoflam and the FREE Stamp in Cleveland

Our trips to Cleveland and Pittsburgh were predominantly because Julian sister Laura had moved from Idaho to the Pittsburgh area. So she met Julianne on a couple of the bike ride trips. She and Julianne also attended a conference at the Kirtland Temple and while they were there, I visited my family in Little Italy in Cleveland and also took some tours around the city with my sister Tina and her husband Jim.

Riding with Tina and Jim around Cleveland
Sumoflam at the Kirtland Temple
Monongahela Incline in Pittsburgh

Then we visited Laura in Pittsburgh, we got to see a number of wonderful things in Pittsburgh including the Monongahela Incline, hey unique rail type system that pulled us up to the top of Mt. Washington where we had spectacular views of the city of Pittsburgh and the three rivers down below.

Bridges across Pittsburgh
Classic Neon of famed Dumser’s Drive-In in Ocean City, MD

The year ended on a high note as we took a long trip to Ocean City, MD where we stayed with Julianne’s sister and her husband Richard and their daughter for about a week on the beach. It was a wonderful trip! It was during this trip that we also visited Washington DC and the large LDS Washington DC Temple with all of its amazing Christmas lights. I also made my way up to Bethany Beach and Rehoboth Beach in Delaware, both of which I had not visited since the 1980s.

Welcome to Delaware…first time since 1986
Washington DC Temple at Christmas
The Washington Monument and the US Capitol in Washington DC
Old Paradise Cafe sign in Ocean City. What is a beach resort town without a flamingo or two?
I think I counted about 12 themed mini golf places on the main drag in Ocean City, including dragons, pirates and dinosaurs.
Township of Moon, PA (I have also been to Earth, TX, Mars, PA, Jupiter, FL and even Vulcan, AB

Of course, whenever we take road trips I always try to find the unique and the unusual whenever possible. And most of our trips were not immune from my searching to do so. On our trips visited such wonderful places as Friendly, WV, Prosperity, PA, Novelty, OH, Happy, KY, Eighty Four, PA and a few other unique named towns as indicated in photos below.  I even located a Yellow Brick Road in Ohio and a Bliss Happens Lane in Maryland!

Made it to Hope, AR, just before the 2016 elections. Hope is the home of former President Bill Clinton.
Meeting a Friendly guy outside the Friendly, WV Post Office
Happy Happy Happy…yes, there is a Happy, KY
I found Novelty in Ohio…
…and found Prosperity in PA
There is a Yellow Brick Road in Ohio
A Sugar and Water corner is in Chillicothe, OH
No Name Street in Millersburg, OH
Lost? Try going the Udder Way, This is in Yellow Springs, OH at Young’s Dairy
And I found where Bliss Happens in Maryland
Reuben Sandwich and Sweet Potato Fries at In the Country in Damascus, VA

During the year we often ate at places that were focused on bicyclists and motorbike enthusiasts. One such location was in Oregonia, OH. It was way out of the way to get to. Then there was the place on the Virginia Creeper Trail which was almost impossible to get to my car but was built specifically for the bicyclists coming down the Virginia Creeper Trail.

In the Country Bakery and Eatery on the outskirts of Damascus
At Damascus Old Mill Inn in Damascus
The Little River Cafe in Oregonia, OH is most easily reached by bike. It is literally on the side of the trail. The road to Oregonia is way out of the way.
Elliston Place Diner in Nashville

In August, we got to visit Nashville and hang with my good friend and musician Antsy McClain. He took us around with a few other “field trippers” and showed us some of the sites of Nashville including music Row, some music dives and some good places to eat including the oldest diner in Nashville. We also have the unique chance to sit in a recording studio with Antsy and sing back up vocals on one of his songs!

Hanging with Antsy McClain at a dive in Nashville
Had lunch at Flatrock Coffee in Nashville. Great food and a large collection of one of a kind Antsy McClain art on coffee cups
Antsy McClain art on Coffee Cups — one of dozens of original pieces on display at Flatrock Coffee in Nashville
The Antsy Backup gang at the recording studio in Nashville
Sanders Cafe in Corbin, KY. Birthplace of the KFC Special Recipe

During the course of the year, I also took a few “staycation” trips within Kentucky. This included one on the bike trail with Julianne, but also to Ravenna,  where I visited hey famed café called the Wigwam. I also took a fun trip with my grandchildren and my daughter Marissa down to Cumberland Falls and then on into Corbin to visit the Harlan Sanders museum and restaurant which is where the recipe for Kentucky Fried Chicken got it start. During the fall I took a solo trip up into Red River Gorge to get pictures of the fall colors. I was about a week too late to get most of them, but that was because we were in south eastern Virginia on the Creeper Trail to see the beautiful colors down there.

Birthplace of KFC
Visiting Cumberland Falls with my daughter and her kids.
The Colonel and Me at Sanders Cafe
The fall colors as seen from the Virginia Creeper Trail near Damascus, VA
Visiting Kentucky’s Red River Gorge in November
Colorful trees and leaves line a small road in Red River Gorge
Story of Superman at Joe Shuster’s former home

Some of the other more unique places that I got to see over the past year would include the “Birthplace of Superman,” which was in Cleveland, as well as the house where the movie “A Christmas Story”  was filmed. Also while in Ohio, I visited the world’s largest geodesic dome in Novelty, OH. That was fascinating.

Of course, I can’t neglect to mention the visit to Little Italy to see my birthplace and family.  I ate fine Italian cuisine at Mama Santa’s and had a great time seeing other sites there. Its the best Little Italy in the US!

Cleveland Water Tower
Murray Hill Rd….where I was born. Little Italy
Sumoflam with Mama Santa’s owner Papa Tio
The Wendy’s Original $150,000 Crystal Cheeseburger created by Waterford Crystal

During the year I also visited two fast food restaurants that had included museums in them. The Wendy’s restaurant in Dublin, OH had a whole section built in there with the history of Wendy’s and a large statue of Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas. In Canonsburg, PA, there is a McDonald’s restaurant that includes dedications and memorabilia of Perry Como and Bobby Vinton, both of whom grew up in Canonsburg.

Home of Wendy’s
“Where’s the Beef?” memorabilia from the famed advertising campaign in the Wendy’s Museum in Dublin, OH
Sumoflam with Dave Thomas statue in Dublin, OH
Bobby Vinton Statue in the Canonsburg, PA McDonald’s
Bobby Vinton Stage items on display in Canonsburg McDonald’s

It was fun for me to visit Xenia, OH and see the murals and the architecture and then also travel around some of the other areas nearby with Julianne and her sister and/or our grandchildren who rode  their bikes along some of the bike trails including the Little Miami Scenic Trail.

We visited the Little Miami Scenic Trail twice and each time had a great time.

Julianne, Marissa and the kids on the Little Miami Scenic Trail near Beatty Station, OH
We stopped at Young’s Dairy for some fresh ice cream on this hot day
One of Peter Toth’s 50+ Whispering Giants…this one in Ocean City, MD

Overall, I have to say it was a wonderful year. I saw dolphins swimming at sunrise on Christmas morning in the Atlantic Ocean in Maryland. We got to visit some of our great national historical sites in Washington DC. On many of the trips, it was fun to travel with the grandchildren and see the delight in their eyes they saw big waterfalls, giant statues and other interesting places.

Christmas morning sunrise in Ocean City , MD and greeted by a dolphin in the foreground.
Delaware Seashore Bridge
Another Peter Toth Whispering Giant in Bethany Beach, DE
Sumoflam at the Wigwam Drive-In in Ravenna, KY

On a final note, I have to say that we did visit a few interesting places to eat. A great taco place in Houston, and, as I mentioned before, the Wigwam in Ravenna, KY.  Also of note were the Crabcake Factory in Ocean City, MD and a Japanese place with a unique name Saketumi, in Rehoboth Beach, DE.

Japanese food at the Saketumi Asian Bistro in Rehoboth Beach, DE
Enjoyed a nice Amish Buffet in Ronks, PA on the way back from Maryland

As I start a new position in new venture 2017, I look forward to traveling. The new company (PrecisionHawk) is in Raleigh, NC and so I will be taking a trip there in early January. Who knows what other delights I will find in 2017.

Following are a few other random shots from my trips in 2016:

Sumoflam with Nancy Starvaggi Schaffer, showing off the AMAZING homemade sausage and pasta from Mama Santa’s Restaurant in Cleveland, OH
We visited Texas in October. This was in Texarkana, TX
A shot with Elvis in Memphis
A large mural of a train welcomes visitors to Ravenna, KY
The Washington Court House in Washington Court House, OH was one of many unique buildings I got to visit in 2016
Cleveland Fire Memorial
Assawoman Dr. in Ocean City, MD
Visited Moon, PA in 2016. Visited Earth, TX in 2011. Earth vs Moon Police!
World’s largest Geodesic Dome in Novelty, OH
Many Unique Restaurants could be found in Ocean City and up in Delaware…
Fun with my wife at Chagrin Falls in Ohio
Bristol, Tennessee and Virginia – taken when we visited the Virginia Creeper Bike Trail
An old Mail Pouch barn in Brinkhaven, OH
Of course, you can always come across unique shop names, like this one in Houston
Killbuck Depot on the Holmes County Trail in Ohio
A Pal’s Sudden Service building. Lots of fun and it looks like the food is great too.
The Got Muchies Truck in Royalton, KY. Too funny for words
Had to add this sign…this place was one of our true 2016 highlights!
The 370 foot long Bridge of Dreams over the Mohican River near Brinkhaven.
Damascus calls itself Trail Town USA for a reason. The Appalachian Trail, the Virginia Creeper Trail and others come to a crossroads here.
Korean War Memorial in Zanesville, OH… hundreds of real helmets
Welcome to 84 Country – Eighty Four , PA
Sumoflam at Chagrin Falls Popcorn Shop in Ohio
Holmes County Trail is in the middle of Amish Country. The Bike Trail is shared with Amish Buggies
Hiker painting on a restroom wall in Damascus

 

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