Playing In The Piney Woods
This weekend we were heading east to do some Christmas shopping at First Monday Trade Days in Canton, camping at two different state parks, riding the rails to a pumpkin patch, golfing at three courses, biking, and exploring a couple new east texas cities.
If you like to shop and haven't been to at least one First Monday Trade Days in Canton, you can't really call yourself a full blooded, dedicated true to the bone shopper. The first weekend of each month the population of Canton, normally a sleepy little east texas town of 80,000, can swell to over 300,000 - 99% of whom are carrying shopping bags, pushing shopping carts, and dragging bored looking husbands and a few kids through the grounds.
This place is amazing and if you can't find at least one item to spend your money on, something's wrong. There is everything under the sun being sold by over 3000 vendors on 100 acres of booths, tents, pavilions, or tables loaded with stuff. And the bargain hunters are crawling all over everything looking for the perfect gifts, presents, nick-nacks, antiques, holiday decorations, or unique treasure. Husbands and the non shoppers can scour the grounds looking for their other half; sampling all the dips, soups, nuts, or other free food samples; stuffing themselves at any of the over 100 food vendors selling everything from fried snickers to corny dogs; or just find a chair, bench, or tree trunk to get off your feet and sneak in a quick nap. Women out number the men by 100 to 1, but don't go there thinking you might meet a future wife -they are all very focused on shopping! And I didn't spot too many of them going home empty handed, including my wife who called my cell to get me to stop stuffing my face and drinking beer and come help her carry all her new possessions back to our motor home.
With a sore back, tired feet, and an empty wallet, I was ready to jump in the motor home and head to our next stop deeper in the east Piney Woods. We were anxious to check out Martin Creek State Park in Tatum after a couple people had told us that it was a great park. And we weren't disappointed - the park has some hiking and biking trails, good sites on the water, a nice lake for swimming, fishing, or boating, picnic areas, boat ramp, volleyball court, and more.
We found a site, un-hooked the jeep, leveled the motor home, and were off to what may have been the only non fast food restaurant in Tatum and hopefully a cold refreshing margarita after a long day of shopping. Turns out, this is a dry county, thus no margaritas, but pretty good food at La Hacienda. Here is a link to our review of Martin Creek State Park.
The next morning we explored the campground and rode the mountain bikes on the hiking trail for a half a mile before we were stuck in the mud from the previous week of record setting heavy rain. So far, this hasn't been one of my most exciting weekends - shopping for 6 hours with 200,000 serious shoppers, Mexican food with no margaritas, and a two minute bike ride straight into the mud! Only one thing to do to get the mind right after all of that - beat myself up playing golf.
So we closed up the motor home, washed the mud off the bikes, hooked up the jeep, and took a scenic hour cruise from Martin Creek State Park to Jacksonville to chase that little white ball through the trees at The Woods At Jacksonville Golf Club. Fun course and it did beat me up and eat 5 of my best golf balls. The course has been neglected over the years, but new owners and management have recently taken over and they are committed to making a number of needed improvements. As such, the conditions aren't the best but this is a fun country course with some very interesting and challenging holes. Of course, I seemed to find all of the hidden hazards, the bunkers, and the water. Why do I continue to punish myself with this expensive and frustrating game? One reason could be because if I quit or refused to play, my loving golf addicted spouse of 39 years would probably consider leaving me for a younger good looking guy also addicted to golf. To learn more, read our review of The Woods At Jacksonville.
From the course it was a short drive to Texas State Railroad Campground in Rusk. This is a small campground adjoining the Texas State Railroad depot in Rusk and has some good sites, a small fishing pond, and some short trails for hiking. My guess would be that most campers were like us, they come here to spend the night before or after a ride on the Texas State Railroad. Check out our review of Texas State Railroad Campground to learn more about this small but very pretty campground.
We found a site, squeezed the motor home into it and unhooked the jeep to head into Rusk. We were told that Rusk just voted itself wet, had a good seafood restaurant, and that the JR Rusk Hotel on the Rusk town square was the place to be for drinks, a fun crowd, a halloween party, and most likely karaoke or a live band. Sounded like a good time and after a horrible score on the links, I was ready to party. There aren't a lot of Rusk restaurant choices, besides fast food, but the Seafood Grill was recommended and it wasn't that bad - however, no beer or alcohol!
We found the Rusk Hotel and a couple people out on the sidewalk in front of the Hotel who told us that nothing was going on tonight, that last night was the Halloween Party, and that the bar is closed. Now I'm really getting thirsty! When asked where we might find a lively spot, listen to some music, and have a drink, we got blank stares and thoughts like "do you know where you are? This ain't the big city!" They did say that all the action would be at the Jacksonville mud creek park - live band, lots of rowdy locals, and more. Sounded like fun, but we didn't have any warm clothes, had already done a ride in the mud, and just got back from Jacksonville. Dejected and disappointed, we headed back to the RV and watched a horrible DVD - lesson #1 on movie rentals, don't take any recommendations from the pimply spike haired kid behind the counter at the Rusk movie rental - he likes action packed, badly acted, and predictable plot movies.
After breakfast, it was back to Rusk to return the movie and explore the town for fun things to see and do. Rusk has a population of 5085 of which 1250 are inmates at the two local prisons and was the home of three former governors - aren't those two really strange stats for such a small town? It didn't take long to explore Rusk, the only recommendations we got were to visit the small museum, Jim Hogg Park, some old nicely resorted homes, and the "longest footbridge in the nation (built in 1861)." Rusk is also known for Texas State Railroad, Thunder Mountain Raceway, and Cherokee County Motorsports park for drag racing.
Since Rusk didn't take up much time, we rode bikes around the Texas State Railroad campground and then packed the jeep for a short ride to Palestine to take Texas State Railroad's "Great Pumpkin Patch Express." This is a vintage train that travels 20 minutes through the east Texas Pines to a pumpkin patch with a bounce house, petting zoo, hay ride, food vendors, musician, and more. Great time for all the little kids in costume but a tad boring for the old folks with no kids or grand kids in tow! We seemed very out of place with no costumed toddlers, in fact someone actually ask us why we were here with no kids and we didn't have a good answer. To learn more, read our.
We jumped off the train with our pumpkin and popcorn in hand and headed back to Rusk to play 18 holes on Birmingham Golf Course. It's a fun and challenging 9 hole course that ate another 4 golf balls and heard me swear quite a few time as the ball dribbled off the tee box, ricocheted off trees, and consistently missed the greens. And that little ball but didn't have any trouble finding the water, deep forest, ravines, and sand traps! The picture on the right is an example of one of the tough holes - a 150 yard par 3 from an elevated tee box across a pond to an elevated turtle top green with a huge tree protecting the approach to the green. I tried the old Tin Cup routine and lost three balls before one hit the tree and miraculously dropped on the edge of the green, then proceeded to roll back down the hill toward the water - a nine on a short par 3! If you're in the area, this course is worth playing if you want a challenging round at a low price. You'll need to overlook the conditions which aren't the best at this family run golf course. To learn more read our review of Birmingham Golf Course.
Back at the campground, a good cold beer, some great grilled steaks, and some dominos next to the campfire more than made up for all of the bad rounds of golf and other mishaps of this weekend.
Monday morning we rode the short but scenic hiking trail through the woods and around the lake and got ready to head home. It was a beautiful fall day and with 7 hours of daylight left, we didn't want to waste it driving. so we headed to Palestine looking for something to see and do. We spent a half an hour driving the 39' motor home with the jeep attached through the small streets of Palestine looking for Old Town or a good restaurant or something worth spending some time at. After several twists and turns and bouncing off curbs numerous times, we finally found Old Town. It consisted of four resorted building and what looked like a fun bar and restaurant - all of which were closed on Monday! So we consulted a couple favorite websites (one of which is Texas Outside - no brainer!) looking for something else fun to see or do on the way home. Only thing we could find was a golf course we hadn't played! Just what I needed - getting beat up on another golf course. A short out of the way drive took us to Elkhart Golf Course which is a true country pasture course! Straight flat fairways, side by side holes, no bunkers, and few other hazards. Sounds like a course where one can score well - not the case with for me, another 5 balls seemed to disappear from my golf bag. Read our review of Elkhart Golf Course to learn more.
All in all, even though we had a few mishaps, a couple unexciting adventures, and I couldn't hit the ball straight, looking back it was still a fun weekend with absolutely perfect weather.