A spectral light shines through the mist at the end of the road. It’s New Year’s weekend, and the campground is practically abandoned. Dark shutters close off the ends of screened shelters sitting quiet in the night. One could almost imagine spooky shadows rising out of them. The spirit of the early settlers that passed through and lived in the area, in a settlement called Harmony Hill, seemed to be present in the dark and misty night.
A power plant hums in the distance, one of the few and constant sounds. The plant lights shine up in the sky, looking like a city sitting on a hill overlooking the lake. The constant noise interferes with the serenity of nature’s voices and one could lament the presence of the plant, but if it didn’t exist, neither would this park. The land was donated to Texas State Parks by the plant in the late seventies to offset the environmental changes caused by it, to give nature a place to grow, to allow for a refuge for wildlife and a place for native plants to thrive.
The discharge from the plant keeps the water in the lake warm, even during the winter, so this park is a favorite among anglers and casual fishermen. The man and his son camping in the cottage next to us the first night appeared to be taking advantage of this, judging by their boat on a trailer behind their truck. We saw quite a few boat trailers in our weekend here.
During our weekend here, we worked at perfecting our technique at making meals and treats with our new fire irons: a double pie iron and a hamburger iron. We have a long way to go before we are experts, but we learned a bit through trial and error. The highlights were cherry pies made by my teenager on the last night, and some nutella/marshmellow puff pastry delights. We mostly tried making different versions of calzones, some weak attempts at breakfast sandwiches (shredded hash browns as a base did not work well), hamburgers, and multiple types of desserts involving pie crusts, puff pastry, and buttered bread as bases.
We also did quite a bit of hiking. Our first full day, we drove to Caddo Lake State Park (less than an hour away) and hiked about two or three miles along the Caddo Forest Trail (and various trail spurs). We found some geocaches and this cool old shelter built by the CCC in the 1930s. We stopped to check out the cypress trees along the bank, then walked back along the trail to our truck, driving back to the bank to eat our picnic lunch on a table under these trees, draped with silver Spanish moss.
In the afternoon, a few of us took a nap, and then we got up to play with our fire irons again. The guys built a heck of a fire. In the evening, the toddler went to sleep, and Jason and I traded off sleeping with him while the other (mostly Jason) entertained the teenager. We had this idea that we were going to go to the Stargazing event there to ring in the New Year, but when it was time to go, we could not find it. Aj and I drove all around the park, looking at the boat dock areas and any and all other areas we could see to try to find the campfire and ranger, but all we found were a few other families doing the same thing we were doing. So we said Happy New Year at the cabin door, and went to sleep.
On the first, we joined quite a good sized group for the park’s First Day Hike, a slow ranger-led hike around the island. We learned a bit about the park. Afterwards, we were going to go to try to the black eyed peas and cornbread that the Dutch Oven cookers were giving a demo on, but we decided to head to town randomly to get snacks, and ended up at Dairy Queen. I am not sure how that happened, except that we had gotten very hungry unexpectedly.
On the way back, we explored this Harmony Hill Cemetery just outside the park, where the early settlers are buried. I found a geocache behind the cemetery fence, and we all marveled over the age of the graves and the stories, history that we read about on the headstones.
Then we took our own First Day Hike on the Harmony Hill Trail. The day before, my oldest son carried the little one on his back wearing the Osprey, and this day, after letting the toddler “lead” us a bit, we let the ten year old carry him in the Osprey.
Those two have the rough-and-tumble kind of friendship, and we cracked up at the fact that as soon as Sebastian realized who was carrying him, he started head-butting his brother. For quite a while, it went like this: Sebastian head-butt Kaleb, then cried “ow”, followed by Kaleb saying “ow!”, then another head-butt and the chorus of “ow!” starting over again, like a couple of stooges over there.
Eventually, Kaleb started whining (as is par for the course with him), and we came to a fork in the road. We decided that Jason would take the little ones back, and the teenager and I would hike longer. I was on a mission to get geocaches, of course, and we still had steam in the tank. After this, we walked a bit and came to this arch of pines that was quite peaceful. We had a great talk and found a cute little cache, then found our way back down the utility road to headquarters before meeting Jason along the road in the truck, coming to pick us up.
After this, everyone wanted to take a nap except the toddler (who probably needed it the most), so I spent a couple of hours exploring the park with him, some parts with the stroller and some without. He found sticks, leaves, seed pods, and little board bridges. I found some birds (nineteen species), some beautiful little places, and peace. We found our favorite campsites for future visits and sat for a while in the amphitheater, watching and listening to nature.
Later, it was more campfires and fire iron experiments, and early to bed. Before going to bed, though, we took the kids on a night hike. We were looking for a “night cache”, which usually involves a starting set of coordinates, and then directions on how to follow a series of fire tacks. We walked down the deserted park road in the mist. The toddler fell asleep in the stroller along the way, and then had to be carried through the woods (we only brought the umbrella stroller) while the older kids had a good time leading the way, finding the fire tacks with their flashlights. They got stuck at the end, missing the last set of red fire tacks that denoted the end of the trail, and then wouldn’t have found the cache without Jason’s nudge in the right direction. It was a fun adventure.
In the morning, we planned to hike the other side of the park. It was overcast and grey outside as I started breakfast over the camp stove. As I cooked, though, the skies darkened, and a storm came in suddenly. We had just enough time to grab all our items, including the breakfast that was just barely done, and seek refuge inside our “cottage” (a mini-cabin equipped with two sets of bunk beds, heat and a/c). Each evening, I had played a card game with the older boys, and Kaleb wanted us to play those games again while we waited for the rain to stop, but the adults in the group wanted to get all the gear packed up (if nothing else, to keep the toddler from tripping on and/or getting into everything).
During this time, I went to shower, taking the risks of walking through the rain to get there. As I undressed, I realized a huge stink-bug had attached to my pants. I shook him off and kept a wary eye on him during subsequent activity. As I was getting dressed again, he appeared to be coming right at me with agitation. I moved down to another part of the bench, only to have him make headway towards me again. I told my teenager about it when I got back, and he said, “why didn’t you just step on it and kill it?” I expressed my chagrin about this, telling him that this was the stinkbug’s home and I was the interloper, and why should I kill it just for ending up in the wrong place? He told me I had a messed up perspective, but I am not sure I am the one.
It was still raining, so we had to make a choice. We didn’t have to leave for another few hours, and the ten year old was still insisting on a card game, but the teenager was telling us that if he had to spend any more time cooped up with us, one of us was going down. The toddler was restless, as he was out of things to get into, and wanted to play in the rain and mud. We wanted to go hiking and I also wanted to visit a friend who lived nearby, but we decided that the best thing to do was to hurry the gear out to the truck and get home as soon as possible.
So away we left. We all kind of laughed on the way out about how spooky the campground was, especially since we had eventually been the only ones staying on the Broken Bowl side we were on (a handful of campers on the Bee Tree loop/other side). There was a metal drain cover near the bathrooms that was marked “Confined Space Entry”, and even though we realized it was an entrance for the septic system, we joked about what might be down in the Confined Space, and how the whole trip started to sort of feel like an Evil Dead movie plot. I told the older boys we should each write our own story about it with fantasy elements, working in the various aspects, but they weren’t so interested in actually doing this when we got back home.
Still, I hope that the real trip becomes one of those family memories that they can hang on to later in life, a story they can tell about a time we spent together.