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Past Adventures

Gem Trails of Texas : East Texas 2005 - Part II

The sights include :  More Texas Courthouse Photos, the Crockett Area, Mission Tejas State Park, Caddoan Mounds State Historic Site,  the Rusk/Palestine State Railroad Park,   the Salt Palace in Grand Saline, the Texas State Freshwater Fisheries Center and the World's Largest Blue Catfish, the Oil Drilling Platform Rest Stop and Tomb of the Unknown Oilman near Henderson, the Giant Fruit of Pittsburg, the Giant Head of Bo Pilgrim of Pittsburg and the Ezekiel Airship!

Forward : (As always, click on the picture for for a larger image and click on the links for photos surprises.)

          I hope you enjoyed a couple of days in the Gem Trails of East Texas Adventure - Part I with me. Now for Part II of the adventure.  This time, Buddy Bill will be joining me.  By the way, I found a lot of these new places to visit in my new book, Texas, Off the Beaten Path.  So sit back and relax and hang on to that arm chair!

Star Date 12/18/2005 - Sunday

          It was another early morning rise.  I read the newspaper while eating breakfast and then took a quick jump to the southern back roads of Crockett, TX to continue the hunt for the elusive Texas Petrified Palm Wood.  From the Groveton, TX area, I took 287 north and then traveled east on FM 2780.  Off of FM 2780, I found a few road cuts worth investigating at the following GPS coordinates :

 31 07.123 N & 95 13.408 W

31 06.292 N & 95 16.954 W

I only found a few odds and ends of petrified wood and agates, jaspers and quartz material for tumbling.  However, I also found this fern bud!  (At least I think it is a fern bud?)

          I continued east and then north on FM 1309 until it turned into a dirt road.  Hum, this is East Texas, aren't they suppose to raise chickens out here?  This is where I hit pay dirt at the following GPS coordinates :

31 10.903 N & 95 23.124 W

31 12.027 N & 95 23.219 W

31 12.166 N & 95 23.609 W

Most of the treasures were visible off the side of the road.  It was at the first set of GPS coordinates in which I was most successful.  Once you begin to get into the shady tree region, then no more treasures were to be found so easily.  Again, the wood and rocks were only found in the white sandy soil, not the reddish/orange soil.  And watch your driving or you just might run over a critter or two.

          Most of the petrified wood I found was just regular petrified wood.  However, I did find quite a bit of the Texas Petrified Palm Wood.  Most of the palm wood was like what I saw at the Johnson Rock Shop, the chalky limestone type.  However, I did mange to find a few good pieces of the silicated black material.  Additionally, I did find quite a bit of agates, jaspers, flint and quartz material for tumbling.  Here's what I wound up with :

Crockett Petrified Wood

Petrified Wood with Blue Agate

Petrified Palm Wood

Petrified Palm Wood with Black Silicated Center

Agates and Jaspers for Tumbling

          I few more comments about this area.  First, I wish that I could have spent more time here.  Like I said before, I hit the pay dirt here!  I also believe that if you took any of the unpaved county roads around here and searched in the white sandy soil, your bound to find something.  This was a good site and I recommend it.  Watch your speed when driving, the county cops are all over the place.  Well, it was time to move on after using the facilities.

          I had thought at this point, it would be the end of my rock hunting adventures, more on that comment later.  Therefore, I decided to continue my zigzag trek northward to continue seeing the sights of the piney woods.  My next stop was in Crocket for gas, pick up something to eat, and to pick up another Texas  County Courthouse Photo :

Houston County Courthouse

     Mission Tejas State Park :

          After gassing up in Crockett, I headed northeast on Hwy 21 and soon came the Mission Tejas State Park.  Ok, this is really just your average everyday Texas State Park with two exceptions, the historic Rice Family Home and the recreation of the first Spanish mission in the state of Texas.  I really didn't care much for the Rice Family Log Home even though it was of some local historic significance.  However, since the Spanish Missions of Texas Adventure, I have continued to try and visit all the old Spanish missions that remain in Texas.  This was simply a treat due to being the first in Texas.  However, it is a recreation built by the CCC during the Depression and according the the ranger, the latest research shows that it was built differently than it is portrayed today.  For more information on this park, see the link below :

Mission Tejas State Park

      Caddoan Mounds State Historic Site :

          I quickly made my way out of the park and continued northeast until I saw something of another local historic significance.  Probably the oldest pepper tree in the State of Texas.  As I continued on to Alto, I came to this big hill off to the side of the highway.  Actually, it was one of those Caddoan Indian Mounds

     That's right.  About 500 to 800 years ago, the Caddoan Indians who lived in these here parts had quite a civilized society in which they exhibited the customs and traits of the ancient Egyptians.  To learn more, I entered the Caddoan Mounds State Historic Park which was just located down the road from the monument found off Hwy 21I checked out their exhibitsAs civilized as these Indians were, they still had not invented bras yet for their poor women and then spoke to one of the rangers who explained more of the ancient Caddoan Indian culture and showed me and interesting Magnometer map which shows at least 11 total mounds in the area.  I at least got away from having to see their movie.  It was time to see a few more up close.  I found two more mounds out back.  First, I found their burial mound.  However, not all mounds were used for burial, some mounds were used for ceremonial structures.  I got out my shovel, and after a few hours, I found all kinds of artifacts! For more information on this site, please see their link below :

Caddoan Mounds State Historic Site

     Rusk/Palestine Texas State Railroad Park :

          I got back into my car and eventually made it to the cities of Rusk and Palestine where I where I added to my collection of Texas County Courthouse Photos :

The Cherokee County Courthouse

The Anderson County Courthouse

     But this area had much more to offer.  Folks, I give to you the Rusk/Palestine Texas Railroad State Park.  Finally, a Texas Railroad museum/park where you finally get to ride one.  Here's how it works : first you enter the park on the Rusk, TX side and head for the depot.  At the depot, you then purchase your train tickets.  While waiting for the train, visit their gift store or rent a paddle boat and goof off at the lake.  Once the train arrives, get on-board where you will experience an old fashion train ride to the Palestine end of their railway and wind up at the Palestine park depot.

     For more 411 on this site, please see the link below :

Rusk/Palestine Texas State Railroad Park

      It was beginning to get late and I wanted to make it to Athens, TX for the night.  So, on the way up there, I was able to pick up the following Texas County Courthouse Photos :

The Freestone County Courthouse

The Navarro County Courthouse

The Kaufman County Courthouse

The Van Zandt County Courthouse

And

The Henderson County Courthouse

Oh by the way, while in Corsicana, I stopped by the Collin Street Bakery.  You know, the place where all your wonderful Christmas fruitcakes come from.  Not! Ha ha ha!  That evening at the motel, I called up Buddy Bill to see if he wanted meet me in Athens and continue with the adventures.  Bill said sure since he wanted to se the giant catfish at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center east of Athens.  Then. we'll see what other kinds of trouble we can get into!

Star Date 12/19/2005 - Monday

     The Salt Palace :

          Bill arrived early at the motel where I was staying at and we headed for a local Athens's Wataburger for breakfast.  I could tell Bill needed to get out and take a break.  You should see his office!  You have to understand that Bill works for Microsoft.  We then discovered that the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center does not open till 9:00 AM.  Time to burn some time.  I suggested we head out to the Grand Saline area to do some rock hunting for huge salt crystals.  On the way out there, we managed to pick up another Texas County Courthouse Photo :

The Rains County Courthouse

          We found a salt marsh just outside the city of Grand Saline.  Please be careful when entering this area, it is guarded with a tank and a canon.  We stopped at the following GPS coordinates to collect our salt crystals :

32 41.751 N & 95 41.751 W

Bill was able to find a ventilation shaft down into the mine.  I guess we must have climbed down over 700 feet into and then we got caught and were made to work in the salt mine as slave labor for the Morton Salt Company.  While the guards were out on their coffee break, we snuck out with our treasures of rock salt crystals.  Not!!!!

          Seriously folks, we really got those big salt crystals at the Salt Palace on the corner of Hwy 80 and Main Street.  Actually, the Salt Palace is only built with two of the four walls made of salt and the two really huge blocks of salt out front are there for your licking pleasure.  We met up with Mary martin, the Salt Palace's Manager who first welcomed us to the area and shoed us around the exhibits.    It seems that the Morton salt products are found throughout our daily lives.  Mary also explained that this was the third Salt Palace.  The first one and the second one melted away over time since they were not protected from the rain.  If in the area, stop by to say hello and pick up your freebie salt shakers and big hunks of rock salt crystals for your rock collection.  The GPS coordinates of where we really picked up those big salt crystals are as follows :

32 40.491 N & 95 42.587 W

     The Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center :

          Bill and I finally made it back to Athens and followed FM 2494 east out of the city to the Texas State Freshwater Fisheries Center.  Our main goal was to see the big blue catfish which hold's the world record for its size.  But first, a little exploring.

          As you enter the facility, one passes through a small maze of outdoor aquariums.  You continued on till you reach the big catfish tank and you better be prepared to feed them!  Believe it or not, they got gators!  Out back, enter the Instructional Center for some angler advice by some ole' timer volunteers, then gear up and go fish in the ponds provided.  Once you caught your catch, you'll begin your walk back to the main facility while passing by the hatchery facility.

          Make sure you check out the exhibits inside and don't forget to shop for you fix of souvenir needs in their gift shop.  Of coarse once inside, you get a chance to check out their labs where they generically engineer the freshwater fish using nuclear radiation and toxic chemicals.  After the mutant fish are minnow size, they then are further processed in the nursery tanks.  From the nursery tanks, they then go to the out door tanks for further growing before they are then transferred to our wonderful Texas lakes and streams for your angler pleasure.  They even have a bus/tram in which you can take to see the nursery ponds in the back 40 and the rest of the facilities which are further on out.

          But where was that teenage mutant ninja giant Blue catfish?  After some inquiry, we were told it was in the movie theater and the next show didn't begin until 11:00 AM.  Ok, more time to burn but, it was well worth it.  11:00 AM, show time!  Yea, you are forced to watch their movie which promoted conservation of our natural resources, applauding the catch and release program, the ShareLlunker program and finally the real show.  Another set of curtain were withdrawn and some diver was in the big tank feeding the fish.  Of coarse we finally got to see scrappy, the big Blue CatfishIt was this big!  On our way out, I did notice that at least these fine folks here appreciated the fine arts.   Bill!, where are you?  For more 411 on this place, visit their website below :

Texas State Freshwater Fishery Center

      The Northeast Texas Rural Heritage Museum :

          We got back into the car and I told Bill that the next stop was the Northeast Texas Rural Heritage Museum.  Bill asked what was so special about another heritage museum.  So I told him the story of Reverend Cannon and his flying machine who beat the Wright Brothers into the sky.  But first, along the way we of coarse picked up another set of Texas County Courthouse Photos :

The Smith County Courthouse

The Rusk County Courthouse

The Gregg County Courthouse

The Camp County Courthouse

And

The Upshur County Courthouse

          While collecting the courthouse pictures, we saw a new Texas Roadside Attraction about 6 miles east of Henderson off of Hwy 64, the Oil Well Rest Stop.  There, next to the rest stop, was the tomb of the unknown oilman  who gave his life in the line of duty so that we may have the fuel to drive on our awesome Texas highways!  Also in Henderson, we stopped in a local diner for a late lunch.

          From the city of Longview, we headed west on Hwy 80, and then north on Hwy 271.  About 5 minutes from Pittsburg, we spotted another Texas Roadside Attraction worthy of mention.  A huge big peach and another giant strawberry at a roadside produce stand.  Once in Pittsburg, TX, we drove north on Hwy 271 a little bit further and got this great shot of Bo Pilgrim on the west side of the highway.  Finally, we returned to Pittsburg and entered the Northeast Texas Rural Heritage Museum.  I didn't care about all of the other exhibits, I just wanted to see the plane that allegedly beat the Wright Brothers into the skyThe people here are just crazy about the Rev. Cannon who designed and built this thing.  apparently while reading his Bible one day, the Rev. Cannon came up with the design from reading a passage from Ezekiel in the Old Testament.  Allegedly, he built one airship which supposedly flew but, it crashed.  Then he built another, but that too crashed.  While your there, check out their gift store.  They have plenty of t-shirts.  For more 411 of this museum, please visit their website below :

The Northeast Texas Rural Heritage Museum

          At this point it was getting late and it was decided to head back to Bill hacienda.  However, that didn't stop us from taking one more Texas County Courthouse Photo :

The Wood County Courthouse

          This is really the end of this little adventure into the piney woods.  The next day I said my good-byes to Bill and a few friends and made it back home to rest up for the beginning of  another semester of school and, I had church the next day.  There was still a lot more to be seen.  So I guess I have an excuse to come back and visit again.  Now, it time to get out the ole rock tumbler again.

       So, until next time, take care and I'll  See you... on the road, or in the workshop, (which is really just my garage) !!!!

                                                     Francis                        

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 Copyright 1999 by [The Texas Road Runners - Francis Kiefel]. All rights reserved.