Last week’s trip to East Texas took me back in time in more ways than just the 1984 VW Westfalia campervan that I drove to get there.
I spent a night at Ratcliff Lake Recreation Area in Davy Crockett National Forest, a campground I’d visited a few times as a kid, again as a college student, once more with a boyfriend after college, and most recently 15 years ago with my husband.
I remembered it for its tall, swaying pine trees and small, amber-hued lake. When I was little, my family staked out our big blue canvas tent on a pine needle-cushioned spot just across from the swimming area. Our Austin neighbors came along, and we spent a long summer weekend running amok in the woods and paddling on the lake.
In college, eight or 10 of us piled into a couple of cars and drove out from Texas A&M University with gear borrowed from the school’s recreation department. All I remember about that trip is waking up in a thunderstorm, our tent flooded so badly that we had to bail out and seek shelter in our cars.
After college, my then-boyfriend and I pitched a tent in a woody nook of the park alongside the lake and pulled out fishing rods. I didn’t catch a thing, but Roger reeled in an old tennis shoe – with a tiny fish inside it.
Most recently, my husband Chris and I made the trip with my sister and her husband. We grilled dinner, toasted marshmallows and hiked through the dogwoods.
It had been so long since I’d been here that I didn’t know exactly what to expect. I found a nearly vacant park – but the cozy feeling that those shoulder-to-shoulder loblolly pines provided remained.
I’m not quite sure why it was so empty – no kids swimming, only three or four of the more than 50 camping sites taken, including the spot I chose, once again, directly across from the swimming area.
Sure, it was hot. Even the lake felt like a cauldron of soup – not refreshing at all. But the hush of the woods felt like a reward after three and a half hours of driving that old 1984 Westfalia here from Austin.
I jumped in the lake, lit a fire in the firepit, grilled a couple of bratwurst and sipped a glass of white wine in my special “Always Be Prepared” camping wine glass.
Put it on your camping list. It wraps up everything that I like about East Texas into a quick weekend escape: Pines, a lake, hiking trails, a paved road for pedaling, and plenty of stars.
And it gave me a healthy dose of nostalgia, too.
If you go: Ratcliff Lake Recreation Area is located near Kennard, east of Crockett in Davy Crockett National Forest. Camping is $15 per night; $20 with electric hookups. For more information go to www.recreation.gov/camping/campgrounds/234362.