chigger chewed at boykin springs

IMG_1280I left the homestead at oh dark thirty to pick up my buddy Gary for a week-long trip to Boykin Springs near Zavalla, TX. After dodging B-52 sized mosquitoes and semi sized alligators, I finally made it to his home in a swamp ridden undisclosed location in southeast Texas. We did a quick loadout of his gear and headed north for the East Texas Piney Woods.

Gary and his family have been going to this park for thirty years and he still loves the place. This was my first visit and I will definitely be returning.

The campground is located at a nosebleed inducing 200 feet, so if you go – better bring your altimeter and oxygen bottle.

The following information is taken directly from the Forest Service website and due credit is give here.

The original campground and Boykin Springs Lake were built in 1937 by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Hurricanes Rita and Ike destroyed or damaged much of the campground and it had not fully recovered by the time of the authors’ visit.

There are two areas for camping. The more RV-friendly section, Loop B, is to the right of the “T” intersection. The second area (no name) for tents, is accessed using a low-water bridge and is near the Spillway’s Day Use area. The lack of signs makes the campground difficult to navigate and low branches and unkempt appearance add to the confusion. The campground’s only bathroom is located between the two areas, below the spillway. Although the bathroom is wheelchair friendly, access is not. The swim area is located near the campground’s entrance and is a long walk from the campsites. The sites are tucked in among Loblolly pine and mixed hardwoods providing ample shade and good privacy.

The campground has character and there is much to explore. A hike to the ruins of Aldridge Sawmill on the Sawmill Trail (or driving most of the way on Forest Rt. 326), is an interesting day trip. The Aldridge Sawmill, closed in 1910, provides insight into the area’s industrial past.

Day One

IMG_1238We made a stop in Jasper for a fine dining experience at the Whataburger before continuing on to the park. What is a road trip in Texas without a stop at Whataburger for a meal lavishly stuffed with jalapenos?

We arrived at the park around one o’clock. We found our perfect site and checked in. This is a Forest Service campground now, so it’s an honor box system with a tear-off stub for your dashboard.
The first order of business was to setup camp.

I’ve been using a KampRite Tent Cot on these truck camping trips. I’ve really enjoyed it, so Gary purchased one so he could understand what I was raving about.

We have the XL or over sized models. I am 6’1″ tall and still have room for gear storage at the foot of the bed. They feature a suspended storage bag at each end that are perfect for eyeglasses, phones, headlights, etc. The center has a handy tie point for suspending lights or whatever.

Our old one man tents were much more compact and infinitely lighter, but when you reach a certain age it’s nice to be up off the ground so that you have a reasonable chance of standing up when it’s time to answer those late night nature calls. It’s also nice that the bed is firm and sag-free and it has a closed cell foam insert that keeps the cold from seeping into tired old bones.
The cots come with a rain fly which is seldom needed in our spring, summer and fall weather. It has four side ventilation with no-see-um zippered netting and zippered storm flaps. The angle of the heads make it ideal for lying on your back for a little star gazing on clear nights.

IMG_1243After setting up camp, we got down to a couple of our favorite activities: cooking and eating.

Gary had a recipe for baked butterfly pork chops on a bed of onions and bell peppers. He did the honors in the Dutch oven while I sauteed some cabbage and opened a can of Bush’s Baked Beans. No campfire is complete without beans. Hence, the four-way ventilation of the cots is a Godsend.

While sitting around the campfire swapping tall tales, Gary whipped out a belated birthday present from him and Becky. It was a battery powered tent fan. A neat gadget with multiple ways of hanging it in your tent. When we turned in that night with our fans securely hung it was blissful. Crickets and frogs serenading while getting a cool breeze from inside the tent. Thanks, Gary and Becky.

I won’t bore you with tales of staggering around the campsite without glasses or cane while trying to find that “special” tree. Finding my way back to the tent was even more fun.

Day Two

IMG_1236We rose with the sun and began our daily ritual.

First order of business: coffee. Ain’t Leo had a big surprise for Gary. Instead of the brew in the bag single serve stuff we usually drink, she had included 3/4 lb of coarse ground Columbian beans and a French press. Nothing says getting old like a French press in the woods. Ah, we’ve earned it. All of you backpacking ultralighters will get here someday and I’ll tell you right now. Life-Is-Good!

Next came the obligatory 1/2 lb of bacon with a side of scrambled eggs. Man candy!

While the bacon was cooking, I diced onions and four jalapenos to add to the eggs. When the bacon was finished I dropped the onions and peppers into the hot skillet. An instantaneous mushroom cloud erupted and engulfed my beak. From eight feet away, Gary went into a coughing spasm. Good peppers!

After breakfast I had to get some warm water and shampoo my mustache. I looked like a rabid dog with suds running down my face, but my nose was on fire and the corners of my mouth were just short of blistered. Gary avoided most of the blast, but still suffered from a red nose and watery eyes.

We spruced up the camp and then pored over Gary’s huge Forest Service map (courtesy of Becky). We were looking for primitive campsites in the dispersed camping areas. We drove many miles on Forest Service roads, often one lane, and scouted out several really nice places to stay on future trips to the Piney Woods.

The miles added up quickly, so we adjourned to Heritage Village and the Pickett House Restaurant for lunch. It’s located near Woodville and is a family style eatery. All you can eat fresh fried chicken, dumplings, black-eyed peas, greens and mashed potatoes with gravy. Be sure to save room for some great peach cobbler and soft serve ice cream. We waddled out to the truck and returned to our campsite for a little fishing and some time around the campfire.

Day Three

FIMG_1256resh coffee, but we passed on breakfast. Yesterday’s lunch was still sitting heavy on both of us. We packed a light lunch and set out for Boughton Lake. It’s located about ten miles from our campground via back country roads.

We found a few good campsites at the lake. Had a late lunch and attempted to lure a few fish to the bank. In the process I believe we incurred the ire of some of the tiny, ravenous denizens of the park. By the time we returned to camp we had terribly itchy legs. It was chigger time.

Supper was pan seared chicken jalapeno sausage, cheesy bacon mashed potatoes and another can of Bush’s baked beans. After camp cleanup we adjourned to the campfire for a few adult beverages and a few tall tales. Around ten o’clock the wind began to pickup. Weather.com warned us of a 70% chance of rain, so we put the rain flys on the tents.

We retired around midnight for an evening of sweating and simmering. Note to self: erect a tarp next time. The fly is really good for cold weather, but July rainfall is best avoided with a tarp that lets the air circulate. In early morning we rose and struck the rain flys after the chance of rain passed. Finally, a little sleep.

Day Four

Time for round two of bacon and eggs. This time when I added the peppers to the skillet I held to cutting board at arms length and dumped them. Gary said we should bring face shields and hazmat suits next time. His only worry was that the park rangers wouldn’t believe we were cooking peppers. Ever since Breaking Bad, the law enforcement types take a suspicious view of two old men cooking anything in face shields and white suits. My feeling is – whatever it takes to get breakfast on the table.

IMG_1248Gary gave me the dollar tour of the lake, the CCC spillway and the springs. As I said earlier, it’s a nice park and deserves a visit. Not as well kept as state parks, but still a great place to camp. The sites are rustic and have no connections, so RV types are few and far between.

IMG_1256We had a light lunch and spent the day piddling in camp. We went to The Catfish Cabin for supper that night. Another stellar recommendation by Gary. Unless you are very hungry, don’t order the jumbo catfish fillet plate and hold back at the salad bar. It’s enough to stuff two people.

Day Five

IMG_1279A final cleanup of the camp and loading the truck and we were on the road home. We had a great time despite the chiggers and we have plans of returning when the weather gets a bit cooler.

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