A quiet, relaxing weekend for Stuart Umlauf started with a roux. As light from the setting sun filtered through thick pine needles to cast a glow on the dark stone cabin, gentle bubbling from a pot on the stove combined with the crackle of logs in the fireplace and the sounds of conversation and laughter. Stuart tossed in chopped vegetables, chicken, sausage and a stock he made himself.
“That stock is the key to true, inner-Louisiana gumbo,” he says of the recipe. The gumbo kicked off an evening of cards, dominoes and a roaring campfire. “Just fun stuff. This is a way to get away from the rat race and relax.”
Quiet, restful weekends are sought by many visitors to Bastrop State Park, located in the Lost Pines, a 70-square-mile stand of loblolly pine and hardwoods some 100 miles from the East Texas Piney Woods. Stuart and girlfriend Jean McNutt, from Livingston, joined friends for a weekend in the Lost Pines Lodge, the largest of 13 cabins here, with four bedrooms, a large fireplace and a screened porch overlooking a pond.
“This one is hard to get,” Stuart says of the weekend availability of the cabin. “We had to book it 11 months in advance. But anything this fun is worth it.”
Palo Duro Canyon State Park
Kent and Marion Smith of Austin enjoy spending time outdoors with their three boys, ages 13, 9 and 7, but corralling the active bunch into a flimsy tent hasn’t worked well. Instead, they often head to cabins at Bastrop, Brownwood State Park, the Lower Colorado River Authority’s Oak Thicket Park on Lake Fayette, and most recently, Palo Duro Canyon State Park.
“You leave all the TV and video games behind, the kids play naturally together and everyone is content,” says Kent. “It takes you back to when life was simple. Then, all kids had to play with were sticks and rocks and they were perfectly happy. Our kids are, too, when they’re here.” The Smiths researched state parks with cabins, and decided on the Palo Duro trip because the boys had never seen the Panhandle—and because there are only a handful of cabins.
“Once the lights go out at night, there aren’t a lot of people around,” Kent says. For millions of years, the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River has been carving Palo Duro Canyon, 120 miles long and up to 800 feet deep, making it the second largest canyon in the United States, behind only that Grand one out in Arizona. As the Smith boys clamber over the rocks and stage mock battles, they could be children of the Kiowa, Comanche or Cheyenne tribes that lived here several centuries before, or cowboys working the more than 100,000 cattle on Charles Goodnight and J.A. Adair’s JA Ranch in the late 1800s.
Not only are there just seven cabins, counting four limited-service “Cow Camp” cabins, but their location below the edge of the canyon rim and the road affords additional privacy. Outside patios have a breathtaking view of the canyon, a view also visible through many of the cabin windows. The cabins have been modernized but retain a rustic feel reflecting their construction by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s. CCC workers created cabins and other structures all over Texas, including those still in use in Bastrop and 30 other Texas state parks. Thousands of Texans have enjoyed the fruits of the program, part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal for a Depression-wracked nation.
“I enjoy the unique architecture of the CCC buildings,” says Stuart Umlauf. “That program saved a lot of families from starving and left us with a wonderful legacy.”
Daingerfield State Park
The dam creating 80-acre Lake Daingerfield in East Texas’ Daingerfield State Park is part of the CCC legacy, as are its pair of two-bedroom cabins, a three-bedroom cabin and Bass Lodge, which has five bedrooms and two baths. These facilities, offering the option of togetherness or privacy, overlook the tree-lined lake, which offers fishing for crappie, perch, catfish and bass.
Other diversions include swimming, boating, and 21/2 miles of hiking trails through typical East Texas pines. Dogwoods, red buds and wisteria create a riot of spring color; sweetgum, oak and maple paint a fall palette.
San Angelo State Park
Fortunately, the state has added more cabins in the decades since the CCC operated. Covered front porches of the six limited-use log cabins in San Angelo State Park overlook O.C. Fisher Lake and the sunrise. Located on the outskirts of San Angelo, the park is home to some members of the official state Longhorn herd, hiking and biking trails, and equestrian trails.
“Cabins are a great place to meet,” says Umlauf. “Even if it pours rain, you just go inside and nap or play games. We’ll definitely be doing this again.” Roux and all.
For a full list of state park facilities with lodging, go to www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/parkinfo/facilities. Park entrance fees may apply.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park, 11450 Park Road 5, Canyon, (806) 488-2227. Three cabins—Lighthouse, Goodnight and Sorenson—sleep four each. Heated and air conditioned, fireplace and indoor bathroom with shower. Microwave, coffee maker, mini-refrigerators. Outdoor grill and picnic tables. Linens, pillows and towels provided. Four Cow Camp Cabins offer two twin beds and a table and chairs but no towels or linens with restroom and showers across the road. Park museum and store. Old West Stables, Palo Duro Trading Post and “Texas” musical drama, all seasonal. Almost 40 miles of hiking trails and nearly 15 of equestrian trails. RV, tent, primitive and equestrian camping and limited-service cabins in the canyon.
Bastrop State Park, on Highway 21 east of Bastrop, (512) 321-2101. Cabin for two to eight people with furnished kitchens (no cooking or eating utensils), fireplaces and outdoor grills. Linens provided. Heating and air conditioning. The park has a swimming pool, golf course, canoe rentals, miles of trails, and a scenic drive also good for cycling.
Lake Daingerfield State Park, 455 Park Road 17, Daingerfield, (903) 645-2921. Cabins have stove, refrigerator, microwave, coffee pot but do not have ovens. There are two- and three-bedroom cabins, plus Bass Lodge. Any cabin reservation for a weekend must include both nights. Linens and towels furnished but not kitchen utensils. Year-round rental of pedal-boats, canoes, kayaks and flat-bottom boats.
San Angelo State Park, 3900-2 Mercedes Road, San Angelo, (325) 949-8935. Cabins are furnished with two bunk beds and one double in separate rooms. Linens not provided. Water and electricity, heating and air conditioning. No kitchens, but outdoor grills and picnic tables allow for cooking with a view. Restrooms and showers in the park.
Bastrop State Park is served by Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative. Daingerfield State Park is served by Bowie-Cass Electric Cooperative.