Far from my home in the Texas Hill Country, there is a swamp full of cypress trees, snakes, and alligators. I’d never visited Caddo Lake in the east Texas wetlands until last week, when I had the opportunity to photograph the area. A few friends who are part time residents in a tiny town called Uncertain offered a room and their services as a boat operator/tour guide. After several months of talking about it, I finally had the time to make the 6 hour drive and hang out for a few days.
East Texas, and certainly the area around Caddo Lake and Caddo Lake State Park, offer quite a different lifestyle than does the hill country. It seems everyone either owns a boat or has access to a boat. I think there is a church at least every half-mile of highway, and most residents have a rocking chair somewhere in the front yard or on the front porch. From this vantage point, they smile, wave and watch the world go by.
Besides the uniqueness of Caddo Lake, I also saw or experienced a few things for the first time. I saw a car towing (with a rope) a motorcycle. A guy was riding and steering the motorcycle. Both were pulled over by a police car. I tried fried alligator for the first time. I saw wolf spiders bigger than my hand, and I navigated through swarms of mosquitoes so thick I had to cover my mouth for fear of ingesting them.
Still, the trip was amazing. The cypress forest that sprawls across the 25,000 acres of swamp makes up the largest cypress forest in the world. The trees dripped with Spanish moss, often times resembling a fairy tale scene. On the boat, we weaved in and out of narrow passageways, through cypress and around stumps, (with me) always hoping to see an alligator. Alas, the only alligator I saw was battered and deep fried. I also kept an eye out for Bigfoot, but never saw one. (Several hundred Bigfoot sightings have been reported in this area since 1965 according to the Bigfoot Research Organization). One section of the bayou was called the Cathedral, where the 90-feet high cypress trees leaned in across small back-alley of water. The way through this section was dark and mysterious.
On one evening, the sunset was simply beautiful, and I had the good fortune of using a friend’s duck blind to stabilize the tripod to capture the waning light of day.
I should note here that photographing this area proved challenging. I tend to shoot 99% of my photographs using a tripod. However, you don’t have this luxury around the lake because there is no land. Shooting from a boat in low light is difficult if you want to produce high resolution images that lend themselves to large prints. You really have to crank up the ISO (I had to put it on 1000 several times) just to obtain a fast enough shutter speed to have a chance to produce a sharp image. Many times, there was still too much movement in the boat. I do have plans to return and I’ll have a different strategy! One option is shooting from the fishing pier at Caddo Lake State Park. This little wooden dock offers good views for both sunrise and sunset, but not much in the way of unique perspectives. Still, it is a start.
I enjoyed my time here, and I do look forward to returning soon. Before that, though, I have a few other places and adventures planned. In the meantime, enjoy the rain, Texas!
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