Anybody got photos of Texas’s Big Lake with, you know, water in it?

February 15, 2013

Contrary to popular rural and redneck legend, Caddo Lake is not Texas’s only natural* lake.  There’s also Big Lake, near the town of Big Lake.

Problem being, of course, that Big Lake’s water sources these days generally don’t flow.  So Big Lake is often dry.

Which produces a further problem for site like Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub:  If Big Lake is really a lake, why are there no photos of the lake with water in it?

A comment at got me thinking about this again, no photos of Big Lake as a Lake.  In the previous post here, we featured a photo of Big Lake Playa, sans water.  I searched the internet at the time and found no photos showing water in the lake.  My authority on Big Lake, Brad Wachsmann, swore that he had recently seen water in the thing (“recent” being “in the last decade or so”).

So, sorta good news:  A few photos of Big Lake, with water, plopped onto the internet since our last search.  Here are a couple from Panaramio:

Big Lake, Texas, with water in it.  Photo by doning

Water in Big Lake, near the city of Big Lake, Texas, laps at the State Highway 137 passing nearby. This photo comes from 2004, by doning.

Water in Big Lake, Texas, June 2005; photo by evansjohnc

Photo of water in Big Lake from June 2005. Photo by evansjohnc.  This photo appears to be about midway along the intersection of the lake with State Highway 137.

Big Lake, Texas, in dry phase, by cwoods

Big Lake in its dry phase, from looking north from the southern end of State Highway 137’s transection of the lake. Photo by cwoods.

Sign noting location of Big Lake, Texas, during dry phase. Photo by cwoods

Non-historic marker for Big Lake, also along State Highway 137, looking west. Photo by cwoods. Photo taken during Big Lake’s dry humor phase.

Now:  Can we track down the rumors of other natural lakes in TexasSabine Lake?  Green Lake?  Natural Dam Lake?

And, Dear Reader, can you find good photos of Big Lake with, you know, water in it?


* Is Caddo Lake a natural lake?  Originally, the lake seems to have been formed by an enormous blowdown of trees, probably during a hurricane, well over 400 years ago.  In that sense, it was a natural lake when European explorers first found it, and during all of Texas’s “six flags” historic periods.  Or, what is known as the Great Raft, a log jam, dammed up the Red River near the confluence of the Big Cypress Bayou, in about 1799.  By 1800, Caddo Lake was wet all year-round, and deep enough for shallow boat navigation.  In 1835, Capt. Henry Shreve blew up enough of the logjam that steamboat traffic could get past (the guy after whom Shreveport, Louisiana, is named).  After the Civil War, locals tried to expand boat traffic by completely removing the logjam.  Instead of making traffic easier, this removal led shrinking water levels in the lake, and it destroyed navigation farther up the Red River.  Several efforts to restore higher water levels achieved some success by about 1915.  When oil was discovered under the swamp, pressures came from oil companies to make drilling easier — travel in the mud was difficult.  After the invention of the Hughes drill bit (by Howard Hughes‘s father, the founder of Hughes Tool Co.) to allow drilling through water and mud into oil-bearing rock, a dam was built near where the logjam had been, to raise the level of what is known today as Caddo Lake.  What is seen today is a human-enhanced version of the Caddo Lake known by the Caddo Tribe.  This is all preface to the current Texas water wars.


Saving Texas’s only natural lake

August 3, 2007

Aptly named, Salvinia molesta threatens to choke Caddo Lake to death. As Caddo Lake is the only natural lake in Texas, and a site of outstanding beauty and great natural treasure, the friends of Caddo Lake are fighting back.

Spraying Salvinia molesta on Caddo Lake - NY Times photo by Michael Stravato

The New York Times features a lengthy story on the lake and the fight to save it in this week’s Science section (July 31, 2007 – Science is part of the Times every Tuesday).

Every Texas social studies teacher should know Caddo Lake and its stories as well as anything else. It’s the stuff memorable classes are made of.

1. It’s the only “natural” lake in Texas, though it is formed by a dam. The “only honest lake in Texas,” in the local lingo. The original lake was formed by a monumental log jam on the Red River, probably trees blown down by a massive hurricane several hundred years ago.

2. Caddo Lake is named after the Caddo Tribe, the tribe whose word for friend, “tejas,” gave the state its name. (See my earlier post on Caddoland.)

3. Caddo Lake straddles what was once “no man’s land,” or the Neutral Territory, a buffer zone between English/French, then American, and Spanish, then Mexican settlements. It was a haven for criminals, scalawags, filibusterers and revolutionaries. The area plays a large role in the decades of fighting to steal Texas from the Spain, and later from Mexico. Texas history is much better understood when one knows the lake.

4. Caddo Lake once was the means to make Jefferson, Texas, a port city. Until Col. Shreveport dynamited the logjam that made the lake in 1873, Jefferson was a bustling center of commerce. Today Jefferson boasts some wonderfully preserved historic remnants of that era, many converted to bed and breakfast inns, a great weekend getaway. Fishing is good, photography is great.

5. Ladybird Johnson was born nearby, and her family still lives in the area.

6. The Hughes Tool Company had its beginnings on Caddo Lake, where Howard Hughes, Sr., tested his drill bit, “the rock eater,” designed to cut through mud and rock to where the oil was; this is the home of the fortune that Howard Hughes, Jr., inherited, to build to one of the greatest fortunes in the world. That the younger Hughes was a rake, a mechanical genius, an air pioneer, daring movie producer, and weird as hell only makes the story better. Hughes named his movie production company after the lake, Caddo Productions.

6. Contrary to most of Texas’s political leanings, local people around Caddo Lake have rallied to efforts to protect the lake and conserve its rare beauty. The area is designated for protection as a Ramsar Treaty critical wetlands site — a designation that most conservative Texans ridicule and fear (at one point the Texas Republican Party platform opposed conservation easements to protect the lake bizarre). Latter-day Caddoans welcome the designation, and when we toured the area they sang the praises of Don Henley, the rock and roll musician who is aiding their efforts to save the lake. It’s an odd combination for any political work — uniquely Texas. (Here’s your chance to play the Eagles for your classes, teachers!)

7. When it comes to Texas botany, zoology, and biology in general, Caddo Lake provides the local angle for water quality, water shortages (one proposal is to steal water from the lake for Texas cities far away), wildlife management, and of course, the invasion of exotic species.

8. Everything about this area screams Texas quirkiness. Uncertain, Texas? An often-told story (accurate?) is that when the town applied for a post office, there was a dispute about what to call the town. The fellow who filled out the application wrote “uncertain” in the blank for the town’s name — and that’s how the U.S. Postal Service approved it. Another story holds that the name “Uncertain Landing” caught on because the landing was treacherous mooring for boats. You got a better story about your town’s name? I doubt it.

Save the article from the Times, teachers! You’ll be glad you have it later this year.

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