Monday, May 27, 2013

Favorite Drives: Old San Antonio Road from Crockett to Alto

There are many roads in Texas that I really enjoy traveling, but perhaps none more than the Old San Antonio Road from Alto to Crockett.

The Old San Antonio Road (OSR) is also known as El Camino Real or King's Highway. Alonso de Leon originally blazed the road in 1690-91. It was used to connect Mexico with missions in East Texas. The road is actually a series of connected trails stretching all the way from Natchitoches, Louisiana, to near Eagle Pass, Texas, and then on to Mexico City.

I find the 34 mile stretch from Alto to Crockett to be one of the most interesting sections of the old road. There is a great deal to see along this short stretch. When Donna and I lived in the Longview area, we would take this route whenever we visited her family in Conroe, and I always enjoyed this portion of the trip.

This stretch of road is a two-lane highway that passes through the northernmost section of the Davey Crockett National Forest. I like the drive through the forest, where the thick forest sometimes almost forms a wall next to the roadway. Starting at Alto and heading southwest, the first point of interest is the Caddo Mounds State Historic Site. 3 ceremonial mounds, erected about 1200 years ago by the Hasinai, a part of the Caddo culture, still stand beside the roadway. The visitor center has numerous displays of interest, and a short walking trail leads visitors beside the remaining mounds.

A couple of miles past the mounds, the roadway dips down into the Neches River bottom. Looking at the Neches River today, it's difficult to imagine that steamboats once made their way this far upriver, but they did. Just after crossing the river, a sign announces the nearby Big Slough Wilderness Area. This area is also the northernmost terminus of the 20-mile long 4-C Hiking Trail, which Donna and I hiked a section of several years ago.

One of the more unusual sites along the highway is a pepper tree. A sign along the route states that the tree was planted in 1848. After a bit of research, I learned that the tree is actually a Lilac Chaste Tree or Vitex Agnus Castus L. However, it seems that the Lilac Chaste Tree has always been referred to as the Pepper Tree.

Next is the small community of Weches, home to Mission Tejas State Park. This park is the best example of a woodlands park I know of in Texas. It is home to 2 historic structures: a representation of Mission San Francisco de los Tejas, the first Spanish mission in the province of Texas, which was established in 1690, and the restored Rice Family Log Home, built originally in 1828. There are numerous hiking trails throughout the small park, as well as a small pond. For those interested in the Civilian Conservation Corps and the work this organization did with Texas state parks, there are some old CCC "bathtubs" located in the southeast corner of the park.

Mission Tejas. Picture taken during a hike in August 2005

Rice Family log home. Picture taken during a hike in August 2005.

Approaching view of CCC bathtubs, taken during a hike in August 2005

2 of the CCC bathtubs, taken during a hike in August 2005

Many famous persons followed this trail across Texas, including David Crockett on his way to his date with destiny at the Alamo. Today, the paved highway allows modern travelers to cover as much distance in a few minutes as Crockett could have covered in a day, but this stretch of highway deserves to be taken slowly. There is much to see for the traveler who will stop and take a look around.

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