Writer and Photographer: ANN BUSH / Jan.-Feb 2017
It all started in 1995 after Judy Holmes moved to Tyler from Houston. An avid outdoors woman, she yearned to connect with like-minded people in her new home.
Soon after arriving, she led a canoe, rescue-training session at Lake Tyler for the Red Cross. Encouraged by the response, she put an ad in the newspaper asking those who were interested in outdoor adventures to attend a meeting.
Fifteen people showed up, including some who took part in the rescue training. They formed the Outdoor Adventure Club of East Texas. Today, the club has almost 100 members. It meets on the second Thursday of the month at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Nature Center in Tyler, Texas to hear speakers and plan outings.
Holmes remembers the time a speaker walked in carrying a snake. “All of us outdoor enthusiasts were afraid to pick up the nonpoisonous snake! So much for tough hikers.”
The club has explored Goat Island at Caddo Lake, paddled for three days on the Neches River and enjoyed remarkable red and gold fall foliage at Beavers Bend State Park in Oklahoma.
The club camps out at state and national parks during weekends. Many bring canoes, kayaks, bicycles, hiking shoes and cameras and during the day either go off on their own or take part in a group activity.
At night, the tired and hungry campers all contribute to a potluck meal served at the trip leader’s campsite.
Some meals are unforgettable.
One member once cooked an entire turkey during a hard rain. Others strung a tarp between cars to protect the turkey and fire. To add water to the pot, all the cook had to do was let the rain fall into it.
Some are masters of Dutch oven cooking and are known for their campfire cuisine, including peach cobbler and beans. On one outing, a member made banana boats by filling sliced bananas with combinations of candy, marshmallows, nuts and chocolate; covering the stuffed bananas with aluminum foil; and heating them on the campfire until it all melted together.
Outings don’t always go as planned. At Copperhead Cave in Arkansas, club members had to jump across a large crevice to venture farther inside. On the way out, they found that water had filled much of the crevice. One woman panicked and could not summon the courage to make the leap. The guide had to go out and retrieve a harness to lift her over the crevice.
Raccoons ransacked coolers in the middle of the night during a trip at Lake Mineral Wells State Park & Trailway. A Chuck-will’s-widow bird, annoyed that its space had been invaded, relentlessly scolded campers one night at Petit Jean State Park in Arkansas. A hurricane that came ashore blew the tents away during a campout in Louisiana.
While paddling one night on Caddo Lake, the light of flashlights exposed orange eyes belonging to alligators hanging out on the banks. A member who handles wild reptiles during Caldwell Zoo education programs instructed everyone to stay calm and keep paddling.
When a woman forgot her camping tent, other club members came to the rescue and, using rope, bungee cords, potato chip clips and tarp, strung a make-shift pup tent between trees.
Often, club members bring their dogs. Lola has been kayaking with her owner, Jill Juneau, for more than eight years. Lola stays on a platform made of Styrofoam that Juneau built on the back of her kayak.
“Then I added a cushion because she believes she is a princess and can only sit on the finest materials,” says Juneau.
Each member brings special talents to the outdoor adventures. Dan Peden makes sure there is plenty of firewood for the campfire. Former Boy Scout leader Chuck Eubanks starts the fire and properly puts it out. John Kavanaugh brings a telescope and leads stargazing parties.
After 25 years, East Texas Adventure Club continues to create family-friendly opportunities to get people into the great outdoors. More information about the club can be found on MeetUp.com.
Ann Bush is a freelance writer and member of the Outdoor Adventure Club of East Texas.