DW 0098Texas may be known as the land of wide-open skies and endless horizons, but not to those who travel east. Here, towering trees overtake sprawling prairies, and visitors spend much more time looking up rather than out. I set my own gaze upon the East Texas town of Lufkin and set out for a day trip behind the “Pine Curtain.”

Contact the Lufkin Convention & Visitors Bureau, 936/633-0349.

Chet Garner is the host of The Daytripper® travel show on PBS.

8:30 a.m.: I rolled into Historic Downtown and was struck by the colorful murals giving new artistic life to old brick facades. Each mural covered a different era of Lufkin’s history, ranging from the railroad to the coming of the telephone. I snapped a picture of the latter with my smart phone, shared it to the web, and thought, “my, how things have changed.”  

9:00 a.m.: I discovered that more than just the building exteriors are getting an update in downtown, as I strolled into Standpipe Coffee House and found a hip little joe joint occupying an old mercantile building. Upon recommendation, I ordered “The Standpipe” latte—a blend of espresso, chocolate, caramel, and hazelnut—with enough caffeine (and sugar) to last all day.

10:00 a.m.: While many Texas towns were built on cattle or cotton, it was lumber that built Lufkin, both literally and commercially. To learn about this still-thriving industry, I tripped to the Texas Forestry Museum, which features items such as a spinning sawmill motor and a 100-foot-tall lookout tower. The exhibits covered everything from steam engines to the toilet seat, and made me appreciate the delicate balance between conservation and commerce in our native forests.

12:00 p.m.: Folks need trees for lots of things, including smoking the amazing beef, pork, and chicken at Lufkin Bar-B-Que, my lunch destination. I settled into a plate of succulent pork ribs and brisket, but not before eating an entire basket of their famous deep-fried yeast rolls. After indulging in this crispy, doughy goodness, I may never be able to go back to white bread again.

1:30 p.m.: For dessert, I headed to the Atkinson Candy Company, which has been making its world-famous “Chick-O-Stick” candy in Lufkin for more than 75 years. And contrary to what some may believe, no chickens are harmed in the making of these sticks. I visited the on-site candy shop and left with a multi-pound bag for many day trips to come.

2:30 p.m.: Continuing my adventure, I headed to Ellen Trout Zoo and found animals from well beyond the Piney Woods, including lions, tigers, and flamingos (oh my!). This city-owned zoo was more than impressive—and my inner child couldn’t help but ride the train round and round more times than I’d like to publicly admit.

4:30 p.m.: Ready to spend some time in the woods, I drove to the Lost Arrow Biking and Hiking Trail. For hours I pedaled my way through roughly six miles of single-track mountain-bike trails. I was so focused on the dirt, I barely noticed the trees at all, that is until I wiped out and landed squarely on my back. As I looked up at the canopy above, I decided I should fall more often.

7:00 p.m.: I stopped at Ray’s Drive-In for dinner. This Lufkin institution has been around more than 50 years, serving cheeseburgers as delicious and greasy as the law allows. Everything is done the old-fashioned way, even the smiling car-hop service.

As I tried to keep my “Ray’s Special” double cheeseburger from dripping all over my car seats, I had time to process my day. While the trees may hide the horizon, those who step behind the “Pine Curtain” will find more than enough to make up for it. And however you spend your time in Lufkin—looking down at exhibits, up at the trees, or sideways along the trails—you’ll find adventure in every direction. So whether you follow my footsteps or forge your own path, I hope to see you on the road.

From the September 2015 issue

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