Uncertain, TX A Swamp Overture

There is a city named "Uncertain". What an interesting name! And it is located at an enormous lake and surrounded by the world's largest cypress forest. It also just happened happened to be fall. I had to go!

Good thing my husband is always up for an adventure. We spontaneously decided on a road trip, threw gear and provisions into the car, and off we went. After two days of driving and 1,100 miles of Americana, we were greeted by the last of the fall colors.

View from Backwater Jacks

The arrival was exhilarating, sunny, blue skies, and fantastic scenery. Even before checking into the cabin, I pulled out my camera to capture the vista.

We rented a fishing cabin (Backwater Jacks, image from their site) and hired a guide with a boat ("River Rat" John Crawford). Both turned out to be first rate.

So, where did we go? Uncertain is located in East Texas, close to the Louisiana border. The population is only around 100, and its main attraction is Caddo Lake. The city's name was originally "Uncertain Landing" because of the difficulties steamboats had in anchoring their vessels there. Supposedly, it has the oldest existing marina in the state of Texas (Johnson’s Ranch) established in the early 1920’s.

If you'd like to learn more about Uncertain, check out Amazon's eponymous documentary, excellent and recent. And if you are still thirsty for more, plenty of movies have been filmed around Caddo Lake. "Walker, Texas Ranger", "Southern Comfort", "Soggy Bottom, USA", "The Bayou Boy", to name a few.

It was my first time in this area and basically a scouting trip. Due to time constraints, we decided to focus on the Big Cypress Bayou on the western edge of the lake, and integral part of the largest cypress forest in the world. Some of these cypress trees are well over 400 years old. Following are a few images from this trip, to give you a flavor of what it was about.

Caddo Lake area has an abundance of cypress trees, plant life, birds and wildlife. Bird watchers have discovered about 240 species of birds at Caddo Lake, and the wetlands forms a crucial part of the migratory route for many species. Sadly, we only saw a few birds. Fishing and hunting are the main recreational activities at Caddo. We heard more gunshots than we saw birds. But, we might have been just unlucky.

Lone Egret
A Chorus Line
The magic of cypress trees in fall colors.

I really loved the fall colors, even though an infestation with bagworm had diminished the leaves and therefore a lot less color was showing. With or without colors, swamp forests are a favorite of mine and I enjoy spending time in them.

Not all wide-based (pyramidal) trees are cypress trees. Black tupelo trees (nyssa sylvatica, or sour gum trees) look very similar, but are a distinct species. The easiest way to spot the difference is by looking at the leaves. Tupelo trees have actual leaves, whereas cypress tree foliage looks like scaly overlapping hair-like appendages, similar to braids attached to twigs. Tupelo trees only have one knee, whereas cypress trees can form multiple knees.

Tupelo Gold

Tupelo fall foliage can be spectacular, with many shades of yellow, orange, bright red, purple or scarlet that may appear on the same branch. A tupelo tree can live up to 650 years and during its lifetime will contribute to honey production and supply berries as essential food for birds.

My Yellow Belt

Not every swamp scene is bright and colorful. The early morning boat rides made for some spooky scenes with the fog rising and barely any sunlight. Even under brighter conditions, dead trees and stagnant water can make you think twice whether to enter.

Where is the Fairy?
Eerie Mornings

When sunlight comes through, it covers everything with a golden wash.

All the Brass
"It looks like a place where you could be easily lost, stranded for eternity in the land of ghosts and fables." (Unknown)

Spanish moss is abundant and gives these swamps their fairytale-like quality, so dreamy and mysterious. Spanish moss is not an invasive species and does no harm to the tree. It actually serves as an indicator for air quality since it will not thrive in polluted air. Like everything else, it is in decline, and with it the habitat it provides for spiders, bats, snakes and birds.

Morning at Mill Pond

Caddo Lake is named after the Caddo Indians who inhabited this area. The first white people's commercial development came with the invention of steamboats and after annexation of Louisiana and Texas by the US. The next wave of development happened after oil was discovered underneath. The world's first over-water oil platform was completed in Caddo Lake 1911. After that, an ammunition plant polluted large parts of the lake. It was finally closed in the 1990s. Relentless deforestation, over-development, and pollution continue to destroy the fragile ecosystem.

Giant Salvinia covering the lake surface (image courtesy of Google)

These formerly vast wetlands are critical for migrating birds and indigenous fish. The effects of their reduction is felt globally. Several invasive plant species have also made their way into Caddo Lake. The latest threat is Giant Salvinia, a native to Brazil. It is a serious threat. Due to its rapid growth, it can severely limit fishing and boating access and displace native beneficial plants that are used as habitat for fish. Once established, salvinia is almost impossible to remove. Several courses of action have been taken, the most promising one being the introduction of salvinia-eating weevils in recent years.

But, back to the great beauty that still exists. When I see this swamp forest, a big broadway orchestra comes to my mind. Many players contribute to its success. Soloists, backup singers, chorus, brass, strings - everyone plays their part, and only together they can create their true magic. Looking at it this way, we might better appreciate the role of the less flashy players.

Swamp Musicians

As you might know, forest scenes, in general, are difficult scenes to photograph. Dense tree stands, low-light conditions mixed with bright highlights create very busy images, and the many lines give few resting spots for the eye. Photographing in the Big Cypress Bayou was even more challenging. The water level was too high to use a tripod. I ended up shooting hand-held from a moving boat - something you never want to do. On top of it, it was freezing cold on our early morning outings. I could barely operate my camera. But challenges are what makes us grow. And isn't it our job as artists to bring order to chaos? It took me almost two months to really "see" the images, to be able to develop them. What eventually helped, was seeing them large scale on the walls of the virtual gallery I created. You should see it too, for a different experience. The exhibition is titled "Swamp Overture". It displays many of my favorite images from his trip and you can visit it by clicking here. No admission, and you can visit as often as you like.

Ah, life on the bayou ...

Our stay was way too short and we'll have to come back another time. There is so much to explore in this area. With two days of driving ahead of us, we said goodbye to the bayou and the hospitable people who took care of us during our stay. We hope to reciprocate.

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Created By
Hilda Champion


Images by Hilda Champion unless noted otherwise.