Friday, April 5, 2013

Totally Texas -- Barking up the right tree

Tyler State Park

FM 14 (about 2 miles north of I-20)


Henderson High School classmate Paula posted pictures of East Texas dogwoods in bloom on her Facebook page, making me homesick for the little trees so hard to grow in Dallas. My brochure from Tyler’s Azalea Trails contained a mention of Tyler State Park’s Dogwood Days Tour, so I headed east on Interstate 20, in search of the fluttering white flowers I remembered.

About ninety minutes east of Dallas, the roadside prairie changed to woodlands spangled with snowy flowers.

But I wanted to see the dogwoods up close, not just give them a quick wave through the exhaust fumes of passing semis. I pulled into Tyler State Park. It was quiet on a weekday afternoon, quiet enough for the ranger at the entry to advise me on the best places to find dogwoods and find me a better map than the one I’d downloaded from the internet.

The tour is a self-guided drive along the park’s main drag, two-lane Park Road 16, looping around the park’s central sixty-four (some sources say sixty-five) acre lake. I drove slowly, wondering every hundred yards or so if I should chance stopping right now to jump out and trek up and down the hills covered with oak, pine, and of course, dogwoods. Although I saw fewer than half a dozen other vehicles, the park is more crowded on weekends, when its four campgrounds fill quickly. So I’ll save you from causing traffic jams by assuring you that the best dogwood viewing site has pull-out areas for vehicles.

Aptly named Dogwood Ridge is a camping area with paved parking and picnic areas on the lake’s south shore. The ground beneath the many dogwood trees is covered with a second delight for flower lovers -- colonies of native mayapples, known in the Middle Ages as mandrakes. Look for the single white flowers beneath the two umbrella-like leaves. A cautionary note -- poison ivy also likes it there. Keep both eyes open for the pest with its three-lobed leaflets.

Tyler State Park is open daily, year round, although the dogwoods are only in bloom midspring. Camping fees range from $14 to $26 per night, in addition to a $5 day charge for those ages 13 and older. Or just get a day pass and bring a picnic lunch. See

(Although the azalea festival in Tyler officially ends this Sunday, April 7, the cool weather and rain this week look likely to extend the flowers, which are now in full bloom. See

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