Monday, January 16, 2017

The Big Piney Woods

      One of our goals this winter was to save money for next summer's trip to Alaska, but we also planned to look at regions of Texas for a possible winter get away (or retirement) home.  The trip from Louisiana across into Texas follows the old Camino Real Trail.  During the Spanish Colonial Period this historic trail provided the only primary overland route from what is now Mexico and across the Río Grande to the Red River Valley in what is now Louisiana.  Along this route you cross Toledo Bend Reservoir on the Sabine River.  This marks the border between Louisiana and Texas.  You cross the Pendleton Bridge which spans over 2.5 miles, but looks much longer.  We only averaged about 11.1 mpg towing on our trip here, probably due to the freezing rain, sleet, snow, and constant driving adjustments therein. 
Photo courtesy of TDOT
      This was our first area of interest.  We camped at Ratcliff Lake in the Davey Crockett National Forest.   LOVE that our Senior Access Passes our fees were half price.  (Insert smiley face here). 
      This is a National Forest Campground with electric hookups and water which for 2 weeks totaled $184 (Senior Access Pass discounted)....not bad.  As you notice the firewood stacks in the above pictures of our campground and one other, this wood is provided FREE.  The USFS cuts down timber it needs to and the camp hosts buck it up and are happy to provide campers with all the firewood they need, spit or not!  Obviously in the winter this goes much farther as there are not nearly as many campers.  It will easily serve as our 'base of operations' for this stop.  We arrived in the midst of another cold front; some more of this winter's crazy weather.  It was 38 balmy degrees daytime highs with nighttime lows forecast in the mid 20s for our first weekend after arrival.  Our first two mornings, however, we awoke to lows around 16!  Thank God for sufficient propane, an extra space heater, and Polar Package Tank heaters. 
      The biggest lure for our possible relocation to Texas are the taxes, or lack of them.  There are no income taxes in this state and sales taxes are on service only, NOT taxes exist and they can be a boom or bust depending on where you look.  The Texas state sales and use tax rate is 6.25%, but local taxing jurisdictions (cities, counties, special purpose districts, and transit authorities) may also impose sales and use tax up to 2% for a total maximum combined rate of 8.25%.  That may seem a bit steep, but after spending time in Oklahoma, Missouri, and Louisiana I assure you it is not.  Texas is very retiree friendly especially so for us military retirees, and depending on any disabilities one can gain a property tax benefit as well.  As such we have narrowed our search to a couple of areas that may meet our expectations for a decent quality of living in our sunset years. 
      We begin in the area known as "The Big Piney Woods".  This is an area in the NE part of the state bordering Louisiana and including such towns as Lufkin, Nacogdoches, Conroe, Crocket, San Augustine, and Huntsville to name a few.  This country is heavily treed which accounts for it's name.  Lufkin is the center of some major forestry products industry.

      We have always loved the forest and this area appealed to us.  We concentrated primarily on the counties of Nacogdoches, Houston, Trinity, Polk, San Augustine, Jasper, Sabine, and Angelina.  We spent each day trip traveling looking into the real estate, taxes, values, and possible other 'plusses' for the area.  There is a VA Primary/Specialty Care Clinic located in Tyler (80 miles) and a VA Outpatient Clinic in Lufkin (23 miles).  The nearest VA hospital is in Waco (163 miles). 
      We spent many of our days here just driving and looking at areas, picking up real estate brochures along the way, taking pictures, having lunch, and then researching corresponding real estate broker sites online when we got home to collate our data.  We're not buying this year, but comparing the data from each area.  Next year we'll hunker down and look seriously within our final area of choice. 
      Within days we realized that any and all real estate information would only be available online or at one of the bigger cities (i.e.) Nacogdoches, Lufkin, San Augustine.  We tuned our search to 'about 5 acres' with a small cabin or home on it.  Waterfront is not a necessity, but being in the country is.  The rural areas of 'The Big Piney Woods' can be quite poor at times.  Our final numbers (within our specs) for the Big Piney Woods: 

Lufkin (Angelina County) area, Average value:  $122K  Taxes: $1445
Ratcliff (Houston County) area, Average value:  $115K  Taxes:  $1200
Groveton/Trinity/Apple Springs (Trinity County) area, Average value:  $99K  Taxes $950 
Huntington (Angelina County) area, Average value:  $122K  Taxes $1450
Broadus (San Augustine County) area, Average value:  $96K  Taxes $910
Brookeland (Sabine/Jasper Counties) area, Average value:  $118K  Taxes $640-$860
San Augustine (San Augustine County) area, Average value: $96K  Taxes $910
Nacogdoches (Nacogdoches Country) area, Average value:  $92K   Taxes  $1030

      All of these areas are easily within an hour drive (or less) from Lake Sam Rayburn or Toledo Bend Reservoir.  Lufkin, Huntington, and Nacogdoches are the main population areas offering shopping and amenities, but with higher prices as well.  There aren't than many homes that were built as weekend getaways, log homes, etc. unless you get close to the two lakes.  We have also considered buying land and then building our own.  We were a bit surprised at the lack of BBQ eateries throughout the area.  The one we did eat at (Bodacious BBQ, Lufkin) was decent, but not on the level to which we have become accustomed in Texas.  We were VERY SURPRISED with one of the finest burgers we have ever eaten at TX Burger.  Delicious beef (provided by Nolan Ryan Beef) and what a selection!  We did not look as far north as Palestine or Tyler or as far south as Conroe, preferring to keep our searches within the main areas of rural forests and lakes.  This is one of the three main areas we will look at during the next 3 months in the Lone Star State. 
      We did have several campfires while here in this beautiful forest and even managed to get a couple of steaks over it during our stay.  Other meals that I prepared here included Queso Fundido, Cholula Green Pepper Wings, Boudin Stuffed Cabbage w/Parmesano Reggiano, Crispy Fried Quail, Chef Salads, Lasyones Crawfish Pies, and Boudin with Rice, Peas, and Gravy. 
Queso Fundido

Crockpot Boudin Stuffed Cabbage w/Ricotta, Corn, and Garlic Bread
Georgia Crispy Fried Quail w/Garlic Sour Cream Smashed Taters & Asparagus

Boudin, Peas, Taters, Brown Cajun Gravy

      After our initial weekend the weather and temps increased significantly.  Daytime highs easily in the mid to high 70s with lows at night in the low 60s.  Roux and Bones LOVED the area and we gave them both several hours outside time daily to enjoy themselves (Squirrels/Racoons/Possums 39, Roux and Bones 0).  It did, however, rain some each of the last 5 days we were there.  Diesel in the area ranged from $2.29 to $2.69 so we were careful to top off our tanks when available.  From here we take a short break and travel to Salado, TX to visit our good friends, Jody and Juanita Arnold for about a week.  I'm sure Barb and Juanita will reinforce the barricades within the sewing room leaving Jody and I to our own mischief.  Might be a fair trade, especially if chicken gizzards are involved. 

“The life you have led doesn’t need to be the only life you have.”
                                                    Anna Quindlen
WiFi courtesy of Verizon MiFi

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