A Place Called Uncertain

I sometimes resort to an unconventional method when planning a road trip — unfold a Texas map, adjust my bifocals, and then look for the most interesting place names. That’s the way my East Texas road trip came about. Actually, my wife Cheryl found the spot on the map and suggested we head in the direction of Uncertain.
I was so happy to learn that there is actually a place in Texas named Uncertain. How cool is that. It was settled, then. The only thing we were certain of was heading to Uncertain. Any other stops along the way would be at our whim. When Cheryl and I do this kind of road trip we don’t make lodging reservations ahead of time so that we can be free to head in any direction we want.
There are a couple of stories about how Uncertain got its name. One story suggests that the place was once known as Uncertain Landing and got its name because steamboat captains often had a hard time mooring their vessels there. Another story suggests that the town got its name before the border between the United States and the Republic of Texas was finally established. Before that time residents were uncertain about their citizenship.
Uncertain is an incorporated community located deep in the heart of East Texas. Situated along the shores of Caddo Lake, the largest natural lake in Texas, Uncertain is a little place with a whole lot of stuff going on. Locals offer boat tours that take guests through the largest bald cypress forest in the world. These big old trees give Caddo Lake a unique and mysterious personality.
You’ll find several small businesses in Uncertain and a non-denominational place of worship understandably called The Church of Uncertain. But don’t let the name fool you. This little house of worship is certain about the doctrinal essentials that make it vital to the spiritual health of the community.
There are a few places to eat in Uncertain but we chose to stop at a place called Shady Glade Cafe. This little joint has a cool local vibe and offers a great selection of home-style meals, including burgers. The big guy seated next to us ordered a chicken fried steak that was bigger than the plate. I ordered the Baconator with cheese, seasoned fries, and iced tea.
As he was leaving the big guy turned, took a deep breath, and said to me, “I can put away a lot of groceries, but I could not finish that chicken fried steak.” I can understand why. It was huge! As for my burger, it was really good, especially the generous meat patty that had a great flavor. There was a steady stream of customers the whole time we were there. That in itself is a good endorsement.
Bottom line — we enjoyed our drive through this small community where folks make their livelihood from catering to tourists and fishermen to Caddo Lake. The folks we met while there were all very friendly and helpful. So, one thing is certain — we enjoyed our brief time in Uncertain and glad that this was our first stop on our East Texas road trip.

Encino, Texas

Every now and then when I find myself somewhere between where I’m coming from and where I am headed I just can’t help myself — I have to turn off the main road to explore a back road. Even if I drive only a few miles down that road, I make new discoveries and always find interesting things to photograph.
Mesquite and BuildingThat’s what happened while recently traveling to South Texas. My wanderlust kicked in and beckoned me off the beaten path. So, I slowed down and turned on to a caliche backroad near the rural community of Encino. Located eighteen miles south of Falfurrias on Highway 281, Encino is regarded as a “census designated place” and not a town because it does not have a municipal government. You don’t even have to blink to miss it.
Encino TruckIn 1832, a man named Luciano Chapa acquired a Mexican land grant called La Encantada y Encina del Pozo, translated “Enchanted Place and Live Oak in a Hole.” The name of the grant reportedly was derived from a large live oak around which animals seeking shade wore down the land under the tree. In the early 1900s, the Encino community was established at the site as a roundup point for cattle raised by Mexican cattlemen.
Encino, TexasA historical marker erected near Encino by the Texas Historical Commission reads as follows:

El Encino del Poso

In this vicinity once stood a magnificent live oak tree that was an early landmark on the South Texas Plains for many years, noted for its size and its wide canopy. It was located in a large hollow created by livestock that gathered beneath its branches and by winds that eroded the exposed soil. El Encino del Poso was a landmark for early trails and land grants. It also served as the location of a stagecoach station and as the basis for naming Encino. The tree died in the 1890’s, before the formation of Brooks County, the victim of an extended drought.
Encino Windmill
Today, the backroads near Encino are accented by evidence of the passage of time — reminders that this is still hard country to tame. The proof is there in the form of weathered windmills, old shelters that look like they are melting into the brush, and assorted rusting remnants left behind by a previous generation. These old time-tarnished sights are starkly juxtaposed against a few newer homes and vehicles and farming and ranching implements.

In 1996, families in the area fought to keep the local elementary school open when the Brooks County Independent School District was looking for ways to cut costs from their overburdened budget. Even families without kids got involved in the fight to save the elementary school established in 1949.

The Dallas Morning News quoted the school principal as saying, “We don’t have problems with gangs. We don’t have problems with profanity. We don’t have problems they have everywhere else. The parents are trying to keep these kids in this type of environment as long as possible.” The involvement of families in the fight to keep their school reminds us that parents in small and large communities share a common concern about the welfare of their kids.

The next time you find yourself traveling south on Highway 281, take a moment to slow down and look to the left and to the right as you drive past Encino. While Encino and other tiny Texas towns may not look like much from the road, there is more there than meets the eye! Encino is home to families that have lived there for generations and who care very much about the next generation.