July 14-16, 1998: My Sister Judy Visits Dallas
April 17-20, 1998: Tony Hirsch Visits Dallas
Return to the Index for 1998

July 3-5, 1998
July 4th at Possum Kingdom Lake


Our friend, Mike Racke, invited us to come with him to Possum Kingdom Lake for the July 4th weekend, and we have agreed to go with him. This year, July 4th is on a Saturday, so Fred got off early from the greenhouses on Friday and we met Mike out in Irving at the house he shares with his mom, and helped him get his power boat and truck filled with gas and then the three of us drove out to the lake together.


Getting to Possum Kingdom

Possum Kingdom Lake is a reservoir on the Brazos River out in Palo Pinto County, about 65 miles west-northwest of Fort Worth, or about 100 miles from Mike's house in Irving. I had never been out this way before, although Fred and I have traveled west o I-20 a number of times to go to New Mexico and Arizona. We left the interstate at Weatherford and angled northwest to the lake.

Possum Kingdom Lake actually spreads across parts of three counties, and is the largest reservoir on the Brazos River and one of the largest in the state. It was also the first water supply reservoir constructed in the Brazos River basin. The lake has an area of approximately 17,000 acres with 310 miles of shoreline. It holds 750,000 acre feet of water- some 220 billion gallons, with about two-thirds of that available for water supply (due to the height and construction of the dam).

Mike had planned on using one of the public boat ramps near Graford, Texas; these are maintained by the Brazos River Authority and a small fee is charged. But they are convenient; Mike loaded everything he had brought (as well as the tent equipment he told us to bring) into his boat and we cruised out onto the serpentine lake. The Dam is at the eastern end of the lake, and the area where Mike wanted to camp was towards the western end of the lake, across from Possum Kingdom State Park (where there were facilities we could use).


A Description and Short History of Possum Kingdom

The Morris Sheppard Dam was a WPA project, begun in 1938 and completed in 1941, and its completion created the lake which too three years to fill to capacity. The dam is 2,700 feet long and 190 feet high and originally generated power (although this is no longer done). The dam was named for the then Texas Senator who helped obtain funding for the project.

The lake is located where the Brazos River cuts through the Palo Pinto Hills. The canyon thus formed provided a favorable site for impoundment of the reservoir and accounts for the unusual depth of the lake (150 feet), the clarity of the water and the stunning cliffs that almost completely surround the lower portion of the lake.

The most accepted story about the origin of the lake's name attributes it to Texas immigrant Ike Sablosky, who settled in Mineral Wells from Indianapolis; he came originally to see if the local water could cure his chronic stomach troubles. It did, apparently, and he stayed, going into the fur and hide business. He dealt in, among other things, possum pelts. His best suppliers of these hunted in the canyon of the Brazos and Sablosky began greeting them by saying, “Here are the boys from the Possum Kingdom.” Sablosky went on to be a prominent businessman in Dallas, leaving millions to charity before his death.

The lake is home to the famous Hell's Gate, a sheer break in the cliffs around the lake, and also Possum Kingdom State Park, which covers some 1500 acres at the west end of the lake. Possum Kingdom is a popular recreation area for people from Dallas, Fort Worth and the many small towns surrounding the lake. When we were there in 1998, I was impressed by how green everything was- even in mid-summer. But by 2010, the droughts of the 2000s began to result in wildfires, and the area has seen a repeated succession of them. As a result, open fires, like the ones Mike used to cook, are often banned.


Camping at Possum Kingdom

Mike is at least as "into" camping and the outdoors as Fred is (and as I am slowly becoming), and he came equipped with a tent and everything else he needed. He had Fred and I bring a tent as well.

Our Group at Possum Kingdom

Fred and I did not know everyone who we met during the three days we were out there, but most of them appear in the picture at left. You can pick out Fred and myself, of course, and that's Mike in the very back next to me. To the right of Mike in the picture is someone we have recently met- Tom Harris- (whom, I believe, we met through Mike). I do not know the names of the other three guys in the photo. I know they were friends of Mike's, and I also remember that they were not camping with us but were staying at some cabins across the lake. They came over to our campsite on July 4th, after Mike cooked breakfast that morning, and they spent the day right on through the fireworks that night. Click on the thumbnail images below to see a couple more pictures we took around camp:

We spent most of the day either hiking around the cliffs that surround Possum Kingdom lake, or zipping around the lake on Mike's boat. To do the hikes, Mike took us in the boat down the lake a ways where we pulled the boat up on shore and went off to do our hiking. We also went by the dam to have a look at it.


Swimming at Hell's Gate

One of the main attractions at Possum Kingdom Lake is the area known as "Hell's Gate." The "gate" is actually a break in the 100-foot high sandstone cliffs that surround the lower portions of the lake.

Mike and Fred Swimming Near Hell's Gate

Viewed from the lake itself, the cliff on the left is actually the point of an island; the cove behind it has another exit to the lake, other than the one immediately visible. People take their boats to the island, beach them, and then climb up to the very top of the cliff; you can almost always see people at the top of the cliff.

In the afternoon, we took snacks and refreshments and Mike took the boat and anchored some distance from the gate, moving in closer as the afternoon wore on.

Floating on the lake and getting in and out of the water was a lot of fun, even more so when Mike's friends brought another boat over to tie up with ours. We took quite a few pictures of the lake and of Hell's Gate during the afternoon; you can click on the thumbnail images below to see some of them:


Fourth of July Fireworks

One of the attractions of being here this weekend, of course, was to watch the fireworks on the evening of the Fourth.

Late in the afternoon, we got back on the boat and moved a quarter mile away to Bluff Creek Cove where the fireworks would be. It was already pretty busy, so we anchored a ways out into the lake and waited for darkness and the fireworks. We had some sandwiches and along about 9PM the fireworks started. Fred took a few pictures, and you can click on the thumbnail images at left to have a look at them.

The fireworks were neat, of course, and everyone enjoyed themselves. We motored back to the campsite (with Mike's friends going back to their cabin) and we spent another night on the shores of the lake. On Sunday morning we broke camp and headed back to Dallas after a very enjoyable weekend. Our thanks to Mike for the invitation and for all the work he did.

You can use the links below to continue to another photo album page.

July 14-16, 1998: My Sister Judy Visits Dallas
April 17-20, 1998: Tony Hirsch Visits Dallas
Return to the Index for 1998