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Tradin' Up

Destination: Canton

By Elsa K. Simcik

Travel time from:

  • Austin - 4 hours /
  • Brownsville - 9.5 hours /
  • Dallas - 1.25 hours /
  • Houston - 4.25 hours /
  • San Antonio - 5.25 hours /
  • Lubbock - 6.5 hours

Scenic drives, phenomenal fishing and a whole lotta shopping make this region road-trip worthy.

Even though I’ve lived in Dallas on and off for the last six years, I had never been to Canton’s world-famous First Monday Trade Days. My reasons for resisting? Distance (sounds far away), timing (who shops on a Monday?) and the name (a flea market? I don’t even like garage sales!). Then my neighbor Carrie informed me that I was incorrect on all accounts: Canton is barely over an hour’s drive from the Metroplex; the trade days are actually the Thursday-Sunday prior to the first Monday; and most importantly, this ain’t no garage sale. So one crisp Friday morning, Carrie, our neighbor Susan and I headed east for our shopping pilgrimage.

Day One

Carrie was right. A quick hour-and-10-minute drive and we’re cruising past people toting carts with canvas lining. After parking and crossing the road to enter the market, we spot an unattended cart. “Oh, I guess we can just take these,” I say. “It’s like the grocery store.” A serious shopper quickly corrects me: “That’s mine,” she says. “You can rent your own for $12.” We decide to pass on this investment, which means we may as well be wearing signs saying, “Canton Newbies!”

The acres and acres that make up the market include indoor and outdoor booths, new items, old items, crafts, dishes, jewelry, clothes, rugs, furniture and antiques. I am surprised by a few things:

  • The number of “chip buffets” (as Susan calls them): About every fifth booth is a vendor peddling some sort of salsa or dip. They allow us to sample so much that it’s almost unnecessary to spend money on lunch.

  • The surplus of scented candles: We sniff hundreds of candles with names like “spring rain” and “twigs and berries.” Partial to the ones that smell like food, I stock up on several “banana nut breads.”

  • The abundance of signs: Many booths showcase hand-painted wooden signs, some that are good for a chuckle (“We don’t skinny dip, we chunky dunk!”) and some that are more sentimental (“Live well, laugh often, love much.”)

But most of all, I am shocked by how upscale this flea market is. It’s like a garage sale gone glam.

Unlike the hardy shopping veterans we see around us, the three of us grow weary after only six hours. Pleased with our purchases, we drive to the Pecan Tree Inn, where I will be meeting up with my husband, Frank, to continue our tour of Canton and Northeast Texas. As my shopping companions head back to Dallas, I settle in at the quaint bed-and-breakfast in Edgewood, just 10 miles from Canton.

I was lucky to find this B&B; lodging in Canton fills up fast for the trade days — sometimes months in advance. But this early 1900s home — with three bedrooms, two baths and a Texas-sized breakfast — is still a little-known hideaway. The owners, Ray and JoAnn Horton, opened in November of 2006, so it’s a little bit of a shopper’s secret. Still, on that night, we share the accommodations with four other women, all trade day die-hards. (They definitely had the carts.) Before Frank and I leave for dinner, JoAnn treats us to hot cocoa and the best cookies in Texas (my name for them, not hers).

We head back to Canton and stroll around the town square before dining at Robles, a Mexican restaurant. Because the place is packed with hungry shoppers, the service is slightly slow. Still, we forgive them because they get the Tex-Mex right.

After dinner, we hit “The Mountain,” which is sort of the trade days after-party. It’s a section that allows shoppers to browse and buy long after the regular market closes and even offers entertainment and food. By small-town standards it’s late (9:30 p.m.), so we drive back to the B&B for some R&R (and some bedtime cookies).

Day Two

In the morning JoAnn cooks us up a breakfast of biscuits and gravy, eggs and sausage. As we load up, she says, “That’s what I like to see, a full plate!” So pleased was she with our ability to gorge, she sends us on our way with more of those delicious cookies.

Armed with full bellies and plenty of snacks, we could have ventured back to the trade days (Saturdays promise more crowds and possibly more sales). We opt instead to make the five-minute walk to Heritage Park, a charming little preserved area from the late 1800s. They have an old school, a church and several houses once inhabited by influential Texans. We arrive too early for one of their daily tours, so after a quick glance around, we get going on the rest of our Northeast Texas road trip.

We drive 15 miles south to Eustace (pronounced Use-Tiss), home of Purtis Creek State Park. The 1,500-acre park includes a lake that’s big enough for fishing (mostly largemouth bass, on a catch-and-release-only basis), kayaking and canoeing. But at just 355 acres, it’s too small for major water sports like skiing.

Since it’s a little too chilly for water activities anyway, we opt to hike the 1.5-mile trail that park manager Justin Rhodes tells us about. Along the way we see the park’s primitive camp sites. They’re shaded and secluded, but that’s not what sets them apart from other sites we’ve seen. They’re also accessible via canoe, so campers don’t have to haul their gear along the trail; they can simply float it in.

While camping (primitive and otherwise) continues to be a popular attraction for Purtis Creek, Rhodes says that they’re working on increasing their day-use activities by adding a sandy beach and expanding the trails to allow for bikes. Plus, from March through July the park offers interpretive canoeing tours.

All that hiking makes us hungry, so we jump back in the car and head north on Highway 47 towards Wills Point. The 45-minute drive is a scenic one, full of sprawling grasslands, enviable houses and quaint towns like Phalba and Fairview.

As we drive into Wills Point we’re pleased not only to see that this “bluebird capital of Texas” has a historic town square but that they’re holding a festival. We join in, listening to the rockin’ tunes of a local band and consuming street-fair-style food like turkey legs and corn dogs. I even help out the Wills Point economy by purchasing a couple of handmade dish towels.

We hop back in the car and make the quick five-mile drive to Lake Tawakoni State Park. (Tawakoni is an Indian name, loosely translated to mean “river with the red banks.”) Just like Purtis Creek, this park is known for its bass fishing. And even though the lake is low, the park has hosted 30 tournaments in the last three years, including ESPN Bassmasters and Bass Champs.

Unlike Purtis Creek, this park is a hot spot for day-users. Park Manager Ken “Doc” Watson tells us that about 70 percent of his visitors come from the D/FW area and most don’t stay overnight. They come for the mountain biking, hiking and the sandy beach. As Doc says: “It’s the only beach on the lake. It’s nowhere near the water, but it’s a beach.” Doc says that on holiday weekends, they’ll have 1,200 to 1,400 people just for the day.

Because we have reservations at a cabin on the other side of the lake, we say goodbye to Doc so we can get there before dark. Turns out we timed it perfectly: The drive around Lake Tawakoni is beautiful as the sun sets. At our cozy cabin at Anchor Inn Marina, the view over the water is even more picture-perfect.

After sundown we head to Big D’s Steak and Bar-B-Que (a recommendation from Doc). There, we enjoy East Texas hospitality (“You want some more tea, honey?”) and delicious barbecue. The place, adorned with Texas flag curtains, is full of locals — one lady still in her curlers. As I snap pictures she holds her hands up to her head and exclaims, “I’m a mess!” The waitress explains my behavior by telling her, “Oh, she’s just a tourist, sweetheart.”

Day Three

It doesn’t get much better than waking up to the sunrise on Lake Tawakoni. As it pours through our cabin window, I make Frank wake up so we can take pictures. Since we’re awake anyway, we get on the road and drive through West Tawakoni. Soon after getting on the highway we spot a sign — The West Tawakoni Trade Days. “Now this is what I call a flea market!” I tell Frank.

If Canton’s First Monday Trade Days were the high-end, this was the other end. While some expert antiquers may find treasures if they dig, we aren’t willing to do that. We stay only a few minutes and then drive southeast towards our final destination, Terrell.

Our first impression of Terrell is that it’s a sleepy little town with lots of interesting historical buildings. Because it’s Sunday, most of the city is shut down. Lucky for us, though, this doesn’t apply to the Tanger Outlet Center. Since we’re not quite ready for lunch — we had polished off the rest of JoAnn’s cookies in the car — we stop in for some souvenirs.

After this final shopping spree, our hunger draws us to a sign that says “Seafood.” The restaurant is Fat Catz, and it’s a Cajun place with big, beautiful murals on the wall of ships and fish. Plus, the staff is full of that East Texas hospitality we’ve grown to love. One of the owners, Bill Ashley, comes up to our table and introduces himself, not because I’m writing an article, but because it’s our first time. We scarf down gator wings (really the same as buffalo wings), salmon (for me) and a chipotle crawfish wrap (for Frank). With our hunger satisfied it’s time to leave Terrell and our three-day journey behind.

After all the shopping and eating we feel a little bit poorer. But after finally getting a taste of this part of Texas, I’d say we’re a little bit richer, too.

Details

Lodging:

  • Pecan Tree Inn Bed and Breakfast, Edgewood, (903) 896-4945, <www.pecantreeinn.net>
  • Anchor Inn Marina, West Tawakoni, (903) 447-2256, <www.anchorinnmarina.com>

Restaurants:

  • Robles Mexican Restaurant, Canton, (903) 567-3533
  • Big D’s Steak and Bar-B-Que, West Tawakoni, (907) 447-9993
  • Fat Catz Kitchen, Terrell, (972) 563-8201, <www.fatcatzkitchen.com>

Parks:

  • Purtis Creek State Park, <www.tpwd.state.tx.us/purtiscreek>, (903) 425-2332
  • Lake Tawakoni State Park, <www.tpwd.state.tx.us/laketawakoni>, (903) 560-7123

Shopping:

  • First Monday Trade Days, Canton, <www.firstmondaycanton.com>
  • Tanger Outlet Center, Terrell, <www.tanger outlet.com>

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