State Park Series: Toads, Marsupials and the Gates of Hell
When the Toadies' single “Possum Kingdom” first splashed across the airwaves in 1994, I had no idea its name referenced a lake 100 miles west of Fort Worth. Like many other Houstonians, I assumed it was another quirky song title from an equally quirky Texas band. Besides, most of Stevie Ray Vaughan's songs titles, lyrics and licks didn't always coalesce, so why would this one?
My adolescent assumption proved just as wrong as my belief that Pogs would outlast the pyramids, and 15 years later I had the chance to see the song's namesake for myself. I didn't roam the entirety of the lake's 300-mile shoreline, but a weekend spent biking and boating at Possum Kingdom State Park gave me enough of a peek to appreciate it. It also helped me to forget some of the creepier aspects of the Toadies' lyrics.
After acquiring the park's 1,530 acres from the Brazos River Authority, the Texas Parks & Wildlife Commission set out to transform the southwestern chunk of Possum Kingdom Lake into a family-friendly campground. A decade of planning and construction later, including a few duties carried out by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the park opened to the public in 1950. Like others before it, Possum Kingdom emphasized daytime and overnight outdoor recreation for interested Texans. Of course, the biggest pull is always provided by the lake.
Most park visitors flock to the lake's many scenic overlooks and swimming areas, and anyone wanting to camp near the water has to reserve a spot far in advance. The late fall and winter months aren't as popular, naturally, but the rush of the spring and summer seasons make for a long waiting list. Boat owners and renters often escape the park's shoreline and see the lake's many nooks and crannies.
One of Possum Kingdom's most popular lake-bound destinations is the “Hell's Gate,” a flat break in one of the area's many rock formations. It calls to mind the fire and brimstone of biblical lore, hence the dubious nickname, but boaters and swimmers love to flirt with its waters. It also reminded me of the darker aspects of the Toadies song, especially when the narrator tempts the listener with his “dark secret.” According to singer Vaden Todd Lewis, “Possum Kingdom” tells a story about cults and mysticism. Treading water in front of “Hell's Gate,” I began to understand what he and the rest of the band had in mind.
Despite the horrific imagery intended by devilish nicknames and sordid song lyrics, I concentrated more on Ike Sablosky. Many, including Texas Highways, hold the fur trader from the early 20th century responsible for the lake's name. He used to refer to the area's suppliers as "the boys from Possum Kingdom," and it stuck around.
Opossums enjoy many pastimes, like hanging around trees and playing dead. But much like the leprosy-carrying armadillo, the harry little buggers love playing cat and mouse with drivers on Texas' thousands of roadways. Perhaps my assumption that the park's namesake would have some presence was faulty, but I didn't see any during my weekend there.
Maybe the squeamish marsupials are the area's actual dark secret, the thing behind the boat house the Toadies were so afraid of. Having been scared witless by these nuisances numerous times before, I don't blame 'em.