Latana Ridge Lodge, an hour's drive north of DFW, sits at the collision point of northern grasslands, eastern forests, and western prairies.
Lantana Ridge Lodge sits on a bluff high above Lake Ray Roberts, yet it is difficult to see even a little bit of the roof from the road leading to the retreat. From the lodge's deck a spectacular view of the sunset unfolds with the magnificent colors reflecting off the lake waters.
"When you first come here," says lodge owner Larry Lakes, "we want you to feel like you've driven for hours into the country with nothing around." A little more than an hour's drive north of Dallas and Fort Worth, the lodge offers comfortable amenities in the midst of a pristine forest in North Texas.
The land in this part of the country is red and littered with sandstone rocks. The landscape is shaped by gnarled oaks and thorny vines so thick that leaving the trail is a guarantee of needing a band-aid. The diversity of the region comes from its location at the collision point of northern grasslands, eastern forests, and western prairies.
Between the park and the interstate highway, the farm-to-market roads pass scenic horse ranches lined with white fences. When Lake Ray Roberts comes into view, it is a beauty in its own right. The shoreline of the 30,000-acre U.S. Army Corp of Engineers' lake is unspoiled by development with the exception of a couple of marinas and the Ray Roberts Lake State Park.
The lake was built in the 1980s as a water supply for the cities of Dallas and Denton and was named for a congressman from Denton. The lake is surrounded by two state park units, six satellite parks, wildlife management areas, wetlands, and waterfowl sanctuaries. The Isle du Bois Unit of the state park offers camping and other amenities while the Johnson Unit preserves the Jones Farm built in the 1850s. The park land is maintained by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TWPD) as part of a lease with the Corps of Engineers.
Jordon Park, which includes the Lantana Ridge Lodge, is one of the largest satellite parks at 500 acres. The site for the lodge was selected as part of a master plan created nearly 10 years ago by federal, state, and city planners. Larry Lakes saw an advertisement in The Wall Street Journal asking for development proposals with a 20-year lease on the property.
"In the back of my mind, I always thought the Dallas/Fort Worth area needed a getaway that was close by," Lakes says. "When I first saw the place, I fell in love with the natural beauty of the site."
It took nearly a year to get his proposal approved. Design and construction of the lodge and the 30 guest rooms took another two years. The first commercial accommodations on state park land opened on July 3 of this year. "Our goal is to offer retail recreation in an environmentally friendly way," Lakes says.
The lodge is surrounded by a natural arboretum of native plants. There is no telling what wildlife and birds might be spotted, including the possibility of seeing a bald eagle wintering at the lake. The cabins are on the 17-mile Greenbelt Trail with another 10 miles of side trails. Hikers, bicyclists, and horseback riders use the trail system nearly year-round. At the bottom of the hill, below the lodge, is a boat ramp leading into one of North Texas' best fishing lakes.
The centerpiece of the development is, of course, the lodge. Rather plain-looking from the parking lot, the high ceiling of the lobby is reminiscent of a mountain cabin. Antique windows that were rescued from Texas Christian University in Fort Worth illuminate the back wall and offer an unrestricted view of the surrounding forest and the lake in the near distance.
Off of the lobby is the On the Ridge restaurant. The food is so good here that it would be worth the drive even if it didn't have a spectacular view and surrounding wilderness experiences to build up an appetite. Chef Michael Lowery has taken great care to create a menu that will appeal to a variety of tastes and maintains a quality that keeps guests coming back. "We're at the end of a dead-end road. We don't get any drive-by traffic like most restaurants," Lakes says. "We have to be good to attract customers."
For those staying after the sun drops behind the hills on the other side of the lake, the rooms are as inviting as a mountain cabin. The two 15-plexes are built in long ranch-house style with dog trots to capture the breeze and eight-foot porches on the front and back.
The buildings are designed so eight of the rooms are at corners of the breezeways. To encourage the outdoors experience, all of the windows are open. Nothing says home away from home like the small army of chairs on the porches waiting for someone to prop up their feet.
Future plans call for a swimming pool. A camp store and library will open soon. There also is room for more cabins and a tent camping area. "After we've been here for 20 years, I want it to look like we've been here for 100 years because the woods have grown right up to our buildings," Lakes says.
Lantana Ridge Lodge is open year round. Rooms rent for $95 a night for double occupancy and offer queen, king, and double beds. There also is a conference room available for rent. The fall hours for the restaurant are Wednesday-Friday 11am-9pm, Saturday and Sunday 7am-9pm, and closed on Monday and Tuesday. For information, call 940/686-0261 or check out their Web site at www.lantanalodge.com
Coming up this weekend ...
Fayette County Airshow and Arts Festival in LaGrange at the Regional Air Center and on the courthouse lawn, Sept. 23-24. 800/524-7264.
Wendish Festival at the Texas Wendish Museum in Serbin features German and Czech food, a noodle cook-off, and lots of oompah music, Sept. 24. 979/366-2441.
Coming up ...
Texas Renaissance Festival brings 16th-century England to the fairgrounds outside of Plantersville on weekends, Sept. 30-Nov. 12. 800/458-3435 or www.texrenfest.com.
Gene Autry Day in Tioga, Autry's birthplace a few miles from Lake Ray Roberts, features chili cook-offs, fiddling contests, and lots of food and beverages, Sept. 30. 940/437-8034.