The Choke Canyon State Park is a haven for fishermen, birders, and campers alike
Choke Canyon State Park is maybe one of the worst-kept secrets among those who love to experience the outdoors. There is so much to enjoy about the park that it's hard to decide what its best feature is.
"It all depends on who you talk to," says park superintendent Rudy Mesa. "To the fishermen, it's a great fishing lake, to those who like to view wildlife, it's a great birding place, and to those who just want to relax, it's a great place for camping."
On the coastal plains west of I-37 midway between San Antonio and Corpus Christi, the park impounds the Rio Frio a few miles upstream from where the Frio, Atascosa, and Nueces rivers merge near the community appropriately named Three Rivers. Built by the federal Bureau of Reclamation to supply water to Corpus Christi, most of the shoreline of the 12-mile-long and 5-mile-wide lake is persevered as the James E. Daughtrey Wildlife Management Area.
The state park on the south shore off TX 72 opened in 1981 and is leased from the federal bureau, Mesa says. Two units 8 miles apart make up the park the day-use South Shore Unit below the dam and the main Calliham Unit on a peninsula jutting out into the lake.
A thick mesquite forest that looks impenetrable except by the wiliest of coyotes provides habitat for varied wildlife. Herds of white-tailed deer wander around the park, and javelina and Rio Grande turkey populate the underbrush. In case you forget this is not a petting zoo, there are "Beware of Alligators" signs posted is some areas.
The park is the westernmost range of the American alligator. Mesa says the reptiles that can grow to 10 feet long are very timid and will leave you alone if they're left alone. "We have more than a few [alligators]," Mesa says. "There's a good chance you'll see one." Even with the resident 'gators, there are swimming areas and waterskiing on the lake.
You don't have to be a serious birdwatcher to appreciate the variety of birds around the park. More than 200 avian species have been spotted in the campgrounds. The area is the northernmost range of many species that call Mexico home including the Crested Caracara, a member of the falcon family. Often called the Mexican eagle, the black birds have distinctive white necks, tails, and patches at either end of their 4-foot wingspan.
There are a little more than 2 miles of well-maintained hiking trails in the park, which might not sound like a lot if not for the density of the wildlife. The park also has 55 campsites spread out on two bluffs above the lake. The 20 screened shelters look more like small cabins and come equipped with a picnic table, barbecue grill, fire ring, and a beautiful view of the sunset over the lake.
The park is popular with fishing tournaments, reunions, retreats, and group campouts because it is one of the few parks with a basketball court, tennis court, baseball field, group dining hall, and gymnasium. The rock-walled gym was once part of the Calliham community school.
Originally called Guffeyola, the name was changed to Calliham in honor of the rancher who owned the land. The community experienced a short oil boom in the 1920s when the population peaked at 400. Most of the buildings in the town were moved or flooded by the 26,000-acre reservoir. A small cluster of businesses at the entrance to state park including a small grocery and tackle store now claims the name.
The South Shore Unit of the park is a great place to swim and enjoy the view. There are two boat ramps in the unit and an observation pavilion at the south end of the dam. Visitors are not allowed on the dam. The camping area below the dam and at the North Shore Unit was closed due to budget cuts.
Choke Canyon State Park is a year-round destination that is busiest on weekends and nearly deserted on weekdays, Mesa says. To reserve the facilities, call 512/389-8900 or go to www.tpwd.state.tx.us. For information about the park, call 361/786-3868.
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