The first thing you need to know about Artesian Springs Resort is that there is nothing resort-like about it. Nestled way in the middle of bumblefuck Egypt, ten minutes from the closest concrete road, and just a few miles west of the Louisiana border, the privately-owned "resort" is advertised as a rustic weekend getaway from the stresses of city life, featuring roomy cabins, a crystal-clear artesian-fed lake, and pavilions perfect for family reunions or other gatherings.
Which is exactly how Texas Traveler ended up there.
The drive, which takes about three hours from Houston, leads you through charming towns such as Jasper and Lumberton (which my travel companion pointed out is the name of the town in Blue Velvet). But is also takes you through a small portion of the Big Thicket National Preserve and skirts the Neches River valley so it's not all boondocks and bad vibes.
As you approach Artesian Springs, you cross over Quicksand Creek. You also pass a correctional facility, signs warning you not to pick up hitchhikers. And when you get to Artesian Springs, you find that the crystal clear water is green-ish and not clear at all. And the facilities are far more rustic than resort-y.
Artesian Springs is just outside of Newton, Texas, a town with a population of less than 3,000. Even though it's about 80 miles inland, this part of Texas was hit extremely hard during Hurricane Rita almost four years ago. Seventy-five percent of the town's population was without electricity for up to a month. And a 2007 survey showed that almost 30% of the area's residents live under the poverty line.
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So it's understandable that Artesian Springs might not live up to the expectations of someone who is used to resorts like this.
But as a neighborhood watering hole, Artesian Springs seems pretty fun. There is a long, tall slide and two diving platforms that lead into a sandy-bottom pool that is cold enough to be refreshing but not freezing. Bikini-clad teenagers sing Taylor Swift on a karaoke stage near the concessions stand while a creepy middle-age DJ makes jokes about their looks. In the absence of a mall, or a skating rink, this is the teenage hang-out.
And prices for overnight stays aren't bad. The most expensive cabin sleeps six at $150, tent camping is $21 a night. RV hookups are available too. Day-only entry is $5 a person. Attractions include a sad-looking putt putt course, paintball and fishing.
Much like the Hill Country, Deep East Texas is lush, green and covered in gently-rolling hills. But unlike the Hill Country, there were no hipster vacationers in Newton, no cyclists on the hills, no wineries. Is it that tourists don't want to spend their money in a poorer part of Texas? Or that the poorer parts of Texas don't have the money to bring in tourists?