The corner pocket of Texas
"A region that takes a licking, keeps on ticking"
A city of about 110,000, Beaumont is a vertex of the region of Texas known as the Golden Triangle, which consists of Port Arthur, Orange and smaller bedroom communities including Nederland, Port Neches, Vidor and Lumberton. Passing through the area on major thoroughfares such as Interstate 10 or U.S. Highway 69, it is easy to see--and sometimes smell--that the region's backbone is the petrochemical industry. In fact, local historians maintain a museum on the southern edge of the city next to Lamar University marking the site of the famous 1901 oil gusher at Spindletop Hill, which propelled Texas into the modern petrochemical industry and caused a population explosion in Beaumont. (The oil field remains active today.)
Today, global industrial and petrochemical giants such as ExxonMobil, Total Petrochemicals, Motiva, Valero, BASF, DuPont and ConocoPhillips all maintain massive refineries in the Beaumont-Port Arthur-Orange area, and new liquefied natural gas terminals are near completion in nearby Sabine Pass and southwestern Louisiana. Energy markets are volatile, and the region's economy has been tied to the markets' cycles of booms and busts through the years.
Only 30 miles from the Louisiana border, Beaumont is usually a place to eat and use restrooms for travelers along Interstate 10. Their impression of the area from the highway is that it is a flat, boring, industrial, hot, humid mosquito-infested swamp (which is partially correct). I shared those first impressions. I had always passed through the city as a child when my family took trips to Louisiana and points eastward. During high school, I spent the better part of a summer at an academic program at Lamar University. After several weeks of breathing in sulfury fumes and swatting away mosquitoes, I vowed I would never return.
A decade later, I landed a job as a reporter at the local newspaper, the Beaumont Enterprise. When I arrived (August 2006), Southeast Texas was in recovery mode from the bruising swipe Hurricane Rita took at the area less than a year before. I wrote several stories chronicling recovery efforts done mostly by volunteers in the absence of any federal government assistance as most national resources and attention had been diverted to the victims of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. It was that spirit--everyone working toward a common goal of making their homes and lives whole again, helping each other regardless of race, class and other petty differences--that touched me. Since Rita, Southeast Texas has taken brutal swipes from two other hurricanes (Humberto in 2007 and Ike in 2008), and that spirit of bouncing back remains. I am no longer with the newspaper but I remain in Southeast Texas as I have found that the region does indeed have its hidden charms including restaurants, historic homes and museums surrounded by some of the most beautiful and unique natural scenery in Texas and the world, in my opinion.
Beaumont and Southeast Texas are more than just your first or last stop for gas and a meal in the state while headed elsewhere.
To me, the region is one of the most underrated historical spots along the U.S. Gulf Coast with enough museums to cater to everyone's interests. It is an outdoor sportsman's paradise: there's kayaking among moss-draped cypress trees along Village Creek and the Neches and Sabine rivers; saltwater fishing along the Gulf Coast and Sabine Lake with freshwater fishing a few hours away at major freshwater lakes such as B.A. Steinhagen, Sam Rayburn and Toledo Bend; and hiking along trails through some of the rarest plant life on the North American continent in the Big Thicket National Preserve. It is a cultural blending point: there are Cajun influences from South Louisiana to the east, Tex-Mex from the south and the lingering pioneer spirit from Deep East Texas to the north.
If you're passing through and have some time to spare, there are many reasons to give Southeast Texas a closer look. I promise you'll like what you find.