We discovered almost as soon as we parked in the NAS at Corpus Christi, that our short time here would only be enough to barely get a taste of all this area has to offer. Especially in winter, the south Texas coast draws many snowbirds from all over the country ready to experience the delights of a warm seacoast location for an extended stay.
For years, Mo had read about the draw to the South Texas Coast for retirees and wanted to see the area. Port Isabel, South Padre Island, and Brownsville destinations were originally on the list of places for us to go on this trip. Initially we actually planned to drive south for a long day trip to explore from our NAS location, but discovered that the trip to South Padre Island required a 400 mile round trip inland and back out to the southern end of the island which is no longer connected in any way to the northern end.
Visiting the National Seashore was much higher on our list than checking out giant high rise condos on South Padre Island, and it didn’t take many internet searches for us to make that decision. Instead, we stayed fairly close to our campground, taking each day to explore a different part of greater Corpus Christi.
The NAS is at point A on the google map, and other sites often required a bit of backtracking. We actually got pretty good at figuring out how to get in and out of the base and onto the network of one way roads that parallel the main freeway that crosses from Corpus Christi Bay to Padre Island.
On our first full day here, we decided to just try to get our bearings, do some driving, and attempt to understand a part of the world that was completely new to us. Driving….west? east?? (this place is still a directional challenge for me) oh yes…It was east and then north….we crossed the Laguna Madre, a large brackish water lagoon that extends the full length of Padre Island, the longest natural barrier island in the world, and lies between the island and the mainland.
These barrier islands are incredibly important on coastlines that are susceptible to hurricanes, stopping the major surge of water before it inundates the mainland with its full force. Mustang Island is north of Padre Island, an additional island in the chain of many such barrier islands. Mustang Island is home to a state park, some official paddling trails on the bay side, and a long, level open beach for strolling. The beach is also for driving, a new concept to me except for a moment in Daytona Beach.
Here the beach drive makes sense. The Gulf water is the mother of all, and tire tracks along the beach are obliterated with each movement of the water. There are access roads from the main island highway that enter the beach between the dunes at several intervals. 4 wheel drive isn’t required, but there are warnings about getting stuck in the sand, and we did see a few stuck cars.
What was surprising, though, was how open and empty the beach seemed, even with the option of driving. Cars and people were few and far between, punctuated rarely by a motorhome, and pickups with huge fishing poles mounted on their bumpers. I think fishing is the big draw in this part of this area. I had no idea what a sheepshead was but daughter Deborah caught one on this very beach. That is one scary looking ugly fish! those teeth!!
We drove the beach slowly, enjoying the gentle surf and birds, and then continued into Port Aransas to find the free ferry that crosses the bay in just a few minutes to Aransas Pass. It is amazing how efficiently the workers manage the load, and when we left town on Monday morning, they managed our motorhome and toad with as much ease as they had managed our previous trips with just the baby car.
I had heard from Erin that there were “whoopers” just outside Goose Island State Park, and armed with well written directions, we drove north through Fulton Beach, across the bridge and out beyond the state park to try to find the birds. At the time, I kept getting comments saying, “don’t miss the whoopers!”, so I figured I had better make the effort. After we found the pair, resting in a small draw on a large field of private land, I did some searching and discovered that I had a very fuzzy image of 2 of only 457 birds that are known to exist. Well. Alright then!. Being on private land, we were not able to walk close, and my lens just couldn’t quite get there. But with the rarity of these birds, I feel pretty lucky to have any photo at all.
We were just a short distance from the famous “Big Tree”, a live oak that is more than 1,000 years old. Folks have spent a huge amount of time and energy taking care of this tree. I can imagine Sherry trying to hug it, but she couldn’t get close enough with the protective fences. The stories of the hurricanes and development that this beautiful old tree has survived are uncountable.
Ambling back through Fulton Beach, we found a moderately recommended restaurant on the water for lunch. Alice Faye’s had not a sign of “fish and chips” on the menu, the main reason Mo and I were searching for a restaurant. Coastal locations set the mouth to watering for some real fish and chips. Instead, once again, we found lots of shrimp and oysters, and the catch of the day, fried or naked, was pollack, and was a bit pricey for a spontaneous lunch. Instead, I had some shrimp which was OK and Mo had a French dip which was actually pretty fantastic.
We were home early enough in the afternoon on that day that I could take full advantage of the free washers and dryers at the campground to once again freshen up all the rugs and blankets and anything else that might have a trace of kitty hair on it. Loved that most of all about that campground, I can tell you!
On another day we opted to go downtown to check out the city of Corpus Christi. There are some quirkie things about this city that are a bit hard to figure out. Some areas are truly gorgeous, and the seawall and beautiful kiosks provide wonderful photo ops with all the reflections.
It is worth seeking out the beautiful Watergarden falls on the grounds of the museum. The approach to the waterfall is a rippling stream with stone square blocks that create a small rapid. The sound is gentle and lovely. There is nothing quite like the roar of the falls down the steps within the circle of the cascading water. It is as wild and loud as many waterfalls I have experienced. The artist understood sound as a work of art as well as vision.
In that same area were large expanses that appeared to be devastated by a hurricane and nothing had been rebuilt. Felt a bit strange. The large bridge in the photo above is the Harbor Bridge that crosses Corpus Christi Bay northeast to Portland, Texas.
Looking up the history, the only really big hurricane was in 1919 and the areas we were seeing were all warehouse districts at that time. In the same vicinity is Heritage Park, a delightful project of 9 beautiful huge homes, relocated from various parts of the city to this little neighborhood. The craziest thing we saw was the old Nueces County Courthouse, built in 1914, with some pretty amazing historical moments in its past. Abandoned in 1977, the huge and beautiful building sits empty and rotting behind a chain link fence right near the downtown part of the city.
Best part of the day for us was a visit to the Railroad Seafood Station and Brewery downtown on Chaparral. The atmosphere was typical brewery, once an old warehouse, with lots of open industrial stuff on the ceiling, dark colors and wooden tables and booths. I tried one of their current brews, a blond something that was pretty hoppy, but just as our wonderful waiter told me, after three sips it was perfect. The menu was fabulous, but of course, no fish and chips. Mo opted instead for some kind of specialty onion rings, with a bit of sweetness and homemade tartar sauce with very finely chopped veggies.
I opted for the the specialty coconut shrimp and the two sides of veggies and potatoes I chose with a homemade sweet chili sauce were what Sean, our waiter, called the Holy Trinity of food in that restaurant. He wasn’t exaggerating. Those little red potatoes were buttery smooth, with edges crisped and roasted with perfectly caramelized onions. The fresh veggies were tender crisp and only lightly seasoned with herbs and lemon. The home made chili sauce was the perfect hotness for the best coconut shrimp ever to pass my lips. Remember, I ate coconut shrimp a few years ago in Key West!. I ended the meal with Sean’s own homemade key lime pie. Sean and I exchanged email addresses and he wants me to write to him when I get to Key West to let him know if their pie is any better than his.
Yes, it was perfect. Soft yellow as key lime should be, with a crust thin enough that it didn’t overpower the pie, and without that fake cheesecake taste and texture you now get in some key lime pie recipes from various locations. Yes, it was a meal to remember, and it was a good thing I didn’t completely wear out my swooning abilities because our meal with Erin and Mui was the very next day!
If you click on my google photos link on the left side of the blog, there are a ton of photos there if you are interested.
Next up: Padre Island National Seashore and a morning kayak at Shamrock Cove