After our stay in San Antonio, our original plan was to head to Kerrville and Fredericksburg, popular spots in Texas Hill Country. But as is often the case with us wandering gypsies, plans are quickly changed on a whim. All it took was our next door neighbors at Traveler’s World on one side to recommend Pioneer Beach Resort in Port Aransas and our neighbors on the other side to recommend Bentsen Palm RV Resort in Mission, TX in the Rio Grande Valley (RGV). A few phone calls to cancel existing reservations and to make new reservations and our plans were quickly altered.
Our drive south from San Antonio along I-37 eventually took us through Corpus Christi where we were not surprised to see several oil refineries (Citgo, Flint Hill Resources, etc.) and drilling rigs in the midst of what appeared to be a densely populated major retail area. Crossing over the John F. Kennedy Memorial Bridge and the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), we finally arrived on Mustang Island and made our way 12 miles north to Pioneer Beach RV Resort (our review).
Port Aransas is located a few miles further north on the northern end of the island and is the only established town on the island. Being a popular winter destination for fishermen, snow birds and spring breakers, every year between March and September, the town’s population swells from less than 3,500 to more than 5 million visitors. So glad we were here during the off season!
A short walk from our site (#310) at Pioneer Beach RV Resort (our review) was a boardwalk to the beach so we knew that a daily walk along the shore would be in order. On either side of the boardwalk were rolling dunes which were densely covered by vegetation composed of grasses such as sea oats, bitter panicum and gulf dune paspaluma and flowering plants such as beach morning glory, beach evening primrose, railroad vine, prairie senna, and gulf croton. Different than the sparsely covered dunes in the Northeast, Alabama and Florida.
No squeaky, barking white sand beach here like what we have experienced on the beaches in Florida or the pale tan sands bordering the sparkling waters of Narragansett Bay in RI. Here the beach was different than what we are used to – the sand was more of a dark brownish color, definitely not quite as inviting (at least to us) as the Florida, Alabama or New England beaches we’ve frequented and very hard packed (making walking easy). And as the waves crashed against the shore, the water had a brownish tint to it, probably as a result of the sand constantly churning from the barrage of waves that pound the coastline.
Now the hard packed sand was quite advantageous from a walking perspective but from another perspective it was somewhat of a hindrance, at least for us. We’ve enjoyed walking on a lot of beaches in our lives and not once did we ever have to worry about vehicular traffic.Texas allows driving on the beach (at least around these parts) so we had to share the sand with beach buggies, golf carts, trucks and cars. We always had to look both ways when crossing the beach to get to the boardwalk. This most certainly was a first for us! Great for the fishermen or for parents with kids and a lot of paraphernalia as they could drive their cars along the shore, park them (a $12 parking permit is required), then bring out the lawn chairs, toys, umbrellas or fishing rods. Must be crazy during the peak season.
With most of the access points along the beach being boardwalks, it took us a few days to figure out how cars were able drive on to the beach. Finally we discovered there are a number of access roads off of TX-361 starting with Access Road 1-A up to Access Road 6 which is further south on Padre Island. As the saying goes “when in Rome, do as the Romans do” so for a fleeting moment we thought about renting a beach buggy for a few days but with the not so great weather, we quickly ruled that out. We did however “do as the Romans do” and drive on the beach in the van. Here’s a You Tube time lapse video of that experience. Although it looks like we were driving on a road, it was actually very hard packed sand.
Much to my hubbie’s chagrin, breakfast restaurants were far and few between in the Port Aransas area. One morning we ventured to Eats Port A in Port Aransas. As we pulled into the parking lot, we debated going in – no other cars were in the parking lot and it totally lacked curb appeal. But with no other apparent choices in the area, we decided to go in anyway. Darn, no unique ambiance inside either.
On the menu, there were a variety of choices which sounded good but even the most basic dish was priced over $10 and everything else ranged in price from $11 to $18. I had the Smoked Salmon Benedict ($14.95) which was house smoked salmon topped with two poached eggs served on an English muffin, then finished with lemon dill hollandaise and Rob had the Brisket Hash ($14.95) which was house smoked brisket sautéed with red onions, bell peppers & red potatoes topped with smoked cheddar and two eggs (it was unnecessarily rich with the brisket literally swimming in butter). Coffee was $2.95. The food was adequate (barely) but without the ambiance, it definitely wasn’t worth the price in our opinion (oh, did I mention the blaring rock music that was playing?). Maybe during peak season we would have felt differently. But it was difficult to justify spending $38.75 (including tax) for breakfast! Ouch! Oh, what a nice dinner that would have bought! Later we found the local Whataburger served a nice fast food style breakfast which was quite satisfying (much better than McDonalds) for a much more reasonable price.
Several parks in the area are well worth a visit. Roberts Point Park was a great place to watch tankers navigating the shipping channel or dolphins as they bow-surfed in front of the cargo ships and tankers. The view was somewhat marred by two gargantuan oil rigs on the other side of the channel.
Charlie’s Pasture Nature Preserve, named after early resident Charlie Bujan who allowed the locals to graze their cattle on his property, offers nearly 3 miles of crushed granite hike and bike trails and boardwalks over the algal flats. Nice spot! Must be a great birding spot but we really couldn’t tell – it was too cold and windy so we didn’t stay long. We planned to return on a better day but that never happened.
Gizmo was having a few medical issues so he had the joy of visiting a vet in Corpus Christi twice. Diagnosed with a urinary tract infection, we had to leave him there on both visits for several hours. Not to worry after a shot of antibiotics, he was quickly back to his normal lovable self. After dropping him off, to kill time, we headed to Corpus Christi for breakfast at Andy’s Country Kitchen. What a cute place! It even had a train circling the dining room overhead. And so much more reasonable than Eats Port A! Once we had ordered the waitress brought over two complimentary blueberry muffins. Nice touch and so delicious! I had a western omelette ($7.95) and Rob had corned beef hash and eggs ($7.50). Excellent service and really good food. Definitely a restaurant that we would return to if we are ever in the area again.
Our breakfast was followed by a trip to a nearby HEB Plus (named for the founder Howard Edward Butt), a wonderful South Texas grocery chain which competes with Walmart’s Supercenters. This was a favorite store of ours while in Texas, even better than Florida’s Publix. HEB Plus is touted as being “your one stop for electronics, toys, housewares, grilling and outdoor, party supplies, apparel and more”. Some of the stores have a Cooking Connection area where there’s a great selection of tempting gourmet items (truffle essence or salt anyone?) to browse while one of their chefs prepares HEB recipes and offers samples. Be prepared to spend more money than you expected here! Quite the place! Great prices on produce here, for example; Limes 10 for $1 and 20 pound bags of Texas Red Grapefruit for $4. They also had some great coupon deals on appliances and cookware. We bought a solid cast iron dutch oven for $12 and a couple of induction ready ceramic lined fry pans for $10.
After dropping Gizmo off at the vet for a recheck on another day, we explored another barrier island with reported beautiful white sand beaches. Padre Island, located directly south of Mustang Island, is the largest of the Texas barrier islands and is the world’s longest barrier island. At approximately 113 miles long and 1.8 miles wide, it is the second-largest island by area in the contiguous United States, after Long Island in New York on the Atlantic Coast.
Seventy miles of sand-and-shell beaches, windswept dunes, endless grasslands, tidal flats and the nesting beach for the endangered Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles which are protected under the jurisdiction of the Padre Island National Seashore. There is a 5.5 mile paved entrance road which is accessible to all vehicles that leads to the Malaquite Visitor Center where there is an information desk, bookstore, informative exhibits, picnic tables, two observation decks and rest rooms. What a beautiful beach! Be aware that the majority of the island south of milepost 5 can only be accessed by a 4 wheel drive vehicle.
Not very far from the Visitor Center and a mere 100 yards from the Gulf is Malaquite Campground which has 42 sites suitable for RVs, 6 for compact vehicles and 25 for tents. This campground has no hookups but it does offer a water-filling station and a dump station. The fee for camping is $8.00/night or $4.00/night with an Interagency Senior or Access Pass in addition to the park entrance fee. No reservations here, it’s first come first serve. No amenities, it’s definitely all about the location, location, location here!
Except for a few sunny days, during most of our stay we were ensconced in clouds, fog and drear which wasn’t conducive to a lot of sightseeing. On one of the better days, we took the free ferry from Aransas to Aransas Pass which is about a two minute ferry ride. Depending on how many ferries there are running at any given time (there were six the day we went), there could be a wait so be sure to check before you go. There are also several digital signs showing the wait times on a few of the major roads. Despite the officially posted wait times however, it seemed the wait was more of a matter of timing or luck. On one trip we waited almost a half hour, on another we drove right on the boat with a zero wait – in both cases the official wait time was 15 minutes.
Once across the channel, we headed to the cute little seaside town of Rockport which according to Roadside America is home to the world’s largest blue crab, made of aluminum and fiberglass and standing at 27 feet from the back fin to the front claw and 25 feet of legs from end to end.
After touring around the quaint town, we grabbed lunch at the Bakery Cafe. The King Ranch Chicken($7.49), a popular Tex Mex dish (canned diced Ro-Tel tomatoes with green chiles, cream of mushroom soup, cream of chicken soup, diced bell pepper, onion, and chunks or shreds of chicken) that I had was very good. Rob had beef stew ($6.99). Tasty comfort food for a chilly day, good service and reasonable prices.
Approximately 40 miles from Rockport is the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, a prime viewing spot for the endangered whooping cranes which migrate to Port Aransas from the Northwest territories of Canada. It is also the nesting area for critically endangered Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles. Due to time constraints, we didn’t visit the refuge, perhaps on our next trip to the area.
Prior to our departure however, back in Port Aransas, we did visit the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center where a two level observation tower offers a panoramic view of the pond and the surrounding flats. On a sunny, warm day, alligators have been reported sunning themselves but unfortunately it was a chilly, very overcast day so no alligators were in sight. It was disappointing that we didn’t have an opportunity to partake in their free birding tour which is offered every Wednesday at 9:00 a.m. However, we did see white pelicans, brown pelicans, a blue billed duck (not sure of name) and a number of other birds.
Before we knew it, our 11 day stay here was over. Although we enjoyed it here, I think the weather put a slight damper on our visit or perhaps it just seemed somewhat anticlimactic after our awesome stay in San Antonio. Although it didn’t make it to the top of our favorites list, a return visit here as well as other Texas locations along the Gulf Coast will probably still be in our future.
You probably already guessed where we were headed next, yep, the Rio Grande Valley. Stay tuned to hear about our adventures there!