1-14 to 1-19-2014 Coastal Corpus Christi

the beach on north Padre IslandWe 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 Captureand the mainland.

driving on the beach on north Padre IslandThese 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.

Padre Island and_074What 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!!

Padre Island and_067We 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.Padre Island and_150

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.Padre Island and_127

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.  Padre Island and_122Coastal 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!Corpus Christi_014

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.  Corpus Christi_012

The Art Museum and Science Museum are at the end of the Ocean Drive, and the area seems a bit deserted, especially on a Saturday. Corpus Christi_025

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.01-18-2014 Corpus Christi

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.

the Nueces coutrhouse was abandoned in 1977 built in 1914Best 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.

something extra tasty about these onion rings and spicy tartar sauceI 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.

tender roasted potatoes with caramelized onions, sweet chili sauce for the coconut shrimp and delicate tender crisp veggies in a lemony light sauceYes, 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

1-13 and 1-14 2014 Big Bend to Seminole Canyon to Corpus Christi

I guess it is time for a reminder.  Mo had forgotten this little trick and she reads the blog often.  Hover over the photos for the caption, and if you click on them you will get a larger image.

inside the visitor center at Seminole CanyonSeems as though Big Bend struck a popular note for blog readers.  Lots of folks have either visited or wished that they could and I have enjoyed reading the comments about the different ways of visiting the park.  Some have immersed for a much longer time than we did, doing many of the hikes we couldn’t.  Others traveled through for just a day-long road trip, and still managed to see the Scenic route, Santa Elena Canyon, and the Chisos Basin.  Many expressed a desire to return for more time.  That is my desire as well, and it was with a bit of nostalgia that we packed up on Monday morning getting ready for the long drive across south Texas to our next destination.

rest stop texas styleAfter last night’s sunset, with all the clouds milling about, it was surprising to wake to perfectly clear skies and a LOT of wind.  The previous day driving through the park, the winds had been up to 35 MPH, and on the high exposed ridges, sometimes it felt as though the kayaks would just lift us, car and all, and dump us into the desert.  Didn’t happen, of course, but we were a bit worried about those winds, so Mo double checked all the rigging for the bikes and kayaks before we left on our next leg of the journey.

From point A at Rio Grande Village in Big Bend, to point F at the NAS Corpus Christi is 557 miles, more than we wanted to do in a day.  I spent some time last summer trying to figure out this route and where to stay, but it was again with the great letter from MBZ that I found Seminole Canyon State Park, (Point B).  At first I thought I wouldn’t bother to make a reservation, but thought again and did so.  I was glad I had when we arrived Monday afternoon and discovered the park nearly full.map across texas

The drive was uneventful, the Panther Junction highway north to Marathon travels through large alluvial desert landscapes that were a bit less than spectacular.  There was dust in the air from the winds, but thankfully those winds died down a bit during the day and we had no problems.

Seminole Canyon_004In Marathon we filled up the MoHo at 3.53 per gallon, a mistake since we could have continued a few miles farther to Sanderson where fuel was back to the going price of 3.07.  I tried to look up gas prices with Gas Buddy, but somehow missed the opportunity at Sanderson.  The only station at Marathon was quite small, and I asked the owner if it was the only station in town.  He replied, “Now it is, that burned down building next door was a Shell station owned by my brother.  We think it was lightning or something and it burned down a couple of weeks ago”.  That seemed a bit interesting, I thought. Two gas stations owned by brothers in a little town and one burns down?

The route was uneventful, with large spaces filled with emptiness punctuated by an occasional ranch gate and somewhat dull wide landscapes.  This part of Texas was as empty as Big Bend, but instead of being really empty, there were fences and telephone poles, and garbage on the roadsides. 

Seminole Canyon rock art tourOnce we again approached the Rio Grande River to the east, the landscape shifted a bit, with shallow canyons and rolling hills covered with brush giving a reprieve from the boredom.  We arrived at Seminole Canyon around 2 in the afternoon, checking in at the visitor center for our reserved campsite.  What a surprise!! 

It seems that Seminole Canyon is home to one of the more fascinating rock art sites in the southwest.  Unlike the Fremont and Anasazi rock art in the Utah and New Mexico canyons, the pictographs in Seminole Canyon are from a separate group of indigenous people and are referred to as Pecos Style.  There are no petroglyphs (carved images in stone) but the pictographs (painted images) are beautiful.

Seminole Canyon rock art tourThe visitor center had some wonderful imagery of what we could see in the canyon below, but we discovered that the only way to hike to the Fate Bell Shelter was on a tour.  Tours are conducted by volunteers at 10AM and 3PM.  Hmm…it was 2:30.  Could we get set up and back down to the center in time for the tour?  Were we really UP for a tour after driving all day??  Yup, of course.  You do it when you can.  Rest is not an option if there is something cool to see that we might never see again.

Our guide, Kevin, was incredibly informed, and wonderfully talkative.  He explained in detail about the different plants, showing us which yucca worked best for making rope, and which plant had the most saponin, used as an emulsifier with pounded rock to make the paint used in the pictographs.

Seminole Canyon rock art tourThe path to the shelter was in good shape, with paved rocky steps and guardrails where it was steep.  It was only a mile or so down into the canyon.  Even though Seminole Canyon drains into the Rio Grande, it isn’t an actual river, just a big “wash” that fills with water from overland flow after rains. 

We enjoyed all the detail of the tour, and since we were the only two people on the tour we had Kevin’s undivided attention.  Forgot to mention, the tour costs $5. per person, and we had no idea, so didn’t bring wallets.  The park staff said, “Fine, just drop it by in the morning before you leave”.  Pretty nice.

Kevin took us into the shelter, explaining the various pictographs and discussed the saddest aspect of all.  The limestone walls, after 4,000 years, are degrading, and the pictographs so visible for that time are disappearing.  In the 1930’s, an artist/historian Forrest Kirkland painted detailed watercolors of the images, and there are displays of those paintings at the site.  Comparing what they saw in the 30’s with what is seen now, the expectation is that the rock art will only be visible for another 25 years or so.Seminole Canyon rock art tour

Seminole Canyon rock art tourSeminole Canyon_054Questioning why there hasn’t been similar deterioration in Colorado Plateau rock art, he suggested that the humidity form the giant Amistad Reservoir has shifted the climate and the limestone is susceptible to degrading as a result.  Interesting theory.  Another interesting theory links the Pecos Style rock art to the Huichol Indians of Mexico.  A new book by a recognized authority on rock art will be coming out soon that discusses this possible relationship.Seminole Canyon rock art tour

By the time we got back to the campground, the sun was getting low in the sky.  The campground sits high on the mesa above the canyon, and we were asked if we wanted a pull through site with no view or a back in site with a better view.  We were directed to site number 1, and had no idea what she meant by a view.  The only view we had was from the step of the MoHo of the flat, brushy mesa and our very nice shade shelter. 

Seminole Canyon rock art tourBest thing about this park was the number of trails that follow the perimeter of the canyon.  The trails are all dog friendly, although prickly things abound and Mo spent some time picking stickers from Abby’s paws even in the area around our camp.  It was too late to take the six mile trail  to the Panther Cave overlook at the junction of the canyon with the Rio Grande, and even too late for the 3 mile hike along the edge of the canyon.  Darkness was falling quickly and we were ready to relax.

Still, I was surprised at this great little park, with electric and water, a good dump station that was actually angled the right way, and a wonderful visitor center with nice trails.  A good spot to spend some time.  As usual, this trip is an exploratory one for us, covering new ground and finding places that we may want to see again and give a bit more time.  Not sure if this would be a destination, but if we were passing this way, I might stay two nights at least to give us a full day of hiking and exploring.

driving into the morning sun going east in Texas at Amistad ReservoirOn Tuesday morning we continued east toward Corpus Christi, following a route farther south than Google Maps suggested.  I didn’t want to go up to San Antonio and through Pleasanton, wanted to see parts I hadn’t seen before so we drove south to get fuel at the HEB in Eagle Pass.  Daughter Deb discovered HEB stores when she lived in San Antonio and says they are even better than our beloved Fred Meyer stores in the northwest.  Sure enough, I found some guacamole, fresh made and fantastic, a couple of bottles of wine and a few supplies that we needed while Mo fueled up the rig at the big station with the best price around.

looks like they really pay attentionThe rest of the day, through Carizzo Springs, and east toward Alice, we were somewhat appalled at the level of ugliness.  Oil is king here, and the highway I chose was heavy with big truck traffic, and where the traffic was less along highway 44, the road was bumpy like a roller coaster.  The views were of what is called “Texas Brush Country” and it was definitely brushy.  It was also flat, but the brush made it seem really claustrophobic compared to some of the flat country we have been farther north.

There are huge wild game reserves in this area, with gates so big we sometimes wondered why someone would build a house so close to the road.  Oops, nope, it is a gate.  We saw some Orricks and some other wild animals behind the fences, lined up ready for someone to shoot them.  I once worked for someone who came down here to shoot a wild boar, and I had to dust that dang thing down in the game room.  Haunted me. 

site 43 not too crowded as long as you don't mind sea spray and windThe landscape just seem to get flatter and flatter as we approached Corpus Christi, a wide coastal plain without much to see right up to the point when we entered the Naval Air Station gate and could finally see Corpus Christi Bay to the…north??  east??  south??  I make maps, remember?  I have a great sense of direction, remember?  Well here on this flat coastal plain where the water is everywhere and the big water is in the wrong direction, half the time I have no idea which direction I am facing.

We checked in at the marina as directed, and decided on one of the available water front sites with a large cement pad and full hookups.  We were warned that it could be windy and that there was a lot of sea spray.  Still, we wanted the site because it seems as if it is all alone our here on the peninsula, even though the campground is full.  Sure glad I had a reservation here!

rising moon at NAS Shields CampgroundThe laundry is just across the way from our site, so I trundled off with soiled rugs and blankets to discover a huge, clean beautiful laundry with home style machines and they were all free!  Yippee!!  I just love having the chance to freshen everything up without having to pay a huge ransom to do it.

We watched the sun set and the moon rise at the same time, tried to figure out which way was east and which way was west…oh yeah…that sun thing, but it still didn’t help much when looking at the maps and trying to figure out which way we were traveling the next day.  Everything, I mean everything is at an angle of some sort and is surrounded by water.  It is fun, and after a few days here I am beginning to get my bearings, but I was surely glad for all the map aids I had in the baby car when we went exploring.

We have been here for a few days now, with some fun adventures in Port Aransas, on North Padre Island and the National Seashore still to write about, and a great time meeting up with friends.  More to come soon!