009: Part 2 – Texas Gulf Coast

Blog post 009, Part 1 introduces our epic 9 1/2 weeks in Texas with a focus on our time in El Paso and San Antonio.  And now, moving on to Part 2, the Texas Gulf Coast. And oh! check out Part 3 on Austin!

“GALVESTON OH GALVESTON!” (Title song by Glen Campbell)

After wintering in the desert, it was quite a change to be near sandy beaches again. RVs of all kinds can be found camping for free on the beach on the Gulf Coast, very close to the ocean (a little too close for my taste, but to each his own.)  We decided that we’d be better off in a dry-sand-free area on the other side of the road, at Stella Mare Resort RV Park where we dropped anchor for three whole weeks – the longest we have stayed put anywhere since our RV adventure began.

Sunny, warm and very humid days were mainstay weather patterns for the most part throughout our time on the Gulf Coast. We toured the narrow slivers of islands and peninsulas dotting the Gulf Coast with brave Ms. Moneypenny (our KIA) driving on the hard sand right on the beach.

 

April and May are also thunderstorm months on the Gulf Coast and we sure had our share, most of them raging at night. I have to say…, Texas thunderstorms are a quite a sight—the lightning bolts and the booming thunder are spectacular and kept me up one whole night with the rain blowing every which way! We needed to pay close attention to our weather radio—an indispensable tool when RVing. We were quite safe at our location – but let’s just say that I was glad we were NOT camped on the beach!

Galveston has a rich architectural history crossing decades of construction and design, a unique collection of 19thand 20thcentury houses – that reminded me of similar houses in New Orleans. We spent hours walking up and down its old streets.

 

 

A short hop to Houston  

Galveston is but 50 mi (80 km) south of Houston, connected by Highway I-45 – so we spent a day at the Museum District, Houston’s cultural heart, where a whopping 19 museums (11 of them free) are gathered. The Museum of Fine Arts—the largest one in the District–contains Egyptian antiquities, Impressionist art and American sculpture. The Menil Collection, one of the most important privately assembled visual arts collections of 20thcentury and The Houston Center for Photography, are a few of the venues we were able to visit in one day.

 

I’m aware that Houston has a somewhat ‘all oil business-no fun’ reputation, but the oil companies have been good stewarts of the art scene and it shows!  I read that Houston is now one of America’s best food cities. Though we did not take the time (or spend the money) to verify this assertion for ourselves, our visit to Houston was way more pleasant than we thought.

ROCKPORT AND CORPUS CHRISTI

After Galveston, down the coast we went all the way to Rockport which we used as a base to visit Corpus Christi (which locals refer simply as “Corpus”).  We hadn’t realized that Rockport suffered major damage by Hurricane Harvey on August 26, 2017. The town was totally destroyed and is slowly rebuilding itself—there are construction sites everywhere though the damage is still very much there to see. Locals tell you their story (where they were when it happened) and how proud they are of their town “Rockport Strong”. The ‘downtown’ area had just been granted millions of dollars to rebuild their City Hall and Court House and hotels were slowly re-opening. It was watching a resort town getting a facelift in slow motion. We wish them the very best and we will return in a few years’ time to see the shiny new town!

 

 

We now interrupt this travelogue for a short word from our sponsors, the birds of the Gulf Coast!

Whether you’re into bird watching or not, it’s pretty difficult to ignore these feathered creatures, whether they’re just on the Coast for a rest on the way north or full time residents — the Texas Gulf Coast is one of the world’s foremost migratory bird region. Bird watchers from all over the world come during Spring and Fall to observe them.

I’m but a very novice birdwatcher, but allow me to give a special nod to two beautiful birding areas we visited.

First: Quintana Neotropical Bird Sanctuary. Quintana Beach is a very concrete example of how nature is at times forced to cohabit with the presence of the oil & gas industry in Texas.

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During a visit to the Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig & Museum, we were impressed with how technically sophisticated these offshore drilling facilities are; at the same time, how precarious these platforms are for something to go wrong technically or by human error–we all remember the terrible Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. To be sure, It is a complex, at times ugly relationship. This picture here of the Quintana Neotropical Bird Sanctuary “Visitor Centre” shows how ‘integrated’ these two worlds can be!

 

 

 

Second: Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, located east of Rockport, is the premier nature site on the Texas Coast and key migration stop for the whooping-cranes, among the rarest of creatures in North America. At the time of our visit in April, the cranes had already left the area to fly up north to Canada for their summer residence. But there were plenty of other birds to spy on, and the scenery alone is spectacular. As our visit was in the low season, we had this beautiful Refuge to ourselves, save for a few deer and the odd alligator or two (thankfully, we didn’t encounter any)!

 

On another day, we drove to Corpus on Mustang Island, a barrier island that is about 18 mi (29 km) long, stretching from Corpus Christi to Port Aransas (‘Port A’ for locals). The beaches are pristine and the views, well shall we say… is a mix of natural and industrial ‘beauty’!

 

Corpus Christi is a small urban centre tucked into a bay with its beaches sheltered by Padre Island and Mustang Islands. During our short visit, we went to the Art Museum of South Texas, part of a sprawling contemporary building right on the bay.

While enjoying happy hour local oysters at a busy Corpus seafood restaurant, we met Doug, an attorney from McAllen who made us promise to spend time in the southern part of Padre Island when we return to this part of the world… “The real Caribbean feeling is in the Southern part of Padre Island”. Duly noted Sir!  Also while in Corpus, we had our first Texas style BBQ meal at Rudy’s Country Store BBQ, a small BBQ and gas bar chain. Here again, the practical meets the practical… we fill up with delicious BBQ meats and fill up Ms. Moneypenny’s tank. Everyone’s happy!

 

It was soon time to say aurevoir to the Gulf Coast, with promises of returning from the south east, via McAllen this time. Until then, it was time to drive due north, with an overnight stop at the Choke Canyon State Park located about half way on the way to Austin. There is a large reservoir by the same name with lots of fishing and birding. Fishing is a serious business on the Gulf Coast with people of all ages and backgrounds casting a line everywhere they’re allowed (and sometime not allowed). Wildlife was abundant and literally in our ‘backyard’ for us to observe and take pictures. It was a good transition from life on the beach back to life in the city.

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On to Austin…

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