Thursday, 9 February 2012

Gulf Coast Trip: The Beach Days


Port Aransas, Tuesday evening:  Having located our cottage and settled in, we stroll out to the ship channel as the sun is going down.  Suddenly we hear splashes at our feet, and look down to see the smooth curve of a dolphin's back breaking the surface.  Once we've spotted one we see several more, feeding along the edge in the twilight peace.

Sunset over the ferry terminal

Port Aransas, Wednesday:  We have a warm sunny day for our first morning on the beach, and Toby quickly decides that digging in the sand is his new favourite activity.  Graham takes him out to test the water, but it's a little chilly.  Well, it is December, after all!





Mustang Island is reputed to be an amazing place to see birds, so we do our best to look like twitchers and walk to the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center.  A footpath through some trees suddenly opens out to a secluded lagoon framed with tall reeds.  An avian paradise I am sure.  Unfortunately we could be looking at the world's rarest bird and not have a clue.  We manage to identify some very common pelicans, cormorants and shovelers, though.

Pelican in flight

Padre Island, Thursday:  Padre Island is the world's longest barrier island, and a 70-mile stretch of its sandy curve is designated a National Seashore, protecting it for future generations of wildlife.  We reach it by driving the length of Mustang Island, a drive which you'd think would give you an unparalleled view of the Gulf.  In fact the island is so flat that all you see is grass and dunes, with barely a glimpse of open sea.  We arrive at the visitor centre just in time to go on a ranger-led beach walk, which is fascinating.  We learn that the clumps of yellow string are actually whip coral; that worms built those little shelly tubes so they can duck down inside them when danger threatens; and that each sand grain is home to dozens of microscopic animals called bryozoans.

Whip coral
A worm tube


Listening to the ranger talk

If you have a four-wheel-drive and the whimsy takes you, you can drive along the beach for almost all of its seventy miles.  If you have a PT Cruiser and a sleeping baby, you can drive just far enough to get the wheels sandy, and lounge in the sun for a while.


Port Aransas in the mist, Friday:  When we get to the beach we can't see the sea, and when we reach the water's edge we can barely see where we came from.  The world is reduced to swirling shades of grey in an effect which is both disorienting and exhilarating.  At length we reach the solid grey chunks of a granite fishing pier and are anchored for a while as we watch pelicans, egrets and gulls.



In the afternoon the sun comes out and we attend to the more prosaic business of getting some clothes washed.  Graham is convinced that I am more excited about the laundromat than the rest of the holiday.  I think someone else is having more fun than me, though!

My clothes! My clothes!
The day ends with a meal at the Beach Hut, which, true to its name, is practically on the dunes.  As the sun slides redly into the returning mist, we relax on the back deck with their seafood boil - a plate heaped with shrimp, crab, potatoes and beans.


Corpus Christi, Saturday: We have a whale of a day (sorry) at Texas State Aquarium.  Their three dolphins put on a tremendous show of jumps and flips and playing catch.  We are fascinated to watch them both above and below the water.  Toby is enthralled by the otters.  He points and laughs every time they swim past, bouncing in his pushchair with excitement.  He naps while we visit the main area, to marvel at the sleek sharks and the glowing jellyfish, but wakes up for a snack by the bay, with the leaden bulk of the USS Lexington looming nearby.






 

USS Lexington - the "Grey Ghost"
The evening is New Year's Eve, but having put Toby to bed we realise we have failed to equip ourselves with anything resembling entertainment.  We turn on the TV to find that the local station has decided that a round-up of the year's unsolved murders is just what everyone needs to get their party going.  A policeman pulls over a truck right outside our window, but after that the excitement dwindles and we decide it's time for bed.

Mustang Island, Sunday:  New Year's Day dawns windy but warm - this is the first time I have been comfortable in a T-shirt on January 1st!  At Mustang Island State Park the beach is in constant motion as the wind blows waves of loose sand across it.  We enjoy a local beer and a burger at the Port Aransas Brewing Company, then stroll out to the Horace Caldwell Pier.  A family from Virginia are watching the ships.  They point out a cable-laying boat and tell us you can get an app which shows you what the ships are carrying.  We go down to the beach so that Toby can get sandy one last time, which he does with gusto.  Then we turn our backs on the sea and walk back along the palm-lined streets, out of our tropical seaside retreat and on our way home.

Sand blowing on Mustang Island beach

On Horace Caldwell pier

Sandy but happy

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