Sunday, March 13, 2011

Life's a Beach!

The view from inside our trailer at the campground
We arrive at Padre Island National Seashore under heavy skies.  These are the first serious clouds we've seen since California - three states ago!  We originally intend to camp at Mustang Island State Park (for no particular reason) which is further east, but that park is full and we get one of the last four paid sites here at the national park.  Our big back window faces the ocean with small dunes separating us.  The smell here is incredible.  It's not a salty, ocean smell; it's a sweet, herbal smell, but no vegetation is blooming so I don't know from where the scent is originating, however it's intoxicating.  I later discover it's the creaping leafy vegetation covering the dunes which has almost a minty smell to the leaves.  Mmmm.

The birds near the trailer drive Grady nuts during the first few days!  Black birds that are iridescent blue in the sunlight with yellow eyes (someone tells me they are Magpies) make very strange, whistling calls and other funny noises.  They look just like our Grackles back home, but definitely don't sound like them.  We joke that they are calling the cat, "Here pretty boy!  Ooo, aren't you a pretty kitty.  Wanna come out and play with me and my friends?"  They keep him awake most of the day as he crouches from window to window, watching them.  There are also numerous marine birds - sandpipers, gulls, herons, pelicans and others I can't identify.  These are too far away for Grady to be interested in, but wonderful for us to watch.

We go for long walks on the beach almost daily, although the wind blows constantly, fiercely some days but hardly at all others.  We get a couple of thunderstorms the first morning after we arrive, which adds to the excitement.  We can drive on much of the beach except the area where we are camped.  We can actually camp for free on the beach if we want, but we are nervous about getting stuck in the sand although there are other trailers and motor homes our size out there.  However, if we do get stuck and have to get towed, it could cost anywhere from $500 to $2,000 - not a chance we're willing to take.  For $8 per night, we'll pay to camp where we are with our view and not right on the beach where everyone else is driving by.

The 1,000 year old tree
We do some exploring further east to see if we want to move after our initial paid four day stay here:  first to Mustang Island State Park where the beach is the same as ours but the trailer sites have no view of it; then to Goose Island State Park which is not on the ocean, but on Aransas Bay so, although the park is beautifully arranged with sites on either the water or amongst the Live Oak trees whose branches sprawl in gnarly patterns sometimes horizontal to the ground, it is not a desirable park to us.  Near Goose Island State Park, we also visit the 1,000 year old Live Oak tree where we run into two of our new RV friends from Quartzsite, Sue and Paul from Michigan.  We know they are staying at Goose Island State Park just down the road, but to run into them here is just odd.  So the answer to the question about whether or not to move to another park is obvious to us - we prefer Padre Island National Seashore and at the end of our initial planned four night stay, we book another five nights and eventually another five nights, making our total stay the maximum allowed 14 nights.

One night, we attend a Ranger-led talk on the history of Padre Island.  As with most of the land along the Gulf of Mexico, the island was founded by Spaniards in the 1500s and they named it Isla Blanca - White Island.  Three Spanish ships shipwrecked just off the coast, although the crew and passengers managed to make it to the island safely.  There were natives here who were brutal and virtually wiped out all of the shipwreck survivors.  In those early days, the island wasn't used for anything as it was deemed to be useless.  By the 1800s, a priest bought most of the island and brought cattle here; hence how the island was eventually renamed Padre Island (or "the Padre's Island"), Padre being Spanish for "Father".  It was also used as an Navy bombing range during WWII and was finally made into a National Seashore in 1962 by President Kennedy.

To my left, David & Lynda, Linda & Denny
We meet some of our RV neighbours and have a fire on the beach with them during one of the less windy nights.  This is the best part of the trip is meeting new friends.  In our little group is Denny and Linda from Ohio who also love to sail around Lake Erie near our home, Lynda and David from Peterborough, Ontario who are fellow college employees, and Nancy from Syracuse, NY making us all practically neighbours at home!  We enjoy great campfire talk, and many "happy hours".

At 70 miles from north to south, Padre Island is the longest undeveloped natural barrier island in the world!  What is really unfortunate though is the amount of garbage that washes up on the beach - water bottles, plastic toys, shoes, milk jugs - you name it, it's caught in the seaweed and laying on the sand.  Everything floating out in the Gulf comes in with the tide.  It's a  real shame.  These are not the pristine beaches we are used to seeing in Florida.  However, it's still such a serene feeling to hear the waves crashing onto the beach.

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