Texas Part 1, pre-COVID edition

Mardi Gras seems like a lifetime ago. Large crowds and carefree public revelry have taken on an ominous cast in hindsight. We were so innocent then.

College Station

After our two Mardi Gras parade viewings we continued west to College Station, where our son Tyler lives and works and studies at Texas A&M. One of our “anchor dates” on our otherwise loose schedule was Tyler’s birthday. We got into town in time for a dinner celebration with him and a few of his friends in the quaint historic downtown of neighboring Bryan, TX.

Birthday Dinner at Ronin, with Kaitlin, Tyler, and Jess

We hung out around College Station for a few more days, taking long walks, riding the bike paths in the local parks, visiting the local natural history museum, and relaxing. This time of year there are bluebonnets everywhere! They must seed them on the roadsides. In some places we’d drive mile after mile, bluebonnets on both sides in thick blankets.

The 3 of us then drove southwest to the north Austin suburb of Pflugerville, to meet up with extended family for their daughter’s soccer game. It brought back memories of our own children’s early soccer games, complete with struggles to keep the ball in bounds, swarming, shouted encouragements, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

McKinney Falls State Park

We all then headed to McKinney Falls State Park, just south of Austin, for play (walking and climbing on the rocks, skipping stones, and general enjoyment of the falls) and a picnic of burgers and dogs, beer and soda, birthday cake and ice cream, chips and salsa – all in copious amounts.

Happily, Tyler was able to stay and camp with us though the weekend before returning to work/school.

If you ever camp in Texas, consider getting a Texas State Parks Pass. They suggested it at McKinney when we checked in, and were even happy to apply it to our prepaid reservation, exactly offsetting the $70 annual cost of the pass. Since then it has saved us a ton. We typically pay no more than $20/night vs $40-$50 a night minimum at most private campgrounds (or, yoiks, as much as $100/night at the fancy RV parks)

Corpus Christi

Mark had long wanted to complete our semi-circle route, from one US southernmost point on the Gulf of Mexico (Key West, FL) to the other (South Padre Island, TX). So we headed for the coast, starting with Corpus Christi, and Mustang Island. The State Park at Mustang Island (now closed for COVID) wasn’t great, being more-or-less a parking lot with RV hookups. But we enjoyed long walks on the sandy beach anyway, and more long walks in the nearby Port Aransas bird sanctuary and nature preserve.

A highlight for us in the Corpus Christi area was their excellent aquarium. Check out Lori’s first foray into iMovie editing!

No doubt Corpus Christi has a lot more to offer, but we’d allocated only a 2 day stopover on the way to South Padre.

South Padre Island

South Padre Island has somewhat of a “spring break party town” reputation. We saw occasional glimpses of that, mostly in the form of cars full of kids riding down the main strip making some noise and merriment, but it was really pretty low-key overall.

We stayed at Isla Blanca Park (also now closed for COVID) where the first evening brought us a spectacular sunset. Then next day was spent primarily at South Padre’s Turtle Rescue Center, and then at a wildlife sanctuary. Both were very much worthwhile.

Despite the availability of a shuttle that runs from mid-island all the way to Isla Blanca park at the far south end, we decided we needed more exercise than the several miles of walking at the wildlife sanctuary. So we began the 4 mile trek, knowing we could jump on the shuttle at any time. It passed us at 20 minute intervals, but were too stubborn to sit and wait at a stop. By accident we stumbled on to the sand sculptures you saw above, so that was nice. We also treated ourselves to our Dairy Queen favorites: A Buster Bar for Mark, and a dip cone for Lori. That made the final mile much more tolerable. :)

A final note

This will be our last pre-COVID blog post. We’ll talk subsequently about how changing events have altered our journey (the path, the timing, and day to day living) perhaps in a special post, but we hope not to dwell on that theme too much going forward. For those of you getting a little vicarious pleasure from our story, we hope we can keep offering that, by continuing to focus on the original themes of the trip – natural beauty, discovery, serendipity, adventure.

M&L

FL to TX

Heading west, via the Florida panhandle and the gulf coast states, to Texas.

Florida Panhandle

After Wakulla Springs we headed west, hugging the coastline as much as practical. This
was nice from a scenic perspective, but meant that we didn’t see much of “ordinary” life in the deep south. Still, we got a feeling for the variety of coastal towns, rich and poor, urban and rural, gaudy casino towns and quaint villages. We saw huge stretches of shoreline that were wild and untouched, and a few awful industrial zones where the air was full of foul smelling chemical haze.

One of our first stops was at Indian Pass Campground. It was nearly full, but this meant “having” to take an overflow site – which turned out to be steps from the long sandy shoreline. As soon as we settled in we headed for the beach, and walked at least a mile down it and back, enjoying the birds and waves and seashells and sand.

Indian Pass

Next was the fun little town of Apalachicola. We browsed the shops, sampled the offerings at a microbrewery and had lunch at a rooftop cafe. The birds in town were not shy. They stole food from tables, fought over a chicken wing and generally ruled the town. Hitchcock fans might have a flashback here.

Topsail Hill State Park was excellent for biking. We rode trails both within the park (to the ocean and to a lake in the park) and outside it, where bikeable sidewalks stretched for miles. We even rode bikes to our Valentine’s Day dinner at Stinky’s Fish Camp – a nice restaurant with water views, despite the silly name.

Just a few miles from Topsail is the unusual town of Seaside, a planned community so impossibly perfect in its old-timey Americana vibe (neat cottages on quiet tree lined streets, white picket fences) that it was used as the artificial community in “The Truman Show”. It really is quite pleasant, with large public spaces for town events, musical performances, movies, public art, a permanent food truck row, ocean-side restaurants and ocean access points. But even if you don’t mind the artificiality of it all, you might blanch at the prices: those quaint little cottages tend to cost over $1M. Oh well!

Also nearby (in the opposite direction) is the resort town of Destin. We met up again with friends Jeff and Monica to enjoy an afternoon along the harbor boardwalk. Later, we all returned to Topsail and biked the trails which led to the beautiful, pure white, sandy beach. We ended the evening with a cookout of grilled chicken, veggie skewers, and salad, and finished with ice cream and berries for dessert. Entertaining in the RV is a little challenging – we have exactly 4 plates, 4 bowls, 4 forks, 4 knives, etc. – but we make it work! And, it’s always fun to catch up with old friends.

Alabama and Mississippi

We’d already spent a decent amount of time in Alabama (Birmingham and Montgomery) last fall, and the ‘bama coastline is pretty short, so it was just a blip on this part of the trip.

The next neat place we found was Ocean Springs, particularly a funky art museum dedicated to the lifetime work of native son Walter Anderson. It has a pretty tree-lined town center, with interesting galleries, shops and restaurants. We could have spent more time here, actually. It’s where we first noticed the Mardi Gras decorations appearing. That gave us the idea of catching some small town celebrations along our way.

We continued to hug the cost, through Biloxi (so many casinos!), Gulfport, Pass Christian, Bay St. Louis and finally crossing in to Louisiana.

Louisiana

Fontainbleu State Park was another bike friendly spot. A rail trail runs through the park to downtown Mandeville, where we found Das Schulerhaus, a german gift shop, along with a brew pub, and a variety of other shops and restaurants. We rode down to the waterfront park and just cruised the coastline for quite a while, enjoying the view and the weather.

Having just spent a week in New Orleans last year, we decided to bypass the Mardi Gras craziness there for a more local Mardi Gras in Eunice, hearing that it features a traditional chicken run and dog parade. We missed the chicken run, but walked among the street food vendors, selecting beignets to eat while the dogs paraded past. Very folksy.

For our last stop in Louisiana, we stumbled onto little Intercoastal Park, . Only $10 a night, full hookups. It’s a bit out of the way, but we enjoyed watching the boat and barge activity on the canal. The barge that blasted its horn at 1:30 AM wasn’t so great though. Maybe that accounts for the low price.

Texas

Our story this time ends in Beaumont TX, where we watched another Mardi Gras parade. We arrived just as the parade was about to start. Beaumont has a substantial downtown with at least a half-dozen interesting museums, (some of them “offbeat” like the Babe Zaharius museum). Also just outside of town is the “Boomtown” museum, a recreation of a turn-of-the-century oil gusher boom town, where we spent a few pleasant hours.

See you next time!

Mark & Lori