Padre Island National Seashore

Location: South Texas, on the Gulf Coast near Corpus Christi
Maps: Lots. The northernmost part of the island is covered by USGS 1:24K South Bird Island
Access: From Corpus Christi, take 358 to Padre Island, make no turns, follow the road all the way to the beach. You can drive on the beach at your own risk.
Fees: $10/vehicle/week; free to camp, no reservation needed (although sometimes a free permit is?)
Trails: None, walk along the beach

March 19, 2008
As part of our great 2008 spring break tour, Andra and I made a quick run to the Gulf of Mexico via Corpus Christi, to spend a night on Padre Island. Not the party-crazed, drunken-college-coed area, that’s South Padre Island. North Padre Island is an undeveloped national seashore, set aside for nesting birds, turtles although mysteriously open to vehicular traffic. Yes, apparently in Texas, beaches are considered highways, so if you’re tempted to walk the beach, watch your ass. Some of those guys go pretty fast.

We arrived on a sun-drenched afternoon, and headed straight away through several miles of vegetated dunes to the beach, where the pavement ends but the tire treads do not. We drove about 50 feet down the beach, then squeezed into a parking spot nose into the dunes. Cars lined the beach as far as we could see. This isn’t exactly what we had in mind. Still, it was ocean, beach, sand, warmth, sunshine. Yeehaw! All deep in the heart of Texas, or maybe a little south of that. We hopped out of the car, slopped on sunscreen and noticed that it really wasn’t all that warm out. Sweatshirts came out of the trunk, and then we walked to the water. I took off my shoes and waded in to my ankles. That’s about as wet as I got in the ocean on this trip. The water was pretty chilly, but even moreso, the wind was downright cold. While the air temp was hovering around 70, the wind was throwing in off the water around 15 miles an hour. Not warm.  Less than a minute later, a ranger drove up in his truck. I quickly reviewed my act of walking into the water…was that allowed here? I think so. I smiled at the ranger as he rolled down his window. 
“Howdy Folks,” he said. Park rangers always refer to visitors as folks. 
“Just want to let you know high tide’s in an hour, and yesterday it went all the way to the pavement. You should leave with plenty of time to get your car out before then,” he said.
Good advice. Sound advice. Nobody wants to watch their car sail out into the gulf. As he drove off, we began wondering how, exactly, we could camp on the beach if it wasn’t safe to leave the car there overnight. Hmmmm. 
We pondered that as we drove the ½-mile to the visitor center, a large building with showers, a big deck and the obligatory gift shop. A woman behind the counter told us we could not camp on the beach tonight on account of the high tide. We offered that we had backpacks and were willing to walk it. She saw no harm in that, and issued us a free permit to do just that. 
We returned to the car, and decided to take a short nap since we had been driving since 7:30 that morning. Nothing beats a refreshing nap in the afternoon. We awoke after 40 minutes hungry, so we gathered some cheese, crackers and a can of tuna and had a picnic on the observation deck overlooking the dunes and beach. The wind had not abated any, and it was still chilly. 
We packed essentials into our packs and set off down the beach. We had only to walk ½ mile back to the vehicle area to be in the camping zone, so it was a very easy distance. High tide had come and gone, and apparently not risen up to the level where the vehicles were parked. There were still plenty of them around. We picked a spot just above the high tide line in the soft sand to pitch the tent and unroll our sleeping bags. Sand blew in within seconds of pitching the tent, and continued to find its way in through the minute holes in the zipper. Noticing this, I build a sand wall at the base of the rainfly on the windwards sides that served to deflect most of the sand up and over the tent. That helped quite a bit. 

We went for a lengthy walk on the beach. Box jellyfish were marooned on the wet sand at regular intervals, further dampening my desire to run laughing into the waves. Seagulls, killdeer and other shorebirds skittered across the sand, following the waves on their way out, pecking at unseen critters in the ground. The shore here is especially shallow, and the waves are very mellow. It would seem to be a fun place to swim, but I’d guess July would be a better time than March to do so. 

Back at the tent, the sun was sinking low over the dunes to the west. We walked up to the first row of dunes to survey the view, and looked out over a sea of undulating, grass-covered dunes. Nothing dramatic, but quietly peaceful. Most of the cars and vans were heading out. A bright moon, nearly full, rose over the water into a rosy-pink sky. We sat and read our books in the last wedge of orange sunlight, burying our bare feet in the sand to keep them warm, and once the sun was gone, we took another walk on the beach to keep warm before retiring to the tent, a little reading by flashlight, then sleep. All night long, wind buffeted the tent, creating a steady white noise that almost drowned out the roar of the surf. I slept easy knowing that the car was parked safely on asphalt and there was no way it could float out to sea on some early-morning freak high-tide. 

March 20, 2008
In the morning, I awoke before dawn and slipped out of the tent. The sky to the east was pink, and growing brighter. I walked to the top of the nearest dune behind the tent, and waited about 2 minutes before the first peck of yellow split the horizon. When viewed against a stationary object, the suns progress at sunrise is astonishing. It moves faster than you ever think it should. In seconds the sun was halfway up, and after a minute it was fully above the water, reflecting against the rippling water and sand in a dark, burnt orange. It was so incredible; I couldn’t resist waking Andra from her peaceful slumber to share the sight. She stumbled out of the tent, and we took a short walk in the glow of sunrise. The air got warmer by the minute. We decided to walk down and get the car and use the facilities while we were there, so we began to walk north along the water’s edge. Lines of pelicans, 20 to a group, periodically came cruising down the beach on the sea breeze, hardly flapping. They kept precise spacing, and if one of the group decided to peel off and go somewhere else, the next ones in line immediately adjusted to close the gap. How reptilian they looked. I was glad they were only interested in fish. 

We got the car, drove back to camp and packed up. We snacked on PBJ and grapefruit juice while sitting in the front seats. I had boasted the previous evening that I would go swimming this day in the ocean, for the sake of spring break and all that is warm and subtropical. But that wind was no warmer, and I had yet to remove my sweatshirt. In the end, I let it be. We departed around 10:30 for San Antonio. 



Back                         Next

 More nature pics at:

Page created 4-3-08