Previous travel notes

1/29/2018 Central Gulf Coast – The Texas Gulf Coast is unique in its beauty and unique in how you access the different points along the coast. There is not a single highway that you can take along the coast. There are several small and medium size towns along the coast that have their own appeal and history and very much worth a visit but planning your travel is important to gain access to parts of the upper, central and lower Texas coast.

We headed south of the Houston area on I59. You can start getting a sense of the coastal landscape as soon as you get south of the Houston area. The land gets mostly flat. This drive reminds me of when I was young and would travel to the coast with my parents. Not a lot has changed, and the anticipation is similar. You know you will see the water of the bay or the gulf soon and you know it will have that salty smell. Seagulls will make their familiar sound.

We take the Hwy 172 exit in Ganado. We were headed to Indianola. I had not been to Indianola, I was looking forward to seeing what was there. As we were speeding down Hwy 172 I saw a sign and an observation platform on the side of the highway. I stopped and pulled into the Formosa-Tejano Wetlands. This area was dedicated in 1999, it has previously been used for rice farming. It’s an interesting place to pull over and climb up the observation platform to see the different types of birds in the area. We continued on towards Indianola. I had heard of Indianola growing up. I remember reading that it was an up and coming port on the Texas gulf coast but had been battered by 2 hurricanes in the 1800’s. I was curious what was still there? We turned onto Hwy 35 and headed through Point Comfort. It did seem pretty comfortable that day, but I can image how muggy it must be in August. We turned off of Hwy 35 near Port Lavaca and continued on Hwy 238. We continued on Hwy 316 around Chocolate Bay. Hwy 316 hit the Matagorda Bay coastline and we came up on Indianola Texas State Historical Marker in a little park area. There is a Texas State historical marker that tells a little about Indianola. How it was a major seaport from 1844 to 1875 and the area played a part in the civil war. Indianola was partially destroyed by a hurricane in 1875 and completely destroyed by another hurricane in 1886. There is also a monument of La Salle in the same park area. La Salle was born in France in 1643 and landed in Matagorda Bay in 1685. There are a few other markers in the area and a few bay houses and the Indianola Fishing Marina. They have a beautiful view of Matagorda Bay, it is interesting to imagine what may have been if those hurricanes had not destroyed Indianola.

We left Indianola and headed to Rockport. As we have mentioned before we have family in Rockport. We headed to Rockport a couple of weeks after Harvey and we looked forward to seeing how much had been done since the hurricane. We will be adding a second post on Rockport and some of the surrounding areas in the next few days. This deserves attention. We are not reporters, nor do we speak for the local government agencies. We saw there is still so much to be done. There are those still dealing with getting back on their feet. There are those who lost everything and had no insurance. I wonder if they will ever come back. But I was amazed on how much was accomplished since I was last in the area. There is still a lot of cleanup work going on and likely will be for months to come. But we also saw many businesses open and looking for people to visit. There are hotels under repair and it will be a while before things can be close to anything that could be called normal. But we had no problems getting gas, shopping, getting food at the grocery store or finding a place to stay. My family lives on Copano Bay on the outside of Rockport. They have their house and 3 rental houses. We also have very close friends that lives next to these houses on Copano Bay. We have spent may weekends and holidays here and have such great memories. All of these houses were in Harvey’s direct path and took a beating. I still cannot believe what we saw when we went back. Our hearts were broke for our family and friends and all of those we saw after the hurricane. But, things have come such a long way. The power was restored to the area where our family lives within 2-3 weeks. That is not the case for everyone in the area. Some are still struggling to get basic services. The landscape looks dramatically different. But we sat out on the porch and watched an amazing sunset on Copano Bay. We had a nice dinner and enjoyed visiting with family. The houses are all open and almost 100% restored. There are people booking reservations again. That is so great to see and hear. Again, more to come on Rockport.

After catching a great sunset on Copano Bay we spent the night in Rockport. We got up early the next morning and headed to the Fulton harbor to catch the sunrise. It was an amazing sunrise. We have posted images on our Facebook and Instagram pages.

After spending a beautiful morning in the Fulton and Rockport area we headed to North Padre Island. We have been to south Padre Island but not to North Padre Island. The park was not very crowded, but it surprised us to find people walking along the beach and camping out. It was in the 50’s and had dipped into the 30’s the night before. This is one of the few areas where you can drive on the beach. It is clean and a unique drive. We went for about 10 miles. We have a 4x4 so had no problems driving. Most of the drive is on packed sand but towards to the end of the 10 miles the sand was less packed, and I was glad we had 4-wheel drive. We took photos of the beach area and have posted several. The views here are very Texas. There have been so many times where we have drove into a town or down a highway and I thought how it just looks like Texas. Even with the diversity of the state there are so many images that just look like Texas. Standing on rocks overlooking the Rio Grande west of Lajitas in West Texas looks very Texas. The beach in North Padre Island looks just as Texas but you could not find 2 images with more of a contrast.

We had one more stop on this roundtrip, the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. We had passed the sign for the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge many times on our visits to Rockport. We had wanted to stop there but this would be our first visit. We took Hwy 774 off Hwy 35 to get to the park. I was really amazed at how much agriculture there was along Hwy 774. If you look at Google Maps you can see this. We passed through Austwell and headed into the park. The staff at the park was very helpful in telling us where to go and where to get the best vantage points for photos. The park road takes you along the coast with several places to stop and hike. I was headed up a trail and saw a pond off to the left. An egret was standing about 35 feet away, so I walked slowly… carefully … stealthy like. The egret kept walking along the edge of a pond and was about to go around a mound of the side of the pond. When I focused my eyes a bit I saw this was not a mound. It was an alligator. There was a whole lot of nature going on there. I kept watching as the egret walked close to the alligator. I was thinking I was going to get one of those Mutual of Omaha moment photos. The alligator never moved. The egret looked like it would fly off if needed but, no nature eating nature moments – other than the egret feeding.

We saw deer, hogs, javelina, an alligator, and so many different types of birds. One of the great features in the refuge is an observation platform. All of the walkways and lookouts are in great shape. The observations platform takes you well above the trees and gives a great vantage point to see around the area. It is made of steel and is a series of ramps that take you up. As I was headed up to check out the view I noticed turkey buzzards lined up along the top pf the platform. I mean a lot of turkey buzzards. They watched me as I walked up but didn’t look too alarmed. I was watching but sense I am higher on the food chain I was sure they would scatter as I got close. A few flew off but most of them watched me as I got closer. Most of them did not fly off until I was about 5 feet away. It was windy so some of them just leaned over and fell, catching the wind. Several of them hovered about 5 – 10 feet from my head. I kept going and they minded their own business…. Mostly. They quickly landed on the railing again. I posted a video on our Facebook page that gives you a good idea of how many there were and how close they were. The view from the top of the platform is really great. You need to have binoculars and a good zoom lens for your camera. We watched the sun go down from here and it was a great view. If you look at some of the sunset photos from here, you can tell we are above the tops of the trees.

We listened to Judge Wise’s Wise About Texas podcast and a variety of music. In many places we have the roof opened and the windows down and just listened to the wind.

The area still shows scars from Harvey and will for a while. But the area can handle visitors again and needs tourism dollars. We will be posting the Rockport story soon to say a little more.

Thanks as always for traveling with us….

1/14/2018 Upper Texas Gulf Coast - We headed east on I10 with the goal of finding the most southeastern point of Texas that we could get to. As we headed out of the Houston area we passed the San Jacinto Monument on our right. There is a lot of Texas history in this area. There has been a lot of growth in this area too. Petrochemical is a vital part of the Texas and global economy and supports many of the families that live along the coast. Seeing ships and barges along the coast is part of the Texas coastal experience and is part of my memories growing up. Carol and I grew up on the northwest side of Houston in the 70's and 80's so how can you pass through this area and not think back on Urban Cowboy? We had a song or two play from that soundtrack as we headed east. The Texas coast does not have a continuous highway. You have to take different highways and roads to get access to the coast. There are several Wildlife Refuge's along the coast that would support maintaining a healthy environment for the wildlife in these areas. If you grew up in this area the flatlands and refineries are something familiar. Another thing that you think of when traveling in this area are past weather events. A hurricane wiped Indianola off the map in the 1800's. A major hurricane devastated Galveston in 1900. That hurricane killed thousands of people and changed the island. In 2008 Ike devastated the upper Texas coast. I was living in Austin and watching the weather on TV when Ike hit and remember seeing the waves coming over the Seawall. Ike caused over $22B in damage. A few months ago Harvey came ashore in Rockport and made its way to the San Antonio area before reversing course and heading back to the gulf, then came onshore again. Carol and I were in Rockport a week after the hurricane hit to help family who had been pounded by Harvey. There are no words to describe what we saw. The damage went on for miles. In addition to the damage from the impact of the hurricane, Harvey sat over the upper Texas coast for several days dropping more than 50" of rain across the region. The TV news and weather coverage cannot capture the scale of the damage. Thousands and thousands of people lost their homes to the winds and flooding. The area continued to flood days after Harvey left. There was so much water that had to travel downstream, it took weeks. There are people who still are struggling to get back on their feet. The impact was widespread. There are so many people with stories of evacuating and losing so much but one thing that really stood out in this horrible event was the spirit of the people. We noticed it on the day the storm hit our area by the hundreds and hundreds of people jumping in to help all over the area. People brought their boats and made water rescues and helped people try and save what they could. Rich or poor,  race and religion didn't matter. People from surrounding states jumped in to help as well. It was such an amazing thing to see and still amazes me to think back on this. The spirit of Texans and the spirit of Americans can be such a strong force. We forget our arguments and disagreeing for a few days. You cannot help but think about these events as you travel in this area. Its a feeling of tragedy but also a sense of great pride.

We took highway 73 then highway 82 to Port Arthur. Many of the major names in refining are found in this area. We took highway 87 south through Sabine Pass. I spoke to a local when we stopped for gas in Sabine Pass. He wished us well and said he would visit our website to see what we put on there from this road trip. We then went inside to pay and listened to the locals give each other a hard time and ask about each others family. We are passing through all of these places we visit but these places are their homes. One of the wonderful things about Google Maps is that you can find roads that you didn't know existed. If you keep heading south on highway 87 you get to Sabine Pass Battleground State Historic Site. This small park provides a lot of information. This was a point where Texas was directly exposed to the Civil War. The historical markers tell about the battles that took place there. One other piece of information that we read about was in regards to Word War II. I had not realized that German U-Boats were such a problem in the Gulf of Mexico. The markers tell about there being 50 U-Boats that were in the Gulf and only 1 was sunk. The wreckage is located off the Texas coast. We posted a few images on our Facebook pages and I was surprised to see several posts from people who remember someone in their family or someone they knew growing up telling about seeing ships on fire in the gulf due to being torpedoed by a German U-Boat. Amazing. From the park we headed south on South 1st Avenue. South 1st Avenue turned into Jerry Road. This may make for a nice visual of us driving down a paved street with curbs. This was not the case. I would highly recommend that you have a 4x4 if you are up for finding this place, and it is worth finding. The road dead-ends at the furthest point you can drive in southeast Texas. From here you can look to the east and see Louisiana, look to the south and see the Gulf of Mexico. The Texas Point National Wildlife Refuge is to the west. From this vantage point the refuge is flatland with grass and home to many different types of birds. We took many photographs that we have shared. 

Our next stop was Boliver. We went back through Port Arthur to Winnie and took highway 124 south. Highway 124 turns into highway 87 at the coast. You can see many new homes along this drive, replacements from Ike. We took the Boliver Ferry over to Galveston. It had probably been forty years since that last time I was on the Boliver Ferry. We stopped by The Original Mexican Cafe for some cheese enchiladas. They were very good! We wanted to find a place on the bay side of Galveston to catch the sunset. 

We had found a great place to get sunset photos last year. 8 Mile Drive takes you over to the bay side and gives you a great place to see the sunset. We took Sportsman Road to where it dead-ends and parked here for the sunset. I was watching a heron nearby and wanted to get closer for a photo. I found a path through the grass and off I went. I was getting close to the heron and was thinking I would get this great photo. I had to cross one more low spot that looked a little muddy then I would be in a good spot. I tapped the muddy spot with the end of my hiking boot to make sure I could step across. It was good. The heron was aware of me but was more interested in eating. I took one more step to make sure the soft area was OK and it was fine. I only had about 3 feet to go. I took my next step and sank about 10". I took another step trying to keep my balance and only sank 9". I hopped one more step and was out of the mud. I was lucky that my hiking boots had not got stuck in the mud. They were completely covered. Great. I looked up in time to see the heron looking at me and fly off. I looked over and could see Carol in the truck, she hadn't seen my mudding. I made it back over to the truck and put the muddy boots in the back of the truck. We watched an amazing sunset. We watched until the very last light from the sun sank into the horizon. We hope you enjoy the images and as always look forward to your feedback!