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Texas Twosome

Padre Island National Seashore and Corpus Christi make a perfect Lone Star State pairing for summer.
By Karen Eakins

The first wave of warm gulf water smacking into the tiny turtle was the equivalent of a shot of espresso. As a cheer went up from the crowd of 150 onlookers, the silver-dollar-size creature began to scramble frantically for the water and its first swim. It may have been just another sunrise at Padre Island National Seashore for the National Park Service rangers, Turtle Patrol volunteers, and us onlookers, but for this turtle and his 90 or so fellow hatchlings, it was Independence Day.

seashore

Above: Bob Hall Pier at Padre Balli Parkin Corpus Christi is perfect for fishing or a beach stroll. ©philipus/fotolia.com photo

Below: Families can spend a day touring the Texas State Aquarium’s many exhibits. Corpus Christi CVB photo

aquarium

Run, Baby, Run

Padre Island National Seashore is the world’s longest undeveloped barrier island, consisting of more than 130,000 acres of beaches, tidal flats, grassland, and sand dunes. Padre has been a destination for families, anglers, campers, and more for decades. It also is a favored nesting spot for Kemp’s ridleys, the smallest and most endangered sea turtle in the world.

A $10 park entrance fee (valid for seven days) gains visitors access to 70 miles of protected beachfront, as well as the three-quarter-mile Grasslands Nature Trail, the hypersaline lagoon Laguna Madre, and the Malaquite Visitor Center, which features an information desk, natural and cultural history exhibits, two observation decks, and a sundries and souvenirs store. All vehicles can travel the paved North Beach area and the road south to Malaquite Visitor Center. More than 60 miles of South Beach are accessible beyond that, but a four-wheel-drive vehicle is required after the paved Park Road 22 ends.

While all these features are here year-round, nesting turtles and the hatchlings are only here April through August. Because life has been hard on these turtles, a strong conservation and recovery program was mounted, and now volunteers comb Padre to bring the eggs into shelter where they can gestate for a spell. They are later gathered and taken in blackened boxes back to the seashore to be released under the watchful eyes of the Turtle Patrol. Onlookers are not allowed to wear white, use flashlights, or take flash photography so that the babies see the sun as the brightest area and head for it–and the water–to accomplish the goal of a successful release.

Corpus Calling

Visitors have to get out of the water sometimes, and when they do, they’ll find plenty to plunge into in Corpus Christi. A cool, quiet respite can be found inside the Art Museum of South Texas located on North Shoreline. Visitors to this fine-arts home overlooking Corpus Christi Bay will find pre-Columbian works, art of the American West, and numerous galleries filled with regional, national, and international artworks. The museum is open daily.

The Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History on North Chapparal is where south Texas’ story is the highlight. Included are replicas of the Pinta and Santa Maria, built by Spain to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ New World voyage. The Niña is currently undergoing repair at a downtown marina. Museum visitors may board the Pinta for tours. The museum is closed Mondays.

The line out the door speaks to the Texas State Aquarium’s popularity. Situated next to the USS Lexington Museum on the Bay–home of all things military–the aquarium is one of those sneaky places where children learn without knowing it. More than 250 species of animal life educate and entertain. Two Atlantic bottlenose dolphins thrill audiences multiple times daily.

Both the USS Lexington and the aquarium are located on North Shoreline and are open daily.

When it comes to food, Mexican and seafood are plentiful, but eating breakfast at the cozy Hester’s Café & Coffee Bar in Old Town was like eating at home–if I were a better cook. This old, reclaimed office building glazed with bright turquoise, warm coral, and golden yellow walls is filled with bronze drop lights, soft rock, and lots of natural light and local folks. Try the Griddle Toast, freshly baked challah bread dunked in egg batter and secret spices, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. Bleu Frog Mercantile next door is well worth a spin through after eating. Hester’s and the Bleu Frog are closed on Sundays.

The smell of fresh waffle cones cooking grabbed me by the nose at the door of Scoopy’s Verandah, the ice cream parlor adjacent to Snoopy’s Pier, an eatery under the JFK Causeway between Padre and Corpus. Kicking back to watch the boat traffic with a dip of Texas’ own Blue Bell ice cream is a perfect capper to a steamy day at the beach.

And the combination of Padre Island National Seashore with Corpus Christi is a perfect pairing for a summertime family getaway along the Texas coast.

Karen Eakins is features/copy editor of Home & Away magazine.

Enchanting Sandcastles

South Padre Island is located at the tip of the national seashore and offers vacationers to south Texas even more beaches, resorts, activities, and festivals to enjoy. One of South Padre Island’s largest events, Sandcastle Days, will celebrate its 25th anniversary in a new location.

Set for Sept. 14–16 this year, the festival attracts the world’s best sand sculptors who turn the beach into a work of art. This year, The Pearl South Padre and Schlitterbahn Beach Resort, which is scheduled to open this summer at press time, will host Sandcastle Days. The premier sculpture exhibition this year features 10 master artists creating themed masterpieces.

Sandcastle-building lessons for families will be offered, and treasure hunts for children, arts and craft vendors, local entertainment, food and drink–plus wonderful photo opportunities of the sculptures and artists at work–round out the fun weekend. For more information about the festival, go online at www.sandcastledays.com.

This summer, visitors to South Padre Island can enjoy fireworks over the bay every Friday night. Thousands of anglers come to the island in August for two fishing tournaments.

Other activities include golf, birding, shopping and, naturally, miles of sugary beaches. For more information, call South Padre at (800) 767-2373 or visit www.sopadre.com.

Jul/Aug 2012 Issue

BEFORE YOU GO

Events this summer in Corpus Christi include bayside concerts and movies on Thursday nights through Aug. 12 at Cole Park, and July 4 fireworks along Shoreline Boulevard. The events are sponsored by the City of Corpus Christi.

For visitor information, contact the Corpus Christi Convention and Visitors Bureau at (800) 766-2322 or www.visitcorpuschristitx.org.

To visit south Texas, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides.

Order free information about Texas through the Free Travel Information Card, found online.


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