If the Van’s a Rocking…
On our drive to Texas for a nephew’s wedding we considered going on to New Mexico for a few days but a 7 day forecast of sub-freezing temps convinced us to try South Texas instead. Smart move.
I grew up within a few hours of the Texas coast and have fond memories of days spent crabbing, wave surfing, and cleaning tar blobs off my feet after a walk on the beach. One thing I had never done was view the endangered Whooping Cranes which migrate to that area.
A couple days after the wedding we set off for the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, an 115,000 acre refuge for the cranes and other wildlife. At the entrance, we pulled up to a visitor kiosk to check out walking trails and driving tours. A swarm of Texas-sized mosquitoes quickly forced us back into Wanda the van and dictated how we would spend the next few hours. We did chance it a few miles into the refuge by climbing an observation deck. With a pair of powerful binoculars I claimed a visual of my first ever Whooping Cranes. I explained to Jenni that the white dots on the horizon were really 5ft tall birds (tallest birds in North America) but I don’t think she signed off on officially claiming she saw them. Leaving the refuge, two flew over our van but we weren’t sure until later that’s what they were.
We drove on to Goose Island State Park near Rockport, TX where we had a reservation in Shelter #1 on the bay. From my childhood I knew this to be the most prestigious camping spot possible because it was the closest to the pier--the pier where my siblings and I could spend the entire summer day crabbing without shoes or adult supervision only to turn the Blue Crabs loose or give them away at the end of the day. I was reminded that evening that sometimes, just sometimes, you really can go home.
We pulled out of camp the next morning searching for a place an Instagram friend had told me we were almost guaranteed to see Whooping Cranes. We pulled up to the pasture she had suggested and were about to drive away when a pair glided in to feed. We spent the next couple hours driving around like people looking for a good garage sale—creeping the roads, looking for cars pulled over signifying activity. In all we saw TEN Whooping Cranes. According to Aransas NWR there were 505 birds this year. (In 1942, only 22 existed in the world.) We saw TWO PERCENT of a species. Yeah, think about that a second.
Next on my trip down memory lane was a ferry ride (Wanda’s first) over to Port Aransas. The beach there is kind of sad in terms of sand and water quality but it’s what I grew up with as a teenager. One of the novelties of Texas beaches is that you can drive on most of them and even park right at the tide level if you’re brave.
Thinking about where we would sleep that night, Jenni had read about Beach Access Road #2. As we left Port Aransas I saw the sign for Beach Access Road #1 and thought we could drive along the beach until we reached #2. I did not consult a map. Or Jenni. THREE miles into that sandy drive she informed me that we had another SIX miles to go. I felt committed at that point, and didn’t think Wanda could manage a U-turn in the soft sand. We were all pretty quiet over those next six miles (at 15mph). Eventually we reached Beach Access Road #2; there was no way I was staying there that night.
In a few miles we found another recommended spot in a county parking lot near a jetty. It looked safe. We took a walk along the jetty watching the waves crash with great force. I think we ate cereal that night since we had enjoyed seafood earlier in the day. About midnight we woke up to sounds in the parking lot and noticed a dense fog had enveloped us almost obscuring drug dealer vehicles a few spaces away. (I may have told Jenni they were getting fishing poles out of the trunk.) Same thing at 2am—vehicle sounds and fog. About 4:30am the van began to rock. I was sure someone was stealing our tires or tagging graffiti while we slept. Then things in the van began swaying back and forth. A peek out the window revealed the fog was definitely gone as were most of the drug dealers. Instead we had 30mph winds, stronger gusts, and a small craft marine advisory. This continued for hours. As someone prone to seasickness it’s a wonder I wasn’t hurling.
When we felt it was safe to cross tall bridges in our high top van we headed inland.
It had been a successful trip down memory lane despite a couple glitches.