Padre Island National Seashore

Yes, you can drive on the beach in places on Padre Island. And yes, you WILL attract a ton of birdlife at the merest hint of food!

The travel may be over (for now!), but we still have plenty of material to share from our recently-completed Year On The Road RV adventure, and here is another snapshot video from the Texas leg of the trip, highlighting the wild – and completely natural – Padre Island National Seashore. This pristine 66-mile stretch of barrier island along the south Texas coast is one of the few remaining coastal prairies in America and feels like a true wilderness in its own right, rich for exploring and packed with bird life:

This whole area was completely new to us and we would certainly come back this way again. With the happening city of Corpus Christi and miles of unspoilt, sandy beaches a metaphorical stone’s throw away, it is the ideal blend of urban setting and sheer nature. The video didn’t fully capture the wild spirit of the National Seashore, but you can still feel the windswept wonder of it all.

It’s hard to get a full appreciation of the size of the sand dunes along Padre Island National Seashore, but they can top 40ft in places

It’s All About The Sea In Corpus Christi

We have encountered countless Spanish, Native American, French, and German business names and locations during our journey, and, after a while, our brains automatically translated them into English, sometimes with humorous results. We were looking forward to visiting Body of Christ – Corpus Christi – an iconic port city along Texas’s Gulf Coast, named for the Roman Catholic Feast Day that was going on when the place was “discovered” by the Spanish in 1519.

We had two major attractions in mind, along with more fabulous Mexican food, and a heaping helping of seafood, at least for Simon.

“You like dessert, Jennifer, not coffee.”
My go-to line when Simon orders a sweet coffee drink. This time, though, it was a milkshake.

The city’s personality is defined by its beaches, its fishing, and its bridges, one of which can be seen for miles in every direction. As big as it is, though, an even bigger bridge is taking shape next to it, presumably to accommodate the ever-growing size of ocean-going vessels that make their way into and out of the port.

Existing bridge is too low.

New bridge will be gigantic.

The skies were a bit grim to start with, but it was still pleasant enough for a walk (and a drive) along the beach. Ruthie was okay with the hard-packed sand, and happily trotted along when we made a trip out to Padre Island National Seashore.

Happy girl! She loves the hard-packed beaches.

The first attraction we wanted to visit was the huge aircraft carrier parked in Corpus Christi Bay. Ruthie couldn’t be left alone for an hour or more, so Susan waited with her in the car while Simon toured the ship. He’ll take over the blog for this part:

Walking up the ramp to the main deck entrance of the mighty U.S.S. Lexington is like walking back in history, to the turmoil of World War II and the life-or-death struggle in the Pacific theater, where aircraft carriers were the big dogs of most battles and the USA’s fleet helped to carry the day in some of the bloodiest exchanges of the War.

You feel that heritage almost immediately as you enter the gaping Hangar Deck, where the aircraft were stored when not on a mission. Amazingly, up to 60 planes could be stored here, but the area – which covers 40,000 square feet – is now given over to a variety of exhibits, video presentations, a Pearl Harbor memorial, several flight simulators, and a few vintage aircraft.

The Lexington has a long and illustrious history, from her commissioning in 1943 to service with the Seventh Fleet out of San Diego, when it was on call to serve as a major deterrent in places such as Formosa, Laos, and Cuba, before taking up training operations from 1962-1991, when she was decommissioned and eventually moved to Corpus Christi as a permanent museum and tribute to the many men and women who served in the carrier fleet.

All this history is available on a series of self-guided tours, and I did two of them, starting with the Lower Decks tour that takes visitors deep into the bowels of a ship that needed a crew of about 3,000 during the War (and 1,550 in later years). It includes a visit to the engine room, galley, medical and dental facilities and much more, including several memorials to other aircraft carriers and their crews.

The other must-do tour is the Flight Deck, the vast open space that is the carrier’s “airport,” covering two full acres. It is 910 feet long and 460 feet wide and had to be reconfigured for jet aircraft in the 1950s, but is an immense experience that includes more than a dozen different aircraft. You can also visit the captain’s bridge for an excellent overview of the Flight Deck.

There is a LOT to like about the whole experience and it would take you most of the day to take it all in. It remains a formidable figure on the Corpus Christi shoreline and presents an educational history trip through a grim period of the 20th century. The ship was actually hit and badly damaged by a Japanese Kamikaze plane in late 1944, killing 50 crewmen and injuring another 132, and there is a very heartfelt tribute to all the victims, which really brings home the full magnitude of the War’s horrors. Perhaps a bit much for young children, but a valuable lesson for older ones. 

(Susan here again) With crummy weather heading in the next day, we drove out to the Texas State Aquarium for some time exploring what’s under Corpus Christi’s coastal waters. Obviously, we know SeaWorld in Orlando very well, with it’s big-scale experience, and this was on a much more intimate scale. Where the Lexington may have been beyond most youngsters, the aquarium is ideal for them and the grownups who love them.

We have a thing for themed environments when it comes to educational experiences, and the aquarium didn’t disappoint.

The most peevish beings in the world. They are SO LOUD, and they squabble constantly, which is actually quite hilarious

There was also a dolphin show, but we only arrived in time for the finale.

Our five days in Corpus Christi went by fast. We tried a few recommended restaurants, we spent a lot of time on the Island, and we were glad to have been there during the calm before the storm, when Spring Breakers and then the summer crowds would descend on this wonderful gem of a city.

A Year On The Road – The 9-Month Map

Somehow we’ve reached the three-quarter mark of our grand RV adventure, and we’re looking at another month of travel that completes nine full months on the roads of America.

The full scope of our 9-month journey to date, starting from our Florida base, then heading north and west, taking a loop from Yellowstone National Park (G) to Glacier National Park (H), then down through Montana and Wyoming (I) before heading west again to Twin Falls, Idaho (K) and south through Utah and Nevada. We’ve then headed east and south through Arizona, New Mexico and Texas

January was very much a “rest” month, in which we were largely in one place, down in the southwest of Texas, but we got back under way again at the beginning of February, turning north and east to skirt along the Gulf Coast of the Lone Star State, a part of Texas we’d heard a lot about but had never visited before.

Setting out from Donna, close to the Mexican border, we drove due east to beautiful South Padre Island, part of the barrier island system along the coast that is laced with wide, open beaches. Here, we were lucky enough to find accommodation at the KOA Journey close to the long stretch of SPI Beach.

The long-distance view of Month 9, down in the southwest corner of Texas

From there, we back-tracked slightly and then headed north for more coastal experiences, first at a tiny but lovely spot on Baffin Bay called Riviera (and the wonderfully natural Seawind RV Resort, part of the Kaufer Hubert Memorial Park), then it was on to the busy port city of Corpus Christi, where we were lucky enough to stay at the Colonia Del Rey RV Park, ideally situated between the beaches and the city itself.

Finally, the last week has brought us to another idyllic spot on the epic Texas seashore, Pioneer Beach RV Resort, where we are only a few hundred yards from the unbroken 18-mile stretch of gorgeous beach hideaway.

The close-up view of Month 9, showing our route from Donna to South Padre Island and then north to Corpus Christi and Port Aransas, truly a lovely part of the state

It is a total of 294 miles, which is barely a day’s drive under normal circumstances, but we’re looking to stay out of the way of all the winter weather immediately to the north and explore an area we’ve never been to before, hence the slow pace and the chance to really savor the journey at this stage.

That compares with 928 miles in Month 8, and takes us to a grand total of 8,536 miles since we left home.

However, we have managed an additional 945 miles in the past month in our little Ford Fiesta, Nippy, exploring the state parks, small towns and wonderful open countryside of this part of the world. Our extra mileage in the car is now at 20,653, and the grand total of miles covered in both Fati and Nippy has reached a whopping 29,189 across the USA, or enough to fly back and forth from Orlando to London almost four times!

We still have at least another 1,500 miles before we get back to our Florida base, and another three states to visit, but we can safely say at this stage that our grand RV adventure has definitely lived up to our expectations, and more besides!