Beach Camping at Padre Island
Location: Padre Island National Seashore & Corpus Christi, TX
Date: April 20 - 21, 2001
Weather: Sunny, blue skies & windy; high, 80
Activities: Camping, photography, birding, 4x4/offroad
Submitted by: Shannon Moore
If we ever leave Texas, Padre Island National Seashore is one of the places I will miss most. Justin and I make day trips to the Seashore two or three times annually to take photos, do some 4x4/offroad driving and observe wildlife. With every daytrip, the beach camping bug bites me and I vow we will return to camp overnight. Our last overnight stay on the Seashore was in 1996, and that camping bug was getting mighty insistent!
Many people, including families with small children, camp in tents and RVs on the two-wheel-drive accessible beach or in the developed Malaquite Beach camping area. My preferred style of beach camping at Padre is "way out there" with no other vehicles in sight, long past the sign marking the first of 70 miles of 4x4 only accessible beach. If I'm going to get wind- and sand-blasted for more than 24 hours, I intend to do it out where I can enjoy the solitude. Justin's not quite as keen on the whole beach camping experience as I am, and this trip we took his shiny, brand new 4x4 pickup. I'm lucky he enjoys the outdoors as much as I do, and can be talked into trips like this. Thanks, hon!
Camping on the beach presents unique opportunities for wildlife observation.
In the evening, several flocks of birds flew along the shoreline as we watched, including a mixed flock of more than 50 glossy and white ibis and small flocks of brown pelican. While doing some beach driving, we passed within 5 feet of a peregrine falcon that had captured and killed a small duck. We also drove by the skeleton of a dolphin that had washed ashore; a little macabre, perhaps, but how often do you get to examine a dolphin's skeletal system? I regret not taking a photo, since I was surprised at how solidly dolphins are built, given their incredible flexibility and acrobatic capabilities. During our stay at Padre Island National Seashore, we also observed laughing gull, willet, herring gull, royal tern, sanderling, barn swallow and ghost crab; we found fresh tracks from coyote and kangaroo rat by the dunes near our campsite the following morning.
Offroad driving conditions were rated as "Good" by the National Park Service during our stay, meaning the sand was not too deep or loose, but seaweed and debris levels were rated as "High", making driving near the waterline more dangerous. We were reminded of the hazards of four-wheel driving when we observed an older model 4x4 pickup, returning from further down island, driving on a shredded front tire and mangled rim. Some of the Corpus Christi area wreckers do occasionally come down Padre Island to rescue hapless 4x4 vehicles, but it's at considerable expense to the vehicle's owner. While National Park Service staff, driving 4-wheelers/ATVs, do patrol much of the beach, they are primarily monitoring the park's Portuguese Man-o-War jellyfish, seaweed, tar, debris and driving conditions and on the lookout for nesting endangered sea turtles.
First-time visitors to Padre Island National Seashore are often appalled by the amount of refuse and debris they find on the beach. While some of the trash is left by unthinking visitors, most of it washes in from the Gulf of Mexico where it has been illegally dumped from fishing boats, private yachts and commercial ships. There are several annual volunteer beach clean-ups, one of which is in mid-April, but the park staff welcomes any and all efforts to remove trash from the beach. During our stay, teenagers and adults from the Coastal Conservation Association were getting geared up for a Saturday morning beach clean-up. Clubs and groups can contact the park to arrange a beach cleanup; the Park Service provides rubber gloves and trashbags to volunteers.
The waters off Padre Island are also home to offshore oil platforms, one of which can be seen from the beach. While a reminder of man's development of the environment, the rig was an interesting focal point, particularly after dark when its lights turned it into a floating city. The following morning, we had a further reminder of the importance of oil in this region as an 18-wheel tanker proceeded down the 4x4-only portion of beach, past our campsite, and then continued inland on Yarbrough Pass. I have to admit I never expected to see an 18-wheeler driving down Padre Island National Seashore; imagine getting that towed out if it got stuck!
Even with the occasional 4x4 vehicle's headlights shining on our campsite, and the lights of the offshore oil rig, the skies above Padre Island remain pitch black and brimming with stars. On the night we camped, the new moon ensured it was especially dark. Although we did not have a telescope, we did use my Pocket PC handheld computer and an astronomy/star chart program to identify constellations, planets (Jupiter and Saturn were in view) and the Milky Way. I will be writing a follow-up article soon featuring some of the other programs I use on my handheld computer while camping and hiking, for those of you who are also technically-inclined outdoors enthusiasts.
Enjoy more photos from our camping trip by taking the Padre Island photo tour.
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