2009 ULTRA RUNNING ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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  MUSTANG ISLAND & THE CORPUS CHRISTI BAY AREA

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 1

 
"Seaside beaches stretch for five miles along the open Gulf of Mexico, inviting a perfect
summer-at-the-shore experience. This is truly one of the best places to see coastal marine life,
from stingrays to blue herons . . . Come take in the surf and the sun!"
 
- description of Mustang Island State Park in the Texas State Park Guide,
Texas Parks & Wildlife Dept., p. 87 of the 2007 edition
 
 
Mustang Island State Park is also a great place to visit during the winter for any beach activities except swimming. The Gulf water probably stays about the same temperature year round but it'd be more pleasant in the warmer months once you get out of the water! Jim got in the water with Cody only our first afternoon on the island:

The park has five miles of beach, which was plenty for the amount of running we did last week. Out and back in each direction made for a tough ten-mile workout because even hard-packed sand taxed our legs and feet more than a dirt trail. More often we did four to six miles at a time.

When the tide was out, the beach was quite wide = more hard sand. At high tide we had to run in looser sand or in tire tracks made by vehicles driving on the beach. We learned to look up the tide schedules so we'd be out there when the tide was farther out.

Unlike Galveston Island State Park, vehicles are allowed to drive on most of the beach at Mustang Island. Dodging cars and trucks was a bit different experience for us. We didn't see many cyclists riding on the beach but fishing, crabbing, and camping in tents and truck campers are popular activities. Most of the time we pretty much had the beach to ourselves, however, especially a mile or more away from the bathhouse and picnic shelters.


Sand dune on the leeward side of the bathhouse.

We had other interesting distractions on beach walks and runs. There weren't as many shells as Galveston Island, but lots of jellyfish beached themselves and were lodged in the sand. No, we didn't touch them. You can tell Cody got even closer to this one than I did; that's his paw print:

We saw several catfish that were in various stages of decay on the beach. Cody was interested in all of these things, of course. Good thing he knows the command, "Leave it!!" He finds snacks wherever he can.

Other things like a thick rope, netting, and driftwood also found their way to shore. Some slobs left garbage lying where they'd been partying, but there wasn't too much of that. We picked up what we could carry to the next garbage can.

The roof of a picnic pavilion (?) was the largest piece of "litter" on the beach. At high tide the water surrounded it. At low tide it looked like a UFO half buried in the sand.

We had fun watching two kinds of sea gulls (some double the size of the others) and little birds like sandpipers scavenging for food along the waterline.

Jim pointed out a pelican near the shore one day but I couldn't catch it on camera. That was cool.

There were also some beautiful herons and egrets in two small ponds near the park entrance:

 

 

To the north of the main entrance to the beach were two rock jetties that enclosed a small swimming area. I assume they were designed to decrease the waves and dangerous undercurrents so folks can swim more safely. The huge chunks of red granite were fun for Jim , Cody, and me to climb.

 

 

At the south end of the park we found two long piers at Corpus Christi Pass (a channel of water) that were popular with fishermen (and birds) on a Saturday morning.

 

Looking back toward the beach. Note all the vehicles on the sand.

While sitting on the pier for a while, I counted fifteen surfers in full wet suits riding the nearby waves into the shore. Here a bird seems to be watching the surfers:

 

WHAT, NO SUNSET PICTURES??

I was hoping to get some spectacular sunrise or sunset pictures like I got last year on Galveston Island but that didn't happen. The beach was positioned properly for sunrises but I was never up early enough to get out there in time to photograph them!

Sunsets on Mustang Island are best viewed on the bay side of the island. You can't get over there as easily as on Galveston Island. One evening I drove out a primitive (i.e., very rough) dirt road that appeared to go over to the bay, but a channel of water stopped me before I could reach it. The picture above along a "water exchange pass" in the park is the best I could do this time.

ISLAND ECOLOGY

Like Padre Island and Galveston Island, Mustang Island is one of several long and narrow barrier islands along the coast of Texas that help buffer the mainland from the tide and storms. According to one of the park brochures, these islands appeared only about five thousand years ago as the Gulf of Mexico reached its present sea level.

Barrier islands are constantly moving and re-forming as they respond to wind, waves, and storms. On the Gulf side of Mustang Island, sand dunes rise 20-30 feet high. Tenacious vines and deeply rooted grasses pretty much fight a losing battle against the elements on the sea side:

More vegetation is able to grow behind the crest of the seaside dunes to hold the secondary dunes in place and create a more sheltered environment for plants and wildlife:

The bay side of Mustang and other barrier islands is more hospitable to grassy wetlands, placid lagoons, oyster reefs, and brackish estuaries. Bayside is full of birds, fish and shellfish, deer, squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, opossums, skunks, mice, snakes, even bobcats and coyotes.

Add in the migratory waterfowl and songbirds (the original "sunbirds" escaping cold farther north), and you can see why folks like to come here for wildlife viewing and photography.

WHERE ARE THE MUSTANGS?

With a name like "Mustang Island" you'd think we would have seen some horses roaming around, but we didn't. There used to be hundreds of them on the island. No one knows when or where they came from. They vanished in the 1880s.

We know more about the people who have lived here. The island's natural resources have attracted humans for centuries. The earliest known residents were the Karankawa Indians, who also lived up the coast on Galveston Island. They moved or vanished by the 1850s. European explorers discovered the island in the early 1700s. Horse and cattle ranching began as early as 1838.

The Texas Revolution and Civil War both interrupted land transactions during the 1800s but the island continued to attract residents and entrepreneurs. The state park lands are the only undeveloped part of Mustang Island now. Beachfront homes, ranches, condos, hotels, restaurants, and other businesses occupy the northern part of the island between the park and the town of Port Aransas. The city of Corpus Christi lies a short distance across the bay at the southern end of the island.

CAMPING OPTIONS

There are two types of camping at Mustang Island which satisfy the needs of everyone from people with tents to huge Class A motorhomes.

Primitive camping on a first-come, first-served basis is allowed on most of the five miles of beach within the park. There are several rinse showers, portable toilets, and garbage cans available. I don't believe there is fee for primitive camping fee but the state park entrance fee would apply (free with annual park pass).

There is a fee for the 48-site developed campground (in next two photos) where we stayed, however. The cost is reasonable for a campground located so close to the dunes and providing water and electric hookups: $16 a day plus the park entrance fee for each person, which we didn't have to pay since we have a park pass. There is no weekly rate here.

The double sites are very close together on one side. On the other side of each site is plenty of grass and a sheltered picnic area. Fortunately, our door faced that direction. (We were assigned a site before we saw how they were laid out.)

The sites aren't as big or as attractive as the ones were at Galveston Island SP but they're better (and much cheaper) than any of the private RV parks we saw on the island. Even the ones called "resorts" looked more like parking lots than ours. Yuck.

The state park campground stayed busy all week and weekend but was never completely full while we were there.

EXPLORING THE CORPUS CHRISTI BAY AREA

If you look on a map you can see how large this bay it is. On Friday we drove around it in a counter-clockwise loop from the state park to Port Aransas, across Aransas Pass (water) on a ferry to the city of Aransas Pass, through Portland, across a bridge over the bay, into Corpus Christi (Spanish for "body of Christ"), and back over Laguna Madre ("Mother Lagoon") to N. Padre Island and Mustang Island. Our loop drive was 57 miles.

That was an interesting drive. Mustang Island is more developed than Padre Island. Nice beach houses and condos lie adjacent to cattle ranches, reminding us of Galveston Island. Port Aransas is a tourist trap with kitschy signs and statues at some businesses trying to entice one-time visitors to enter their doors:

We really enjoyed our *free* ferry trip across the stretch of water between Port Aransas and Harbor Island. We waited about 15 minutes for one of four or five ferries that were operating at 11 AM. It was fun to watch the vehicles, even campers and a semi truck, get on and off the boats.

We were directed to park behind a panel truck. We had no view so we got out and stood at the front of the ferry on the short ride (less than five minutes) across the water.

We talked about the ferry system to one of the guys who directs the vehicles on and off the boat. He reassured me that it is efficient and cost-effective for the state. Apparently it's impossible at this point to build a bridge there.

All the other water crossings on this trek were on long bridges, not nearly as much fun as the ferry! Quicker, though.

We were happy to buy diesel for only $2.01 at a Wal-Mart (Murphy's station) in Aransas Pass. That's our new lowest price on this trip. Across the bay in Corpus Christi it went for $2.29/gallon. I would have guessed it'd be cheaper in the larger city.

At the southern end of the Nueces Bay Causeway we stopped at the USS Lexington Museum. The museum is the ship itself. I'll write about our interesting tour in the next entry.

We were in Corpus Christi twice during our stay at Mustang Island. I worked out at a YMCA and we did some shopping and sight-seeing.

A funny thing happened on one of those trips. For some reason Jim had on his Garmin Forerunner 305 GPS watch the day we went into Wal-Mart and Sam's Club to restock our supplies. It was no surprise that the GPS did not track our movements through Sam's Club, considering it has to receive signals from several satellites.

What did surprise the heck out of us is that it tracked us through Wal-Mart!! It was fun to see the readout on the computer later. Jim's really pleased with the unit. It has never lost tracking on our runs or bike rides, even under tree cover.

We drove seven or eight miles along scenic Ocean Drive on both forays into Corpus Christi. We enjoyed the beautiful homes and yards, scenic views of the bay, and pretty parks between the boulevard and the water.

If we lived here, that's where we'd run if we wanted to run on pavement. (There's a guy running in the photo above. It's not Jim.) Road cycling would probably also be enjoyable on the bike path that follows Ocean Drive for several miles. 

Corpus Christi was first explored by Europeans in the early 1500s but it wasn't settled until Col. Henry Kinney established a trading post in 1839. He envisioned the area becoming a resort area, but that didn't happen until much later. Kinney did turn it into a trade center for the nearby cattle ranchers and Mexican border towns.

In the 1920s the Army Corps of Engineers dug a deep ship channel and the city was transformed into an international port. Being the deepest port on the Texas coast attracted many of the businesses that form Corpus Christi's industrial base. A Naval Air Station with an advanced flight-training school and a large Army Depot are also located here.

 
View of seawall and downtown Corpus Christi from Ocean Drive

The city is described in the Texas AAA Tour Book as a "booming cosmopolitan tourist mecca" because of its hotels, condos, resort areas, and nearby beaches. It's attractive along Ocean Drive but we weren't that impressed with other areas we drove through. It's not a bad place to spend part of the winter though.

We much preferred being out on the island at the state park. We just aren't "city" or "resort" people.

UH, OH. WHAT'S LEAKING?

This morning we woke up in a pond of water again. It encroached on our neighbor's site, too. And it wasn't from the little bit of rain we got yesterday afternoon.

Nope, the first thing Jim got to do this morning was to figure out why our water heater had leaked many gallons of water during the night. The guy in the pop-up camper next to us heard the water during the night and got up to inspect it. We sort of wish he'd wakened us up, but he was probably afraid we'd be angry.

Jim determined that the problem was too much water pressure from the spigot at the campsite. He went into town to look for a pressure regulator for the water heater but couldn't find one on a Sunday morning. Instead, he solved the problem (at least temporarily) by putting our pressure regulator on the hose where it goes into the camper. We'll look later for a regulator for the water heater if the problem persists.

It's always something. Our neighbor was glad Jim fixed the leak (he was nice about it) and the pool of water eventually drained into the sand beneath our campers.

WHERE'S CODY?

Let's close with a little humor.

On our runs and walks along the beach we saw about as many dogs as people. Golden and Labrador retrievers were the most common because they love to run and play in the surf.

One day we passed a guy who was throwing sticks and Frisbees into the water for his three black Labs to retrieve.  Like most dogs, they had to inspect Cody when he came into "their" territory:

You can see the result above. Jim and I got a good laugh because it was a bit difficult to pick Cody out from the pack. He's the one in front, however. See the fur standing up on his shoulders and the base of his tail? I think he was feeling (justifiably) a bit defensive!

No harm was done, only reciprocal sniffing and doggie posturing.

Next entry: a neat history lesson -- touring the USS Lexington

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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2009 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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