This blog will cover 4 new (to us) state parks in the southern part of Texas. But first I will cover my recent craft beer selections. The first grouping was purchased in Louisiana and of those I would pick the Abita Turbo Dog Brown Ale as my favourite with a close second being the Yuengling Hershey’s Chocolate Porter. Although honourable mention goes to the Abita Christmas Ale just because their label was unique with the alligators pulling Santa’s sleigh😉 In the second larger selection mainly from Texas I definitely would pick the Galveston Bay Captain’s Coffee Stout as the favourite although I would give honourable mention to the Saint Arnold Tarnation. The weirdest one from this grouping was the Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter which just had too many artificial type flavours in it.
In order to get to Mustang Island SP the shortest route is to take a free short ferry ride across to the town of Port Aransas. We were lucky as there wasn’t any wait for the ferry. Mustang Island was named after the wild horses that came ashore from shipwrecks and Spanish expeditions. Robert Ainsworth Mercer was the first white settler on the island from 1799-1875. The island was abandoned during the civil war as the USS Arthur was stationed to block the Aransas Pass. In the 1920’s sportsmen and tourism started to flourish on the island and by 1929 the ferry was put in place to grow the economy.
I had looked up reviews for seafood restaurants and Tortugas Saltwater Grill got high ratings so we decided to go there for lunch, it was a phenomenal choice. We started with the Angry Man Porter for me, the house Margarita for Sharon, and the best crab cake we had ever had!! Then for lunch I had the Crispy Shrimp Tacos, which was huge, and Sharon had the Shrimp and Grits and she said it was the best meal she had had in several months. The atmosphere was just basic, but the food and service were good enough that I gave it a 5-star review.
After lunch we looked at the displays outside a local museum, including a cool sand sculpture.
We checked in for 5 days at Mustang Island SP and it was really just a big parking lot with sites side by side, but it was a close walking distance to the beach. The only reason we had picked 5 days is we were trying to book as much time close to the beach before we needed to head inland for the Christmas and New Years holidays where it was too difficult to get a booking along the beach. On the first afternoon I was feeling a bit under the weather, so Sharon went to the beach walk with one of the rangers. He was late showing up, so she had to call to see if he was coming, he was just running late. He explained that Mustang Island was one of 7 Texas barrier islands, and that South Padre Island is the longest barrier island in the world. He talked about how the waves bring lots of little plastic bits ashore, they’re called Nerdles. He said you can see in the parking lot how high the water came during a storm by looking for the line of Nerdles. It is sad to see the amount of plastic debris that comes in from the gulf. He said the best place to find shells was by the rock jetty. They had built two rock jetties to protect a channel that went from the gulf to the bay. However, after a big storm the channel all filled in and they never opened it back up again. It’s now a place surfers go.
Over the next several days we did several beach walks (5 kms North, 8 kms South, and another 6 kms North) and saw lots of dead Cabbage Head Jellyfish (aka Cannonball Jellyfish), Dolphins playing in the surf, a Ghost Crab, a Great Blue Heron, and lots of seagulls, pelicans, Piping Plovers and a dead puffer fish. The water level was extremely high due to the weather systems and the moon cycle. It was actually so high the one day the park rangers had to come with a tractor and move the picnic tables further up the dunes so they wouldn’t wash away. The beach was normally about 50’ wide but was now down to 3-4’ in some areas. It didn’t stop some crazy surfers from driving along the beach to get to the jetty so they could surf.
We were leaving Mustang Island SP on Thursday to go inland to Lake Corpus Christi SP but all week they had been warning on the weather about the Arctic Express that was coming in so we were about to have 4 nights in a row well below 32 F so they called it a hard freeze. Our RV can handle a few hours of freezing temperatures but when it’s that prolonged a time period the safest thing is to winterize the RV. Once in the past in New Mexico we had a night that got down to 18 F and one of the freshwater lines that goes from the tank to the water filtration area under the kitchen sink froze, luckily it didn’t burst. Therefore, to avoid this from possibly doing damage we drained the water system and put plumbing antifreeze through all the lines. This is the first time since we’ve been RV’ing that we needed to do this while travelling in the south! The weatherman said this was the coldest for this time of year in decades. They were warning everyone to protect the 4 P’s, Plants, Pipes, Pet’s and People. Our winterizing addresses the pipes. What this meant was when we got to Lake Corpus Christi SP we had to get water from the outside taps and boil it to wash dishes. It also meant we had to fill jugs to use to flush the toilet. Our gray and black tanks were protected as we have heating pads around them that were applied under the insulation at the factory. For heating inside the RV, we used a combination of electric and our propane furnace. This was because the heat pump won’t work when it gets that cold. This was certainly a pain to go through the winterizing steps but at least we did not have any damage to our systems. Luckily, I had brought enough antifreeze with me because all the stores were sold out as people tried to protect their houses.
On our way to Lake Corpus Christi SP, we decided to stop for lunch at Smolik’s Smokehouse to get some Texas BBQ. This place was more cafeteria style, but the meat was good. Sharon had the lean beef brisket and ribs with macaroni and cheese and Spanish rice. I had the marbled beef brisket and pulled pork with macaroni and cheese and pinto beans. We agreed after trying everything that the marbled beef brisket was melt in your mouth and the best of the 4 meats😉 Needless to say we didn’t need any dinner that night after the size of this lunch.
At Lake Corpus Christi SP we did the Longhorn Trail and the CCC Pavilion (circa 1934-1935, built using blocks made from concrete mixed with caliche (calcium in the soil)) the first day, the Catfish Point Trail the second day and walked out to Bass Point on the third day. There was a large Spanish speaking family across from us and they certainly had the loud party on Christmas Eve! Christmas was on the Sunday, and we decorated our Sea Glass/Sea Shell Christmas tree and did video and phone calls to family back in Canada. By using electric heat during the day and propane heat overnight we were able to handle the cold weather and we just went through about 20% of our propane. There were several larger trailers in the park and every day they were swapping out propane bottles. In the park we saw at least a half dozen deer everyday and we saw Great Blue Herons, White Herons, and Egrets, Cardinals, and the coolest thing we saw were Green Jays. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get a picture of them, they are usually found in Mexico and South America but they also come to this area of Texas. The other cool thing we saw was the caterpillar of a Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, we hoped he/she found a warm place to survive the cold as we saw it on the first day before the temperature dropped 50 degrees F in 4 hours! Lastly, we also saw Leaf Cutter Ants so it was interesting to watch them carry the leaf fragments back to their nest, we took a photo, but it will be easier to see them in the short video.
Goliad SP and Historic Site was a back track for us but we were going where we could get a camp site during the busy holiday time period. We were in the Jacales camping area which was more like a parking lot but at least each site got 2 parking places so there was a bit of gap to your neighbour. It would have been better to stay in the Karankawa camping area, but it was full.
The main reasons to come to this State Park are to see the Mission Espiritu Santo and the birthplace of General Ignacio Zaragoza. One afternoon we hiked the San Antonio River trail to see the Mission Espiritu Santo and the Aranama Nature Trail. After touring the church, we went through the Museum exhibits and around the grounds. Here are some of the key things we learned:
- Mission Espiritu Santo was established by the Spanish to defend its territory and convert the native groups, Cujanes, Karankawa, Jaranames, and Tamiques, in hopes that they would help defend Spanish territory. It was moved to the current location along the San Antonio River in 1749 as this location was better for trade routes.
- In 1758 about 180 people resided at the Mission and fort mainly living in Jacales, which were crude clay plastered brush huts thatched with grass. The surrounding area was good for grazing lands and fertile fields.
- The Columbian Exchange, sometimes called the Grand Exchange, is one of the most important events in history. It was the exchange of goods and ideas between the Old World and the New World. It started in 1492 when Christopher Columbus arrived in North America. Before the Columbian Exchange there were no oranges in Florida, no bananas in Ecuador, no paprika in Hungary, no zucchini in Italy, no pineapples in Hawaii, no rubber trees in Africa, no cattle in Texas, no chili peppers in Thailand and India, no cigarettes in France, and no chocolate in Switzerland!
- Mission Espiritu Santo officially closed in 1830 and the last Spanish priests withdrew from Mexican Texas. For over 100 years the mission had served an important role in the development of early Texas.
- In 1932 Goliad County deeded the land to the state for a park and from 1936-1939 the CCC partially restored the Mission.
There were 2 volunteers on the mission premises, and they were incredibly knowledgeable to answer any of the questions we had. On our walk back along the San Antonio River we saw lots of turkey vultures in the tops of the trees and back at our campsite we had a nice sunset.
On another day we walked over to the Birthplace of General Ignacio Zaragoza and the Presidio La Bahia fort and church which was one of the most fought-over sites in Texas. The birthplace building was free to enter but we had to pay an entrance fee for the Presidio La Bahia fort. Here are the key events for the Presidio:
- Presidio La Bahia established along the San Antonio River 1749. Presidio is a Spanish fort built to secure an area.
- La Bahia was the location for the first major Texas cattle drive (10,000 head) from 1779-1782 to take cattle to Spanish Soldiers along the gulf coast who were preparing to fight in the American Revolution.
- Presidio Chapel was built in 1779.
- 1812-1821 invading filibustering forces capture Presidio La Bahia
- In 1829 La Bahia was renamed Goliad and Ignacio Zaragoza was born
- Texas also wins independence from Mexico with an agreement signed here on December 20th, 1835.
- In 1836 Col. James Fannin and 341 Texas prisoners of war were defeated at Coleto Creek and then executed at La Bahia by their Mexican captors.
- Texas becomes the 28th state in 1845.
- The American Civil war was from 1861 through 1865.
- On May 5th, 1862, a battle occurred in Puebla Mexico and this is when General Ignacio Zaragoza led 4000 poorly armed men and defeated the French forces of Napoleon III who had 8000 soldiers. This heroic victory gave Mexico its great national patriotic anniversary, “El Cinco de Mayo”.
- Additional background on why the battle occurred. Spain, England, and France had funded the Mexican Government of President Benito Juarez but when he defaulted on the loans the 3 countries joined forces and were trying to collect custom fees at the Mexico Ports. However, Napoleon III wanted to re-establish the French Empire, so he separately planned a hostile takeover of Mexico. This led to the battle in Puebla.
- The Presidio La Bahia was reconstructed in 1967 and Zaragoza birthplace was reconstructed in 1974.
The displays in the General’s birthplace building talked about his family, his upbringing, and his progression in the military. He became the father of the Cinco de Mayo celebrations at just 33 years old.
We went back across to the Presidio La Bahia and watched a short film documentary on the battles that took place for the La Bahia. Then we went through a detailed timeline exhibit and then out to see the Chapel Our Lady of Loretto. Lastly, we walked around the fort grounds and proceeded to some statues that were outside the fort. A weird thing happened when we went to walk back to the campground as a scraggly mut dog decided to follow us. It had a collar on but did not seem to want to return to wherever it was from. It followed us for about 2 kms and nothing we could do would get rid of it. Finally, when we got into our RV it wandered around some of the other campsites and then finally disappeared.
On the day we left Goliad SP we decided to drive to the El Camino Real de los Tejas Visitor Center which was a CCC building that was used as the headquarters when they were doing the restoration work on Mission Espiritu Santo. However, Google Maps had the wrong address for it! We looked around the residential area it took us to and finally I said why don’t we try the fairgrounds area back closer to the Mission as the rangers had described things there. We did find it and after we left I submitted an address update to Google which they have now published so no one else will get lost😉
The building was quite small, but it was very interesting as the CCC restorers actually used it as a laboratory for building features that would be used in the Mission restoration. Before they began the restoration they travelled extensively in Texas, Mexico, and the American Southwest to learn about Spanish building features. So, for example this building had a log staircase used for Mission Bell Towers where space was tight, terracotta tiles, clamshell windows, handmade Spanish colonial furniture, built in cabinetry with smoke stained wood, and a Mexican garden in the courtyard.
After the visitor center, we took a walk around the historic square in Goliad and we’d like to come back here to spend more time. Here are some of the interesting buildings we saw.
Our last stop for this blog is Choke Canyon SP but we don’t have too much to say about it as Sharon had really bad cold symptoms (tested negative for COVID), so we didn’t do too much in the park other than rest. I slept in our front single bed to try to avoid getting sick but still got milder symptoms than Sharon. The site we had was directly under a large tree which turned out great as our daytime temperatures eventually got up to 87 F, we even had to turn on the AC. On the one day we did a short walk around the campground and down to see the lake. This area is known for birding, fishing, and at this time of year duck and deer hunting. In the campground we saw our first 2 Javelinas. Since the temperatures were so warm there was a big problem with wasps as you will see from the tons of them that got caught up in our vent fans. Anyway we did like this park so we would likely return and do the hiking trail.
When I was posting this blog Sharon was able to see a Doctor and found out she has Bronchitis. She now has some stronger medications to take to help cure her. That concludes this blog to the 4 new to us State Parks in Texas. Always new areas to discover😉