The big stories of Padre Island

Yesterday I promised a report on Texas brisket, so let me get that out of the way before I tell you some more about Padre Island.  We had samples of beef brisket from Louie Mueller’s (Taylor TX), Rudy’s (Austin TX), and Chisholm Trail (Lockhart TX).  If you’re not familiar with Texas brisket, it’s slow-cooked beef with heavy spices along the outside, presented in roughly 3/16” slices.  The brisket is normally a tougher cut of meat but the barbecue process makes it tender.

For us, Louie Mueller’s won.  The beef was evenly marbled, very tender, a little smoky, and the coating of spices was hearty and delicious.  Rudy’s was a very close second, and they may have had an unfair disadvantage with us, because we liked their pork ribs so much that they overshadowed their brisket.  Chisholm Trail’s brisket was fine too, but the meat was not as tender and we weren’t as in love with the spices.

All of which really proves nothing, because there is no “one” Texas barbecue.  Everyone does it a little differently, and it’s all good.  I recommend you come over and try it and decide for yourself, since that’s the fun part.  We’re bringing home a few pounds of this and that for later enjoyment in Tucson.

padre-island-beach-camping.jpgWe headed over to the Padre Island National Seashore visitor center and learned a little more about the park.  Birding is big here, as is primitive camping on the beach, but the big stories seem to be sea turtles and trash.  Around here the Kemp’s Ridley turtle is predominant, but endangered.  The park releases thousands of hatchling turtles several times a year during the summer, which the public is invited to watch.  There’s hope that the turtles can be brought back to the Texas beaches in greater numbers.

padre-island-trash2.jpgBut the other big story of Padre Island interferes with that.  Because of the shape of the Texas coastline and the currents of the Gulf of Mexico, Padre Island is the Dumpster Of The Gulf.  An enormous amount of floating trash ends up on the beach here.  It’s mammoth.  You can’t walk for fifty feet without encountering a bunch of junk that blew off a boat, or was deliberately dumped at sea.

You’ll see everything: ropes, plastic bottles, plastic bags, shoes, toothbrushes, sealed jars, even 55-gallon drums.  The park services gives out free bright yellow bags for anyone to use, and provides dumpsters at every beach access point.

padre-island-trash.jpgThe problem for sea turtles is that plastic bags and bottles look like their favored food source (jellyfish) and so the turtles are getting very sick or dying as a result of trying to eat all the misleading trash floating around.  I wonder if the sea turtle numbers can ever fully recover as long as people continue to put their trash in the ocean.

padre-island-full-trash-bag.jpgJunior Rangers are required to pick up a bag of trash to complete their badge requirements, so we drove out on the section of beach that serves as road and picked a random spot about a mile down to pause and pick up trash.

We quickly began to appreciate the scope of the problem.  Our single bag was filled in a few minutes, and we didn’t even manage to clean up a hundred-foot section of beach.  We could easily have filled a half-dozen bags in an hour, if we had them, without even walking far from the car.  The drivable beach section of Padre Island is 65 miles long.

Eleanor is now happier that we didn’t camp on the beach.  The knowledge of all that trash would have obsessed her.  We were all particularly disturbed by the diamond-shaped holes in many of the plastic bottles, which are the signature bite of a sea turtle, so we made a game out of it: whoever found trash that was especially dangerous to sea turtles got more “points.”

padre-island-trash-tossing.jpgIf we’d stayed on the beach, we would have spent most of our free time just combing the sand for trash.  It’s just not our nature to ignore trash on public lands. But this gave me an idea for an unusual sort of do-good  RV rally:  why not get a bunch of RV’ers together to camp on Padre Island for a weekend and have a competition to see who can fill the most bags?  We’d have some fun too, maybe with a Trash Queen competition? (Imagine the costumes.)  I’d do it — and donate a cash prize to the winners as added incentive.  We could have fun camping in a rare location while helping out one of our exceptional national parks.

Back in Malaquite campground, there seems to be little excitement about the trash problem.  People become inured to it over time, I’m sure.  The campground is filled mostly with senior snowbirds in large Class A motorhomes and fifth wheels, which make our 30-foot travel trailer look positively miniscule.  They are all staying for as long as possible.  There’s a 14-day limit, but you can get around that for departing for 48 hours and then coming back.  Since the seniors get a bargain $4 per night camping rate with their Golden Age Pass (age 62+), they don’t have much incentive to move on.

However, I’m not complaining.  One of the long-term residents, a surf fisherman, has accumulated a freezer full of fish and is holding one of his semi-annual Friday Fish Fries at 3 p.m. today.  We’ve been invited.  I’m told that there are 130 pieces of fish to be eaten and if everyone who is invited comes, it amounts to 5 pieces per person.  We’ll probably be pushing our mercury limits for the year at this one.  I’ll find out what fish it is (some species are safer than others) and see what Emma can have, since kids are more susceptible to mercury than adults.

padre-island-pelicans-diving.jpgAh, mercury, trash, endangered turtles, oil rigs off the coast, and — oh yes — Portuguese Man O’Wars washing up on the shore.  This blog is starting to sound like a real bummer. I hate to make Padre Island sound all bad, because it really is very nice.  After our trash run we were treated to a flock of pelicans diving for fish at sunset. They put on a fabulous show while the clouds turned pink-purple and the dunes lit up gold.  Then a nearly full moon came up with Jupiter (I think) just to the right, and the sky was filled with stars.

It’s nearly winter now, so the evenings are long.  Even this far south, by 5:30 it’s pitch-black.  We went for a walk around 8:30 to look at the stars, and noticed that some of the oil rigs blink at night.  The surf continues to pound away and the breeze keeps blowing the sea air to us.  It’s still a nice beach, even if people have messed it up, and with some effort it will be even better as those mistakes are corrected.

Solar report:  Maintaining 100% battery in near-winter conditions is difficult. The low sun angle greatly reduces power generation at the panels (my panels don’t tilt).  Also, the days are shorter, and that’s a double-whammy:  less time to catch the sun; more time with the lights on.  Still, we’re doing fine.

We started with 100% battery in Wednesday.  Wednesday night we watched a movie on the laptop and had the usual lights and water pump usage.  There was no need to heat, so zero furnace time.  I left the portable inverter on overnight to charge my cell phone, which increased the parasitic drain overnight (the inverter uses power even after the phone is fully charged).

The net result was that we woke up Thursday morning down by 28.6 amp-hours.  Not bad.  With full winter sun all day we could have fully recharged but I used the laptop for three hours, and recharged a shaver and a cordless drill battery.  So we netted out on Thursday afternoon at -6.9 amp-hours, which is nearly full.

Thursday evening we watched another movie, had the usual water pump and lights on, and at about 5 a.m. I ran the furnace for 20 minutes when the trailer temperature dipped to 58 degrees.  That left us this morning (Friday) at -48.0 amp-hours, so we’ve got some catching up to do today.  We should come close to being fully recharged, because I’m going to use the public library’s wifi again and so I won’t be requiring power from our batteries for the laptop computer.

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