Weekend on Padre Island

This morning we are moving out.  Our stay at Padre Island has been more than I expected, which is good because one of the joys of traveling is the unexpected experience.  I had anticipated a rather solitary stay on a gray sand beach but instead we found a lively community of people and diverse scenery, backdropped by the constant white roar of big ocean waves and fresh sea air.

Despite being here for four nights, we have hardly found time to explore beyond the island.  I spent half a day at the public library again on Friday, but otherwise we have not ventured into Corpus Christi, which means we have left the major sights of the city for another visit: the USS Lexington, the Corpus Christi museum, the aquarium, etc.

Our Friday afternoon was taken up with the campground’s fish fry.  About fifty people showed up, which I think was nearly everyone in the campground.  Most of the fish was whiting, which is rather tasteless until you batter and fry it, but there was also some black drum, and about an hour before one of the surf fishermen came by with a huge red drum too.

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Eleanor made a rice dish to contribute, and a chocolate cake, both of which pretty much disappeared at the fry-up.  The weather turned balmy and humid again on Friday afternoon, which is what you’d expect at the seaside, and so everyone was in a fine mood for eating and socializing.  I was surprised to find how many of the snowbirds were either headed for Tucson, or had spent a lot of time there in the past.  This crowd is highly concentrated with full-timers.  Several of them were thinking about buying real estate in Tucson, as prices are still low and they’ve realized what a great snowbird stop it is.

While I was working at the library, Eleanor and Emma were at the park’s visitor center.  Emma charmed the volunteers there, with her multiple visits and questions, and then she found a partial shell of a turtle egg on the beach, which furthered her status.  The shell has been added to the “touch table” of interesting artifacts in the visitor center.

Saturday dawned beautiful again.  It got so warm that we’ve been sleeping with the windows open, which makes the trailer damp but allows us to hear the roaring waves all night long.  Being here reminds me of nights camped on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where the proximity of dunes and waves (and no commercial development in sight) evokes a feeling of utter escapism.  I couldn’t bring myself to waste an hour driving to and from the library for Internet, so I skipped it, and instead we went to the visitor center again to get Emma sworn in as a Junior Ranger.

While I was there, I asked about the cameras at the entrance to the park.  Every time you go through the gate of the park (heading in or out), a huge array of cameras will take a picture of your car’s front and back as well as you.   The pictures are uploaded via satellite to some computer, where I expect that the government is running license plate identification software and saving the photos for all eternity.  Being a person who is concerned about the gradual erosion of privacy, this strikes me as fairly obnoxious, so I wanted to hear the park staff’s explanation.

I wasn’t surprised to hear that the three staff members I spoke to really didn’t know — or wouldn’t say — what was going on.  The explanation was vague: “This is a border park,” which is really a non-answer since Big Bend, Organ Pipe, Everglades, Gulf Island National Seashore, Biscayne, and several other national park sites meet the same geographic definition of “border park” and yet they do not take your picture as you come and go.

padre-island-eleanor-trash.jpgWe grabbed more trash bags while we were at the visitor center, and drove six miles down the “primitive beach” to a random spot to do a little trash duty.  This time we came equipped for the job, with gloves, fresh water for washing, and a picnic lunch.  The five bags were filled in less than an hour, plus a few large objects that wouldn’t fit in bags.  You just would not believe the stuff that washes up here.

padre-island-portuguese-manowar.jpgAfter lunch we observed the Portuguese Man O’Wars that wash up everywhere on the beach.  These creatures are not jellyfish, but rather a cooperative of four different animals that function as one unit.  The colorful top (or “sail”) is one animal, the stinging tentacles are another, the digestive portion is yet another.  Nowhere is there a brain.  Reminds me of a committee.

padre-island-windsurfers.jpgOn the north shore of Padre Island is Laguna Madre, known as one of only five “hypersaline” lagoons in the world.  Plants manage to live at its shores despite the very salty environment.  Humans know is as a great place to go windsurfing and kayaking.  The water is very shallow and much calmer than on the ocean side, and yet there’s great wind.  padre-island-bird-island-cg.jpgA no-hookup campground allows you to park right at the water’s edge and watch the action all day, or wade into the warm shallow water for some fishing.

I think this stop at Padre Island has been so memorable for us because it is the first really new stop we’ve made in over a month.  Since North Carolina, our route has mostly re-traced stops we’ve made before, especially in Florida.  While it’s nice to visit known favorites, it’s even nicer to discover new ones, with new things to explore.

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Today we are breaking camp.  First stop will be a car wash, to rinse off the rig, and then we’ll be making miles toward the west.  We don’t have a plan.  Our hard stop is Friday, so we have little choice but to drive for the next few days.  1,100 miles of pavement separate us from our home base, and much of that is in very spread out (read: empty) parts of west Texas.

Solar report:  Full sun has continued every day. Friday afternoon we ended up with -12.8 amp-hours, which is better than 90% battery charge.  After the usual use (no furnace) we were down 44 amp-hours on Saturday morning, which was a little better than Friday morning.

However, we got zinged by our water pump.  Occasionally, the limit switch does not turn off the pump after it has been used.  You can hear the pump running slowly with a low whine.   The solution is simple: just quickly open and close a faucet, and the pump will usually shut off.  I think this problem is either a failing switch or the result of a little air in the system somewhere, because it doesn’t always happen.

On Saturday we returned to the Airstream around 3 p.m. to find that the pump was running constantly.  I quickly got it turned off with the usual trick, but the damage to our battery power was done.  Even a slowly-running pump consumes a fair amount of electricity, so it had prevented us from getting a full charge.  I have no idea how long it was running, but the net effect was that we ended the day with -17.8 amp-hours when we should have reached a 100% charge.

That’s not a critical amount of power, and in retrospect we were lucky to have solar panels supplying power so that the pump did not kill the battery.  So it wasn’t a crisis, but we will have to take a closer look at that pump to see if we can prevent this problem in the future.

Being our last night of boondocking, Saturday night was our usual blow-out night with lots of lights, movies on the laptop, washing dishes, etc.  We woke up this morning with -66.4 amp-hours, which puts us at about 60% of our usable power.  Not bad for four days in late November.  We’ve been generating about 40-45 amp-hours per day, and the sun is expected to continue for a while so if we wanted we could stay for much longer.

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