Covering 34,000 emerald acres of virtually intact coastal marsh, upland prairie, and forest, the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge is our state’s answer to Florida’s fabled “river of grass,” the Everglades. Twelve miles of road trace a series of culverts that help control salinity and make the floodplains attractive to 279 varieties of birds (such as the mottled duck, an indicator species for ecological health), as well as otters, muskrats, bobcats, and, of course, alligators.
Most visitors to High Island head for the four wooded Houston Audubon Society bird sanctuaries that are virtually synonymous with this small community on the upper coast. But just as irresistible is the area’s deserted seashore, so I took a beach drive, following the sandy tracks that parallel what’s left of the twenty-mile stretch of Texas Highway 87 that once ran east of High Island.
Sea Rim State Park was racked by Hurricane Rita in 2005 and shellacked by Hurricane Ike in 2008, prompting the Legislature to dedicate $2 million to its recovery in 2009. Today construction is under way—a new visitors center, more parking lots, a series of elevated walkways—but I hope Texas Parks and Wildlife doesn’t overdo it, as Sea Rim counts as one of the state’s true rough diamonds.
Fish the Gulf enough and sooner or later you’ll have a Hemingway moment. Mine came on the shores of San Jose Island, popularly known as St. Jo, a 21-mile privately owned island across the ship canal from Port Aransas that is open to beachcombers, anglers, and campers. As the sun began its descent, terns dive-bombing bait fish along the boulders of the island’s jetty enticed me to take a chance. Casting a small lure, I felt a big bump and eagerly set the hook. My reel screamed as the behemoth headed out to sea.
Galveston Island has almost fully recovered from Hurricane Ike, which means that the fishing is again consistent, the bird-watching reliable, and the dune-backed beaches, despite some sporadic litter, still some of the prettiest in Texas. Because I live in nearby Houston, I go to the park with almost religious regularity. Hoping to uncover something new, I decided this time to see the coastal tract by mountain bike—and bring along my five-year-old.
As I launched my kayak into the water near the ruins of Indianola’s old city hall, I couldn’t escape the irony that the approximately three-mile “beginner loop” on Powderhorn Lake was named for Robert de La Salle, the French explorer who managed to navigate the Mississippi from the upper Midwest to the Gulf of Mexico, in 1682, but was then shipwrecked in Matagorda Bay two years later and killed shortly thereafter.
J. R. R. Tolkien’s towering Ents, the ancient, gnarled beings in The Lord of the Rings, have nothing on the Big Tree at Goose Island State Park. This gargantuan live oak was already more than five hundred years old when Cabeza de Vaca arrived on Texas shores; in the course of a thousand journeys around the sun, its trunk has grown to a circumference of some 35 feet, while the crown now spans almost 90 feet. Goose Island bridges the St.
The 115,931-acre wildlife refuge in Aransas is best known as a stronghold for the endangered whooping crane, the tallest bird native to North America, which frequents the area from late November to April and attracts charter boats full of gawking visitors out of Rockport and Port Aransas.
“How’s that song go?” asked the fisherman on the south jetty of Mustang Island’s Fish Pass. “The ocean is a desert with its life underground?” As we looked back over five miles of beachfront, however, I was impressed by the life I could see aboveground. With its white sands and no-vehicles-allowed swimming area, Mustang Island State Park attracts surfers, hikers, mountain bikers, campers, and, more notoriously, spring breakers.