The fish would be airborne for only a few seconds, but to the hypnotized eyes of a human observer time slowed down, and the sight lingered for so long it could almost be studied like a painting, every detail seared into memory. Maddened by the hook in its bony jaw, the creature would explode out of the water, a twisting, shuddering muscle rocket perhaps six feet long, perhaps two hundred pounds, its massive silver scales shimmering brilliantly in the summer sun.
Long before the BP oil rig known as Deepwater Horizon blew up, in April 2010, killing eleven workers and spewing nearly five million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, Larry McKinney had already earned his reputation as “Dr. Doom.” The straight-talking marine biologist leads the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi and has spent forty years tracking the decline of the Gulf in Texas.
Forget the resorts, the swim-up bars, the umbrella drinks. If there’s any establishment that embodies the coast at its most wild and authentic, it’s the southeast Texas seafood shack. Yes, there is finer seaside cuisine to be found—local and sustainable and all that—and yes, there are worthy places to eat on the lower coast too. But nowhere will you feel like you’re getting away—to another time, to another sensibility, to another Texas—than along the stretch from Galveston to Port Arthur.
Keep On Truckin’
When my brothers and I were growing up in Fort Worth, our parents took us to the city’s world-renowned museums and beloved annual stock show but somehow never to the district that put the “cow” in Cowtown: the legendary Stockyards. The touristy, 98-acre hub of historic landmarks and cattle pens is roughly bookended by Billy Bob’s Texas, (2520 Ro
No necesitas hablar español to enjoy Pachanga, the Latino music festival that features both mainstream acts like East L.A. rockers Los Lobos and quirky ensembles like Mariachi Mystery Tour, an eleven-piece Beatles cover mariachi band.
Fiesta Gardens, May 10 & 11, pachangafest.com
Like most Texans, I live in a big, congested city that I frequently long to leave behind. The state’s wide-open spaces call to me constantly, and during the summer, as the temperature rises, what invariably beckons are the more than 350 miles of Texas coast, stretching from the final spit of sand at Boca Chica in the south to the waters of the Louisiana-bordering Sabine Lake in the north. Can there be anything more restorative than the shore’s wild splendor for as far as the eye can see?
From the bustling cities to the Piney Woods and West Texas deserts, no state has as much to offer travelers as Texas. I keep an ever-growing Texas To-Do list; here's one of my many entries.
Last May, cranes lifted a 480-ton theater out of the San Marcos River. It was the last remnant of the Aquarena Springs theme park, a fifties-era tourist attraction that famously featured underwater shows starring the Aquamaids, a mascot named Glurpo the Clown, and Ralph the swimming pig. In the early nineties, it was purchased by Southwest Texas State University (which we now know as Texas State University) and the submarine theater and the theme park, which had been struggling to lure in the hundreds of thousands of visitors that it once did, was shuttered. Sadly, watching the Aquamaids in their mermaid tails swim in perfect synchronicity is an item that will be never be crossed off of my Texas To-Do List. (I can still, however, buy my own copy of “Aquarena and Ralph,” a documentary of the diving pig, for $19.95.)
But luckily, the university has preserved one of the theme park’s best attractions: the glass-bottom boat rides, which give visitors the chance to peer into the crystal-clear waters to see the spring-fed world below. In addition to the thousands of springs themselves, which burble up from the sandy lake bottom, you can keep your eyes peeled for the eight endangered species that live here, like the Texas blind salamander and the fountain darter, or one of the volunteer divers who helps tend this underwater garden.