Sunday, September 14, 2003

Coastal Texas Update

The weather broke yesterday with fresh clear dry air as a result of a cool front moving through, pushing three days' worth of clouds and rain off into the Gulf. I wasn't planning on going anywhere but the great outdoors beckoned. So I decided to spend the day surveying old haunts along the Upper Texas Gulf Coast.

Surfside, Texas was partially hit by Hurricane Charlotte in July. The main effect was the removal of the small and fragile dunes with little additional damage to property. The beach is probably the Upper Coast's best in terms of sand and water quality (the mud content increases to the northeast) but this is no paradise except when the weather is just right, as it was Saturday. Water temperature is still in the mid 80ºs!

Galveston Island (accessed by paying $2 at the San Luis Pass Bridge) is the subject of a lot of new development. Here the battle of Texas' open beaches is being fought between those who own smart beach properties and those who simply want to enjoy the beach. the Texas Open Beaches Act clearly defines the rights of the individual but some of these rights are being eroded by local authorities and residents' associations who deny or charge entry and then claim they are supplying additional services (such as chemical toilets and trash barrels).

Passing straight through Galveston (people everywhere having lots of fun) I ended up in line at the Bolivar Ferry. This is Texas' best kept free cruise secret! Yes, it's free. Once the car is on board, leave it and go upstairs to the upper deck and enjoy the scenery. Shipping, wildlife, cloudscapes and the antics of others make this a short 15 minute journey. Too short.
The Bolivar Peninsular is more of the same barrier island system guarding the Texas coast, but in some ways the development here is a little less organized and more egalitarian than West Beach Galveston.

The road turns inland at High Island due to storms that have washed out the coast road between High Island and Sabine Pass. However, a lot of vehicles were up there so I followed, driving about four miles. This is a desparate place and I have no wish to return. As I turned round I noted I was in amongst a Naturist gathering. Apparently this area is Texas' only clothing optional beach. Somehow it just didn't make sense. The beach is littered with blocks of eroded roadway, the ocean in muddy brown, the sand is dirty and here were people desiring to bare it all in the only place the "authorities" would allow. They should all emigrate to France!

High Island was asleep - well it isn't spring! Explanation: High Island is a popular birding destination during the spring northern migration. A few grackles would have disappointed even the most avid birder! So I drove on to Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. The evening sun kept the mosquitoes away as I drove around Shovelers Pond, hoping to see a few aligators. No such luck. Apart from some snowy egrets in flight the place was as deserted as High Island. So I turned west and drove into the setting sun, back to Houston.