By STEVE HATHCOCK
Special to the PRESS
South Padre Island’s greatest charm is its natural beauty and quietness. Hard packed, white sand beaches, backed by rows of dunes stretch as far as the eye can see. Unusual cloud formations form pictures of beauty which combine with the peaceful quiet of nature, undisturbed except by the cry of darting gull and the rumble of the surf.
- Powers, whose family will be vacationing at South Padre Island in October, sent me an email asking what kinds of activities are available for kids that cost little or no money.
The first thing I suggest is to read the Port Isabel South Padre Island’s Parade magazine from cover to cover to find out what is happening on the Island and throughout the Rio Grande Valley. Its contents are updated weekly which makes it the best source for entertainment news.
The beach itself, with its surging tide dashing its daily loads of flotsam and jetsam upon the sands serves as nature’s flea market. In addition to the many shells, sea weeds and other forms of sea life to be found at all times, there often is the thrill of finding the unexpected. Boats, bottles, rafts, barrels, crates, coconuts and various other sundry things are found, even mahogany logs have been known to wash ashore after one of our Texas cyclones scours the Gulf.
I know several couples who visit the Island for six to eight weeks during the summer, spending most of their time metal detecting along the shore and in the water. Many prefer hunting the beaches in front of the hotels on South Padre Island or in Isla Blanca Park, where the surf is full of lost rings, car keys, watches and sunglasses.
The adventurous will seek out certain areas north of town known only to a select few. The odds of finding Spanish coins are slim to none, but there are other treasures to be found such as mammoth and camel teeth or the petrified remains of ancient fish that once swam these waters millions of years ago. I have seen numerous stone knives, points and other artifacts left behind by Native Americans that roamed these shores many thousands of years before the arrival of the Europeans. And yes, you may even stumble across the remains of an ancient wooden craft cast upon the shores by a now forgotten unnamed cyclone.
Red grasses, railroad vines, sea purslane, Indian blanket and other flowering plants entice the explorer to wander back behind the dunes in search the perfect photo opportunity. Try not to disturb these plants as their extensive root systems are what keeps our dunes from washing away during storms. Wildlife abounds, diamondback rattlesnakes, coyotes, deer and rabbits live in the dunes, while ghost crabs inhabit the area just above the high tide mark.
In the Laguna Madre are dozens of small man-made islands, spoil banks left over from dredging of the Intracoastal Waterway that offer a certain safety to the multitude of nesting birds that frequent our area. Most common are laughing gulls, sandpipers, geese and herons but over 300 other species are recorded. During the winter months the skies are filled with flocks of migrating birds heading south or north their course dictated by the changing seasons.
There are over 400 shellfish that call the Gulf of Mexico home. Of these, the most common shells found along the Texas Coast include sundials, augers, wentletrap, scallops, slipper shells, Atlantic ribbed mussels and the lightening whelk which is also the State Shell of Texas.
Another good source of information is the visitor and information center located at 600 Padre Blvd., or toll free at 1-800-657-2373, or visit the City of South Padre Island’s website. The South Padre Island Chamber of Commerce publishes an annual guide featuring short histories of South Padre Island and surrounding communities. It can be obtained by calling (956)761-4412 or visiting its web site at http://spichamber.com.
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