Rio History: One Man’s Trash is Another Dog’s Treasure

By STEVE HATHCOCK
Special to the PRESS

One of the rewards of living here on South Padre Island is the availability of miles and miles of sun drenched beaches. Though I’m not able to enjoy nature during most of the year there are certain times that I can. My favorite times involve trips up the beach that include Kay Lay, (the love of my life) and Gypsy Dog, our golden retriever. We’ll pack a picnic lunch and head to an area that I refer to as “the Clay Banks.” This is an excellent spot to find fossils, ancient arrowheads and other treasures.

When hunting for artifacts and fossils I approach the beach in a methodical way. First, I just stand, gazing out over the water sort’a listening to Mother Nature as she tells me about herself. Ahh… I can see birds flitting and diving out yonder just past the second rift where the waves are breaking. There must be a school of fish just offshore. I close my eyes and feel the breeze upon my face. The direction of the offshore winds often determines the direction of the incoming surf.

Here’s the part Gypsy Dog loves best. I throw a stick far out, hitting as closely as possible to where birds and fish feed in the roiling waves. As my red headed friend leaps into action I watch the direction the current carries the stick… how fast is it moving? Now I turn my eyes toward the shore. Where is the high tide mark? Oftentimes, the lighter objects, such as sea beans and small shells, will wash up into the dunes. After I throw the stick again, I grab my metal detector and wander out into ankle deep water. My detector seems to take on a life of its own as I slowly work my way along the edge of the surf. I pay double attention here. My earphones will notify me if we are near metallic treasure so I devout most of my attention on the beach in front of me.

I pay close attention to wash-out areas and their deposits of fine little microscopic shells. The current scoured the bottom here, depositing all in a neat pile for my treasure hunting convenience. Watching for the tell-tale shape of a stone artifact or fossil, I run my detector through these sites first. Cheaper 10 carat rings and zinc pennies are the usual harvest. But it helps set the mood for the more serious hunt that follows.

You would be surprised if you knew how many arrowheads, stone knives and fossils you can find along here. A million year old stone crab will have a certain patina that is unmistakable making these the most frequently found fossil along this stretch of Padre Island.

I pick a point on the beach in front of me, perhaps a pile of seaweed or a piece of driftwood and work out from there. This way, I do not cross over an area I have already hunted. As I walk I continue to swing my detector back and forth along the sand in front of me.

Again, I throw the stick. As my faithful friend retrieves it I look for deeper pools on the theory that heavier gold rings will fall to the sandy bottom of the deeper water. Usually, this is where the good stuff is found.

A friend of mine, Frank Mahon, told me about hunting in the English Channel. He was in chest- deep water when he found a hundred year old gold sovereign. Rod Bates and other local hunters all know the sites just offshore at Isla Blanca Park. Some of them are less than 20 feet in diameter, but inevitably will yield whatever has been lost.

My reverie is interrupted as the stick is once again unceremoniously thrust into my hand. I chuckle to myself as I sail it out over the rolling surf, It appears that one man’s trash is another dog’s treasure!

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