Texas isn’t a place I had ever planned to visit. I had my sights set on dreamy medieval towns in Europe and sunny beaches in exotic Caribbean destinations. When we moved to west Texas for my husband’s job, however, I thought it would be a good time to broaden my horizons a bit and see more of America than I had originally considered.
Searching online didn’t do me any good—which is why I decided to start Pure Wander, but that’s a story for another day! I found lots of things like theme parks and water parks, but nothing that I couldn’t do back home in New England, nothing that was uniquely Texas and wouldn’t break the budget. I wanted to go to Dallas, to Austin, to Houston, but we couldn’t afford to stay in a hotel for a few days. Finally, my hubby found the answer while reading travel articles on Flipboard.
He found some great nature trips and one of them was the annual release of baby turtles at North Padre Island in Texas. Perfect! We scheduled our trip around one of the anticipated release dates, got the camping gear out and headed to the beach.
The ride down was really beautiful, and we got a fresh look at the Texan countryside. It was a little tricky to navigate through Corpus Christi and onto North Padre Island in the dark, as we didn’t arrive in the area until after midnight, but we managed. The campsites are first come, first serve, and lucky for us, there was one campsite left when we got there. My three-year-old was passed out in his booster seat, so hubby and I lit up the one lantern that we brought along and started to set up our new tent.
That one measly light wasn’t nearly enough to aid us in reading the directions while fighting against the wind. It took the two of us nearly an hour to put up the damn tent, and I’m pretty sure that my husband wanted to kill me by the time that we were done. Once we took our slumbering boy from the car and opened the ceiling on the tent, it was all worth it though. The sky was aglow, and we laid there for about an hour, our son between us, holding hands and talking beneath the stars before sleep finally overcame us.
The alarm on my cell phone went off before the sun came up, and reluctantly we all got off of the airbed, brushed the sand off ourselves and changed clothes. We got back into the car for the 5-minute ride over to the Malaquite Beach Visitor Center where the park rangers explained what we were about it see. As the sun rose, we joined the crowd down on the beach to watch the baby turtles find their way into the ocean.
My son jumped in the waves as the sky turned pink and the little creatures were released. Attendants waved bright flags to keep the seagulls from preventing the turtles from getting to their final destination. All three of us watched gleefully as these adorable babies crawled the 50 feet down the beach to the surf. By the time they made it to the water they struggled against the incoming waves and everyone cheered as the first little guy broke through and began to swim away.
It was only 7am, but my husband and I would not be allowed to sleep because our son wanted his turn to play on the beach. Back at our campsite we changed into bathing suits and went down to play in the water, build sand castles and explore. I was pretty scared of the jellyfish that frequent this area, but we didn’t see one our whole visit. What I should have been afraid of was the other creatures that stay close to shore—like the crabs that got a piece of both my husband and son’s toes. A year later, my son still talks about the day he was “attacked” by crabs at the beach. One day we noticed that there were a bunch of people fishing close to shore and when we went out for a swim we were joined by these beautiful silver fish who would emerge as the waves reached their peak. A few times one of them would swim into me. I’m not going to lie, I screamed every time.
In the mornings I complained about how I couldn’t seem to get the sand out of my clothes, no matter how much I rinsed off. During the day we explored the visitor center and played on the beach. At night we ate hot dogs off the little grill and played catch at the campsite. It was a perfectly unique Texas experience, and I can’t wait to go back. Next time, however, we will definitely get a hotel room.
Shauna Armitage is a parenting blogger, a freelance travel writer and the co-founder of Pure Wander Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @CarpeCalamus