A June 2004 trip
to Galveston by Jose Kevo
Quote: It's Tuesday afternoon. We're sitting at a patio table in my dining room; island motif and music melting its mojo. My friend sighs, "I'd sure like to go to the beach." Looking over, I volunteered, having Saturday and Sunday off. There was a rather transfixed stare bridging pause. They offer to drive . . .
Destination BEACH!: Trucked-in sand at local lakes just don't cut it! From Missouri, the Gulf Coasts are our closest options; extra distance to Galveston worth better conditions for indulging obsessions ; appropriately near where I first saw the ocean at Padre Island as a teenager.
Spontaneous Freedom: There's something to be said about the single life; even more enticing at middle-age when combining youthful whims. A real highlight was calling our kids from the beach; having them lecture...just like we've done regarding their surprises hinting potential irresponsibility!
Shock Value: Reminding me of previous day-trips to Nassau, nothing's as satisfying like showing up for work the next day, having coworkers inquire,. and nonchalantly responding about spending time at the beach. Expect Christmas...envy turning green compliments red from the fresh coat of sun.
Lost Cause: I wasn't the only one that's been missing out when it comes to impromptu adventures on the open road. Regardless of where you plan to go or what happens once you get there, Just Do It!
Potential Roadblocks: Strapped for cash, money factor could have been the biggest deterrent until throwing together a Go Ghetto plan to curb expenses. We'd camp, take all our supplies, and other than splitting gas cost we'd try and spend less than between us. A Free-Form details how this was blown, but I still did the weekend on less than including gas.
Favorite Things: With less than two days to plan, I Googled Galveston and scanned IGO to get a brief idea of what to expect. There was more than soaking up sun; enough to keep us busy for our 32-hours on the island and potentially lure us back next time we get the urge.
Points A, B, & Sea: One of those large road atlases distributed by Insurance Companies sufficed, though only necessary to track navigating through/around Dallas and Houston. On the way home, staying on I-45 until it becomes I-75 proved just as doable than using I-635 which loops outer Dallas. Plus, there's great skyline views.
Speedtraps: The bulk of our driving was done in the overnight hours curbing traffic and police with vehicles pulled over. Highway 69 through Oklahoma runs through too many small towns, but once hitting the Texas border it's smooth sailing; especially the 291-mile stretch between Dallas and Galveston.
Are We There Yet? In Texas, speedlimits are 70 during the day, and supposedly 65 at night.
Thanks G.W.: Fortunately, gas prices had been falling. The least paid was .67 a gallon in Missouri and most at .83 in Texas. Even with an SUV, it took less than four tanks averaging per person.
Explaining our early morning appearance, one-night stay, and departure following day, the agent said it was still considered one night. Arriving shortly after 8am, we found the check-in office didn't open until 9am. It took smooth talking to let us select a site before 2pm check-in time; check-out was 11am.
The main park office is beyond gated entrance where bags of ice are sold for $1.50 and a small store with classy shirts/trinkets. Walls are lined with racks of pamphlets; I especially recommend the Park's Driving Tour brochure even if for reading.
Rangers were very adamant about one thing: If storms caused the camp to be evacuated, campers were expected to pack-up and leave ASAP! Over the years, too many had been rapidly stranded. Once seeing the low sand barriers, you'll understand why.
There are three main camping areas south of the office in low-lying areas off the beach; even more swamp-like after two inches of rain the day before. Less than a third of sites in all three units were full but finding a semi-dry one extremely hard.
The first section has only 50-amp sites while two and three are wired for 30. All sites have water, grill and shelter. Premium beachfront spaces run $20 per nite and all others $15 not including the $3 per person daily access fee. Premium sites are not allowed to have open fires; all others come with a fire pit; bundles of wood for sale just off the section entrances for $4.
Actual shelters left a bit to be desired with design keeping little wind and rain out while providing minimal shade. Bathrooms were what you'd expect, but only stools were handicap accessible in section three; not showers though there were open-air showers in back. Bathrooms weren't a bad walk, but without a shade tree in sight, don't expect to find a bush to conveniently step behind either!
Going barefoot was impossible thanks to small briars hidden in the grass and fireants. Mosquitoes were also relentless and while I choose not to use bug spray, those that did were chewed just as bad.
The Park extends across the highway with another campground section, including screened shelters for $20 a night, on the bayside. We didn't have chance to even drive this expanse which includes 4-miles of hiking trails through bayou, wetlands, and the migratory bird refuge, but independent exploring or guided tours were readily available with forewarning of a muddy, infested experience. With rainy conditions of late, I'm not sure what's the difference.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on July 7, 2004
Galveston Island State Park
Attraction | "How Far We'll Go..."
Squelching a battery search, reasoning was we'd need the boom-box later that night. Actually, Mother Nature's symphony was already in progress as the only thing worth listening to. Scattered rain drops couldn't keep us from placing chairs in the moist sand and surrendering to be seduced.
There were less than 30 people out in either direction; likely scared off from the forecast and threatening grey skies yet I could feel the salty heat on my body. Tides mirrored the rain clouds casting a dirty brown blending into dark sand. Nah, it wasn't the Caribbean but I was definitely in my element.
This strip of beach is part of the State Park that really outdid itself with wildlife. A pod of porpoises playfully passed just offshore much to our captivation, and species of cranes, herons and other migratory birds from the nearby refuge were strutting by more frequent than people. Never have I seen so many fish flipping in rolling tides and bet was on for adding "surf" to our "turf" at dinner that night. My only luck were hermit crabs in underwater shells you step on and dig up with toes.
Waves were definitely deceiving and disappointing along this strip for trying to use a boogie board. From the coast, there appears to be a barrier maybe 100-yards offshore where waves were consistently breaking. Walking the distance, at no point was my head under water even with tides coming in. A sandbar causes breaks where water level was below my waist. Waves could slap you around fairly good but quickly lost their zip even on body surfing.
I still played myself out and it wasn't long before stretching across my chair and reconsidering that nap. Everyone else had already checked out so I reasoned closing my eyes, too but still never drifted off. I was entranced by the constant rolling of the waters...at times so intense sounding like thunder, trains or airplanes taking off before fading back into the soothing sounds of a trickling stream.
Galveston Island had gone out of its way to put on a good showing; almost as if to convince me worthiness of the review I'd write. Driving all night to get here; definitely what the doctor ordered, but I still wasn't convinced or fully sold.
Perhaps the moment wasn't as brief as thought, but when opening my eyes the greys had been replaced by blues thanks to an appearance from the sun; Mother Nature's show-stopper. I waited briefly before waking the others as if to hoard the welcomed presence. Maybe it was the power-snoozes but I prefer to believe it was the sun recharging our batteries as if starting the day anew. We poured another round eventually heading back into the water.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on July 7, 2004
Galveston Island State Park
14528 Stewart Rd
Galveston, Texas 77554
Attraction | "More Than Just Beach"
Crowning attraction of Galveston is the 10-mile beachfront along Seawall Avenue. It's pretty much what you'd expect with inland side lined with hotels/condos, restaurants, shops, and any other tourist trap-line of nonsense. Across the Avenue is the seawall which also includes parallel parking and promenade/sidewalk the entire length.
In many spots tides are pounding at the base, but closer to the center are where public beach spots are found. They've lifeguards and vendors renting chairs/umbrellas along with obvious beach hawkers. There were quite a few already out for the morning, but we agreed our secluded spot in the National Park was better.
When coming to the large intersection where 21st Street intersects the Avenue, take a left for heading towards the historic downtown area. Once you get to Broadway, grand old homes begin lining the side streets; a detour definitely in order! Off 21st St., you'll find more if turning right on any of the streets. Once closer to the downtown area, this entire quadrant is traceable through the historical markers on street signs.
There was currently a major restoration effort underway for this entire neighborhood with mansions taking on a Victorian look combined with that indefinable style of the deep-south that languishes the grand life.
Streets were lined with shade trees providing a canopy to drive under while marveling the intricate details that had withstood countless tropical storms and hurricanes. Well-manicured lawns were hugging expansive front porches; verandas above also lined with baskets of ferns all but quivering from drinking in the dank sea air. Surprisingly, the area was ethnically diverse, but the big kicker was finding "For Sale" signs in yards of so many restored homes; a whole new set of tantalizing opportunities for dreaming.
Finding your way back to 21st Street, continue heading in your original direction and the downtown area is just a few blocks ahead. There was metered parking easily found for exploring. Strand is the Hot Spot with its old west look housing some fairly upscale shops as well as junk marts. I was surprised at the reasonable prices on varied selections of original art, handicrafts, specialty items and collectibles; of course all with tempting beach-related theme.
Remembering the original budget plan, I browsed without looking too close...eventually finding myself outside waiting for those which couldn't restrain. Tucked away in deep shade of an elevated porch, it's nostalgic to hear clopping of tires on nearby brick streets. Here, even more appreciable with random passing carriages or historical trolley that runs the downtown area and out to the Seawall.
Many cruise ships now depart from Galveston; the port two blocks off Strand. If you're looking for restaurants, the majority were located dockside including Joe's Crab Shack.
historic Strand district
Anchored around a deluxe hotel and convention center, there's no less than a dozen activities around the complex which was likely the best Family Attractions I've seen short of amusement parks; also a great alternative for rainy days.
An all-day pass cost $31 and is definitely the better ticket-option. We only had a couple of hours and chose the Rainforest Botanical Gardens housed inside the medium-sized pyramid which contains over 1,000 flora and 125 fauna species. Adult tickets were $8.95.
Once passing the glass-encased displays, there's a major transformation comparable to the Wizard of Oz when stepping from the black and white environs of Kansas homestead into the surreal colors of Munchkinland. However, expect to feel like the short person under the overhead plant life which blocks out fact you're in a glass pyramid. Edenistic garden effect takes over from here.
As if by plan designed, there's a large open area in the beginning which allows patrons to stand an gawk, make sure cameras are ready, and get their wits about them before following the concrete trail meandering off into the jungle. Gardens are divided into continental regions; flowers, plants and trees clearly marked with detailed descriptions. One of the most innovative creations are benches lining the paths which you'll enjoy standing in front of as much as sitting. They're also the air-conditioning units supplying the cool, moist tropical air.
Species of birds haphazardly perch on limbs and ledges including colorful macaws frozen in perfect photo backgrounds. Shy monkeys attract quite the crowds as did the tanks of fish with signs warning to keep hands out of water. In addition to piranhas were humongous Amazon tanker-types and spotted stingrays obscurely blending in.
There's also a cave housing oversized Fruit Bats behind glass; clinging to shish-kabobs of apples and oranges, and towards the end are cages with a small ocelet, porcupines and anteaters, and other recognizable critters from the Rainforest. Hold your breath and look quickly before rushing back out into the jungle for a breath of fresh air. To say cages had that zoo-like smell, compounded by thick air, would be an understatement!
We had quite the discussions recalling mini-tropicals at my house compared to how large they could potentially grow in their natural environments. Yes, I was tempted to break off some chutes for replanting but refrained though as you'll read later, there were no coconut palm trees here either.
It took about an hour to complete the walking tour; probably longer than average individuals. If there is a next time, I'd like to see the 1.5-million gallon Aquarium which costs $14.25. Off-hand, the only thing I wouldn't recommend was Palm Beach; a generic, recreated beach/waterpark on bayside of the island.
One Hope Boulevard
Galveston, Texas 77554
This little adventure came at a time when none of us could really afford to do anything; but perhaps that was part of the appeal? Everyone always seems so amazed when I talk about my travels and how inexpensive it can be for having the time of your life. Drawing up a rather extensive list of what to bring, the goal was to spend less than $50 among us for everything else not including splitting cost for gas. I'd still like to believe this was feasible...that is if we'd been able to avoid stopping at Wal-Mart.
We arrived to showers in Galveston after a two-inch downpour the day before, and predictions for more the entire weekend. Finding the campsites near swamp-like conditions, needing tarps specialized the generic list of ice, lighter fluid, and eggs that could have been purchased anywhere. It's actually rather funny (but potentially scary) to think how we've been brainwashed like Pavlov's dog when that unexplainable, gotta go to Wal Mart enigma creeps in.
Located on Galveston's Seawall Ave., it seemed odd having palm trees in the almost well-known parking lot...invaded by swooping seagulls. So what more could you expect from a beachfront Wal-Mart? Entire lines of products we'd never see at our land-locked local outlet. Sleep deprived and slap-happy from the road, we each grabbed a cart and forgot about any budget planning. One can always justify spending at Wal-Mart!
Among my "can't live without " finds, a new 33"-boogie board carefully selected from rows and rows of beach-related accessories that had me worse than a kid in the candy store! Of course also came the need for actual surfing shorts and shirt to match. Air mattresses to sleep on were $1.50, and a huge tarp only $3.88.
Thankfully, I displayed self-discipline in housewares where lighthouses and palm trees had replaced the midwest emblems of rustic cabins and hunting lodges. However, I shouldn't have volunteered to pick-up lighter fluid cause it took me to the Garden Center. Mini-tropical plants unlike we get here? Absolutely had to have three.
Cans of Jumex fruit nectar were 12-cents cheaper, and at 50-cents a pound, there was a major haul on papayas. But here's a Big Tip for all you Texas travelers: Only liquor stores can sell liquor. Places like Wal-Mart - beer, wines, foo-foo stuff and more bottles of Boones Farm or Mad Dogg 20/20 than I'd seen in eons! (Seen; not drank!)
Hints of ritual awareness quickly fleeted when finding all these unmanned check-out lines with automated service. That's right, place everything on the belt, scan your crap, and then place it in a bag before swiping your credit card or feeding cash into the machine. Theft is further prevented by balancing scales - something off the belt has to go into a bag or expect major problems.
Dispersing to different lanes, the smug computerized voice trumpeting our error messages rather paled to our frustrated cursings. At home, we may be just across the border from Bentonville, Arkansas with store #13, but this was certainly one feature Wal-Mart can keep in these other territories. Then again, automated machines can't file lawsuits!
We'd yet to unload anything out of the SUV and began shifting around to figure out where everything was going to fit. Turns out, I was the lucky one only spending $49.73. Guilt for blowing our budget plan lasted through about the time it took exiting the parking lot, but we agreed avoiding Wal Mart was the only way to keep from over-spending for the remainder of this trip and any future ones. If only things were that easy...
Is It Funny Yet?
Pulling over in McAlester, Oklahoma for the first fuel stop on our way down, Donna shrieked at the gas pump. Deciding not to haul her gazillion keys to Texas, she'd lightened her keychain before leaving...which included leaving behind key to the gas cap! There was that initial panic of "we're screwed" while also determining there wasn't enough gas to drive the 3+-hours back home for retrieving key.
Breaking the cap appeared to be our only option, but attempts were trivial. About that time, a god-awful pick-up came jostling up to the pump behind us and out stepped this big ol' goat-roper looking like an extra from the movie Deliverance. This wasn't the time to be proud or shy and Donna marched right over and asked for help.
This guy began digging through his toolbox and appeared with a large pick-like screwdriver, hammer, and over-industrious effort. Donna squeezed my hand while turning to look the other way, and with a final whack, the lid flew off rolling across the parking lot. Our thanks seemed not to suffice with his levels of flirtation to the ladies. We fueled up and got the hell out of there; thankful we'd survived our first road-trip crisis...
OK, Is It Funny Yet?
We were headed home when stopping to get gas just outside of Corsicana, Texas about an hour south of Dallas. Running near empty myself and with a good 6-hours still to go, the fueling and bathroom breaks were quick in preparing to get back on the road. Pulling out of the lot, something rolled across the top of the car causing a rather puzzled look. Immediately it registered the gas cap hadn't been put back on.
Pulling off in the nearest drive, the roadside search was on trapsing through calf-high weeds, standing water, and about any other debris you'd expect to find...but no gas cap no matter how earnestly we paced. Donna walked back up to the gas station to see if perhaps they had an extra cap someone else had left behind. They didn't but a trucker assured the safety valve should make traveling ok. Hhm, exactly what I'd been ignored about.
We wrote this off as our second mishap for the weekend - both involving the gas cap, and prepared to get back on the interstate. Then Donna said she didn't want me tossing anymore butts out the window since the capless tank was on the drivers side. Excuse me!?! There was no way making this all-night drive without it and I immediately took the next Corsicana exit in search of Wal-Mart!
Pulling off at the first station to ask directions, the attendant gave a rather detailed and extensive route which involved taking the business route into town and turning left on 7th Ave. under the viaduct By now, pissiness involving the whole draining weekend and ordeal had surfaced including getting caught waiting for a train to pass that must have stretched all the way back to Dallas. Once on 7th Ave., we drove and drove; so long and so far towards the unexplainable "magnetic spend" force, it prompted a second set of directions to insure we were still on the right path.
A good 15-minutes later, finally the sign off in the distance; just our luck we'd be stuck in the only town in Texas which didn't have their Wal-Mart right on the interstate!
Donna went in to check gas caps while I walked over to a bench in the garden center and tried to cool off while watching the sunset..what was supposed to be seen with the Dallas skyline. She eventually returned with $17+-worth of two gas caps...neither of which fit though the clerk had told her these things run standard. Jamming one into the funnel best we could, what's done was done! She said she didn't care, I growled maybe we'd get lucky and I'd blow our asses back to Missouri. The long-ride back through town was quiet.
By the time we'd made the hour drive to Dallas, all was well; Donna more ready to laugh about the entire ridiculous situation than was I. At one point on down the road, I heard a minor shift among our stuff piled in back...or so I thought.
We'd driven a couple of more hours before stopping for gas in Savanna, Oklahoma. The girls went in while fueling up. Unjamming the ill-fit gas cap, I habitually reached to place it on the roof...when looking up to see "the lost one" wedged against the luggage rack. Now, it was strangely funny and unbelievable.
Before leaving, we made sure we still had the bag, labels and receipts for the other two unusable gas caps; they'd be returned to Wal-Mart the following morning when dropping off the film, buying milk, picking up a pack of floppy discs...you get the ever-spending, never-ending picture.
Stretched out in the backyard, I could reach out and touch a piece of my created Midwest paradise. There's no denying I've contracted chronic island fever; often terminal at times. The thought of beach whetted my appetite, but I remembered what the Texas coasts were like. When coming back inside, I wrote this potential journal description/overview exposing my spoiled beach snobbery all but shamelessly:
• Have you ever wanted apple pie and been stuck eatin' cherry? Chances are, you settled for what ever was served. Galveston was to be "my slice" tiding me over till the holidays in Bayahibe. It's like taking a lunch break while Christmas shopping and getting a hungering for pie. All they're still serving is Thanksgiving pumpkin...imploding inward from suckin' the life out of those preserved till Jesus come additives. So how bad do you want that pie?
Unavoidable Departure Screws & BluesWhat is it about that last shift before leaving that always ends up being the roughest, toughest, busiest day you'll likely put in for the entire month...not even counting the fact you're mentally already checked-out? Surely there's others that can affirm the absolute torture during those final hours - whether anticipating a hot date for the night or long-earned vacation break.
I was coming off 11 days straight without time off and was all but delirious just wanting to break the hell out. Of course this turned out to be the first Friday night we'd had to work for the season, the largest of the groups running almost an hour behind, and our boss came up with a "this needs to be done" project. Thankfully, co-workers covered allowing me to slip out at 7:30 p.m. Raring to go, my travel partners were almost another 30-minutes late picking me up. Seems to be such is life...
Women can't talk and driveThere was no problem piling into the back seat and letting the ladies drive. Once turning off the Will Rogers Turnpike in Oklahoma, Highway 69 is our closest alternative heading for Texas. The key word is "highway"; passing through these little redneck towns that are nothing but speed traps cutting into travel time. Using cruise control was futile.
Fading off from the conversation, I must have gotten hypnotized from watching the speedometer going back and forth ever so slowly. However, speed zones weren't the only problem. The more Donna and Naomi talked and were into conversation, the slower they drove!
Under Major ConstructionThe SUV jerking and a rash of panicked instructions startled me from my brief nap. Still reclined, I peered up through the windows to see what looked like the set from some science fiction movie. North of Dallas where I-75 connects to I-635 which loops around the outer city, there's some major construction underway with a new interchange project entangling at least four towering lanes high! It was one of the most unnaturally bizarre things I've ever seen.
Wandering wonder of it allEarly Saturday morning, small talk broke out with the couple also waiting for campsite check-in. They were from San Marcos, Texas pulling one of those accommodating, deluxe "did we forget anything from home" trailers. They'd hoped to stay through the following 4th of July weekend, but camp was already totally reserved for the holiday.
We got to talkin'; told them we were from Missouri. He asked how long we planned on staying, and I indicated only one night cause everyone had to be back for work Monday morning. We exchanged "seriouslys" in ask/answer fashion; the guy asked again how long we planned on staying. I ran through our brief itinerary. Then he called his wife over and had me repeat it again. He asks, "well what part of Missouri?" as if a couple of more hundred miles would've made a difference...
Won't you be my Neighbor?Campers are always so friendly in such a curious sort of way. Our first priority was finding a dry spot; the added bonus was campsites were vacant on both sides and remained that way. While setting up camp, I'd noticed the curtains move a couple of times from the large travel trailer a couple of spaces down.
Later when heading off to the beach, the lady down the block just happened to be coming towards me. She smiled and with southern drawl issued a warm greeting. I smiled back offering a "buenas tardes" figuring I'd clue her in, while also breaking her in slowly to what was on tap that night for at least the music...
Can You See Me Now? Cellular PostcardsTo heck with buying postcards and stamps. Cellular phones instantly transmit that "look where I'm at and you're not" opportunity to gloat provided subject of envy has a model to receive pictures. And for those that don't, having to shout while explaining it's not static but tides pounding in the background works just as well.
Hot off the GrillPart of our Go Ghetto plan had been to raid our refrigerators and pantries for items "cooler friendly" while filling without much effort. For dinner we had steaks, baked potatoes and beans. For breakfast, fresh mangos, papayas and peaches along with quesadillas from leftover steak, and breakfast burritos with cheese, scrambled eggs and grilled hot dogs.
Perhaps something different might have been nice for the occasion. Change the baked potato to rice, the hot dog to chorizo and that's the kind of stuff I usually eat anyway. Oh yeh, there was something different - loads of junk food you'd never find in my house. Well, except for the pork rinds / chicharrónes - the islands' popcorn.
A Tough Nut to CrackNo matter where you go or how you're getting there, it's always a boost to look out and see that first swaying, slender and fringed seductress of a palm tree hinting the tropical transport that waits ahead. Ours was a row of Ornamental Date palms around a car lot outside of Houston at dawn.
Since you're not allowed to bring back coconuts from the islands, I was on the hunt for a pair of rotten ones to plant for future palm trees. Along the way, I found King Jack, Majesty, Palmetto, Oriental Fan, and Sago Needle varieties, but there wasn't a coconut palm to be had on Galveston Island or within these Texas parts; only kinds transplanted by landscape companies. We kept passing their nurseries and storage lots. Looking out the window without even having chance to ask, I was told I couldn't buy one to strap across the roof...
Blast Off...with a detourI'm a firm believer when it's time to go, it's time to go! But there was no sneaking passed the pair of exits pointing towards the NASA Space Center. I was outnumbered...by vote and cars trying to veer towards the exit lanes.
The 15-minute, northward drive off interstate was along the crappiest roads we encountered in the entire state of Texas! I'd told the girls to have cameras ready and I'd drive slow without inviting anyone to kiss the bumper. Turning left at the main entrance, there were assorted rockets just off the side. Trouble was a security check-point situated between us and small parking lot just beyond.
The military security guard, looking like he was filling some high school internship, insisted we go to the visitor's center and buy tickets for the trolley if we wanted closer viewing. His smile erased their quest for rocket shots. Pulling away, all they wanted was finding room to take the kid home, too! I offered swinging back around to catch a shot of them standing with the guard. Knowing I was serious enough to subject them to such foolishness was permission pass for heading back to the interstate.
Beverages vs. Pit StopsThere comes a certain point while making long-hauls when beverages sustaining coherence begin dictating too many bathroom breaks defeating purpose of rapid travel. Eagerly volunteering to drive the 669-miles home, concerted yawning after midnight was my cue for frequent intake which involved stopping for purchases while redepositing the last rounds.
Coffee has always been my faithful companion, but this was first time trying so-called Natural Super Energy Supplements. SoBe No Fear won over Red Bull simply because 16oz. cans were bigger. Also got my first taste of Pimp Juice to see what all the controversy was about. Don't know that I was impressed with either; likely because I'd been sippin' Mama Juana all weekend; the Dominican natural elixir.