South Padre Island, Brownsville, and a quick hop into Mexico

We had a four day weekend off of work this month, so Chris and I decided to spend a little time at the beach. We packed up our car and drove down to South Padre Island down in the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas. Now, the last time I was in SPI was 1997 and it was college spring break week- and I was there to see Vanilla Ice in concert. So I was interested to see how the island had changed over the last 20+ years.

South Padre Island, Texas

There is exactly one way to get onto South Padre Island, and that is via the Queen Isabella Causeway, from Port Isabel. You cannot enter the island from a more northern point, so just know that if you want to visit, you will need to go alllllllll the way down to the bottom of Texas to get there. From Austin, it took us about six hours. We arrived in time to grab an early dinner at Dirty Al’s, a Cajun-style seafood joint directly on the water. You can eat indoors or outside, and enjoy the Gulf breeze while watching the sailboats come in and out of the harbor. You can also book an island tour, sportfishing boat, or dolphin-spotting cruise from some of the businesses just steps away.

SPI Harbor

The entire south end of the island is Isla Blanca Park, run by Cameron County. To access those parts, you’ll need to pay a $12 day pass, or $5 for Veterans (you can also get a monthly or annual pass). Some of the cleanest beaches and best sunset-watching spots are down in Isla Blanca Park, as well as RV spots, cabanas, and a huge statue of “Cristo de los Pescadores”. But don’t worry. South Padre Island has plenty of free beaches in the mid-island and northern island sections.

Sunset at the Queen Isabella Causeway
There’s always fresh, cold beer on tap at the Padre Island Brewing Company

For eating, drinking, and partying, most people head mid-island to Clayton’s, Bar Louie, and The Lookout. These 3 open-air bars are always full, with food and drink specials, music, and plenty of sandy feet. At night there’s usually a DJ or a band playing at one or more of these venues. For a more mellow vibe, try a local brew at the PI Brewing Company.

But South Padre Island has plenty to do for nature lovers as well. You can visit Sea Turtle Inc, or the SPI Birding and Nature Center. A bit further north from town, there’s the Stables, the SPI Equestrian and Events Centre. You can ride horses and zipline at the South Padre Island adventure park, or visit the Kite Boarding Ranch. If all of these sound too adventurous to you, just go to the end of State Road 100, and visit the beautiful white sand dunes and less-visited beaches in the north of the island.

The surge was high this weekend due to Hurricane Delta!

While we were on SPI, a hurricane was affecting the tides throughout the Gulf of Mexico, so we took some time inland to explore a little as well. Just south of SPI you can visit the SpaceX launch site. Be warned: although only 6 or 7 miles south of SPI, it takes a while to get there- you’ll need to drive inland about 25 minutes, and then double back on another road to get to the space center (it’s just before Boca Chica State Park).

SpaceX Launch Site

And if you’re wondering- can you walk across the border to Mexico? The answer is yes. There are 3 international bridges located in Brownsville, Texas, linking to Matamoros, Mexico. We walked across the Gateway International Bridge with our passports and $1 in quarter for the toll. On the Mexican side, you can hop on a bus to pretty much anywhere in Mexico (prepare for some long rides), or just have a cerveza and some lunch, shop a little, and head on back. Just a block or two over the border is a large shop and restaurant called Garcia’s- they have great food and specials on Mexican products and liquors. They took our temperature before we entered and sanitized our hands. The line back into the US took a bit longer than the one heading south- prepare for a bit of a wait- but it only costs 25 cents. Not bad for an international trip!

Bienvenido a Mexico!

Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain

Deah and Chris standing in front of Welcome to Oklahoma Border sign

Oklahoma is OK!

With school about to start just around the corner, Chris and I (Deah) wanted to get out of town for a few days and go camping and see some (socially distanced) sights. We packed up our car and headed north.

Broken Bow Lake

We stayed the first night at Broken Bow Lake, at the Beaver’s Bend State Park campground. At just $16 a spot, this campground was the perfect chance for us to get out into some nature. Since it was the end of July, it was plenty hot, but we cooled off in the Mountain Fork River, which was surprisingly cold. In the evening as we ate our dinner, we saw a fox stroll by, and with an early start the next morning, we saw families of deer and families of fishermen out enjoying the cool morning.

Beaver Bend State Park
Getting back to nature

Fort Smith Arkansas

Okay, to tell the truth, we had forgotten a crucial part of our camping gear, so we had to call it a night after just one night and head to a city. We weren’t too far from Fort Smith, Arkansas, so we drove that way to learn about this town which was once the border between Arkansas and Indian Territory. Between the hanging deaths of 86 men by “Hanging Judge” Parker, and the years the town legalized prostitution, Fort Smith has an interesting history. They also have some delicious craft beers.

The border between Arkansas and Indian Territory
Fort Smith National Historic Park

Tahlequah, OK

From Fort Smith, we headed back into Tahlequah to explore a little bit of the Cherokee history of the area. Although the Cherokee Supreme Court Museum and the Cherokee Prison Museum were both temporarily closed, we did a self-guided walking tour through town to learn about the founding of the town. Northeastern State University has a beautiful campus there and it’s just a beautiful area all around.

Sequoyah, creator of the Cherokee Syllabary

Tulsa, OK

We arrived in Tulsa in a rain storm and had to sit out a bit before doing our sightseeing. Always happy to try some Mexican food, we chose El Rancho Grande, featured in this list of the 9 Best Restaurants in Tulsa (it was delicious). Later, we did enjoy the “Cathedral District” of the city with it’s massive churches, as well as the huge park called The Gathering Place along the Arkansas River. On the following day, we spent a few hours at the Gilcrease Museum, full of art and artifacts from the American West and Native Americans. Both their indoor spaces and their grounds (as well as the stunning views from some of their back areas) were a treat to walk around and take in.

Chris visiting The Golden Driller in Tulsa
Frederic Remington’s “The Bronco Buster”

Stillwater, OK

A trip to Oklahoma never seems complete without a stop at Stillwater’s Eskimo Joe’s Jumpin’ Jukejoint. We sat at the bar and had a chopped beef burger and tried a local beer. The bartender suggested we stop off at Pop’s in Arcadia on our way to the capital, so we did.

Not the best food, but great marketing

Oklahoma City, OK

Oklahoma City is a sprawling city with a vibrant downtown area. We headed first to the Centennial Land Run Monument, commemorating the date when over 50,000 people from all over the country came to claim their own corner of two million acres of land. We also visited the haunting memorial to the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, an event I remember all too well. The memorial, and the museum next to it, is worth visiting.

Centennial Land Run Monument
Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial

We also visited the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, a sprawling museum that would take days to properly see. Right now the entrants for the Prix de West art exhibition are on display, and wow, I don’t know how the judges can tell who’s winning. They are all stunning pieces of art. In addition, there are dozens of exhibits ranging from a full size rodeo, art of the American west, an entire western town named Prosperity Junction, and Native American art. And that’s just the inside! Outside the building, you can find and play in life-size replicas of a Kiowa tipi, a Pueblo cliff dwelling, a Chickasaw Council House, a train Depot, and more. There were simply not enough hours in the day to fully explore this museum (formerly known as the Cowboy Hall of Fame).

2002 Prix de West winner: Teller of Tales by Martin Grelle

Lake Texoma

To conclude our trip, I wanted one more night near a lake, but we had to settle for a cabin rather than camp. After a fantastic lunch at Bedlam BBQ, we headed to the lake that straddles the border between Texas and Oklahoma, and found Willow Springs Marina. They have cabins, cottages, and RV sites there, as well as a marina. We had just taken a dip in the lake when suddenly the temperature dropped 14 degrees, a wind blew in, and the skies opened. We made it back to our cabin and watched the storm for a few hours. By the next morning, the sun was out and the lake was calm again. A perfect end to our week away.

A summer storm blows in

Have you been to Oklahoma? There’s a surprising amount to see there- this list is by no means comprehensive! What’s your favorite thing to see in the state?

A Quick Trip through Houston and Galveston Island, Texas

Last week we visited Galveston Island for a couple of days, followed by a weekend in Houston. Whether you’re there for a week or just a few days, both cities have lots of fun and off-the-beaten-path things to do that won’t break your budget! Whether you’re a NASA fan or love lying on the beach, this area has you covered.

Johnson Space Center, Houston

Galveston Island

The Beach

Of course most people come to Galveston Island to have fun on the beach, and the good news is that most of Galveston’s beaches are free! Of the 32 miles of soft, sandy beaches, only Stewart Beach and East Beach charge a Continue reading “A Quick Trip through Houston and Galveston Island, Texas”

Big Bend National Park

Since we are returning residents to the state of Texas, we planned to go to Big Bend National Park over my Spring Break. With some reports of the Covid-19 contagion coming in, we decided to pack our own food for the trip and to camp, so as to be able to isolate ourselves as much as possible. We left the Austin area and drove across the beautiful central hill country, where the sides of the highways and byways are carpeted with bluebonnets during the month of March.

Ever since Lady Bird Johnson was First Lady, the Texas Department of Transportation has sown more than 30,000 pounds of bluebonnet seeds around the state annually.

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Feeling Terrific in the Pacific

Blue Pacific Ocean waves crashing near Abaiang Island Kiribati

*****Guest post by Chris******

After “settling down” in Austin and spending way too much time at Home Depot, I wanted to travel again.  Deah was busy with her new job, but suggested I go solo on the condition that I write a guest blog-post.  I’m no Shakespeare, but ventured out regardless for a three week Pacific trip to Marshall Islands, Nauru, and Kiribati.

I spent several days on Majuro Atoll, Marshall Islands on both ends of the trip. It’s accessible via the United Airline island hopper flight starting in Honolulu. Due to the Compact of Free Association with the USA, Majuro has a somewhat American feel to it; brands, beers, T-shirts, people with relatives in the States, etc. It’s a long, skinny island, but easy to get around by frequent taxis and infrequent buses.

The international airport of Majuro, Marshall Islands. Tiny place but has a cafe, bar, wifi, etc.

Continue reading “Feeling Terrific in the Pacific”