The Gulf Coast

Part 1: Tip o' Tejas

What's south Texas like? Turns out it's full of birds. Took a trip down to see what truly south Texas (aka the Rio Grande Valley) is like.

Day 1: Dallas to Laredo

STOPS: Bucee's, El Sombrero Azul

Finished work early and hit the road. Make the requisite Bucee's stop along the way and got stuck in way too much traffic. Lost I-35 between Waco and San Antonio (bypassed Austin) and picked it up again all the way to Laredo, watching a failed sunset. Made it around 8PM to see the border crossing, then picked up some excellent food at El Sombrero Azul before making it to my hotel.

Today's distance: 463

Total distance: 463 (463/day)


Day 2: Laredo to Brownsville

STOPS: Lake Casa Blanca State Park, Organic Man Coffee Trike, National Butterfly Center, Hidalgo Old Pumphouse Museum and WBC, World's Largest Killer Bee, Grind Coffee Co, Edinburg Scenic Wetlands and WBC, Santa Ana NWR, Estero Llano State Park, Laguna Madre Nature Trail, Tacqueria El Taco Loco

Woke up and decided to go to Lake Casa Blanca for the sunrise...too bad it was gray with a thin orange line. Picked up some coffee from Organic Man, then hit the road. Drove along the southernmost road, with some sad views of the border wall. On the way to the butterfly center, took a detour (per GPS) and saw border patrol with 50ish women and children who just crossed the border. Didn't see any butterflies at the butterfly center, but plenty of birds and flowers. Made a rapid-fire journey through a bunch of designated birding areas, including Hidalgo Old Pumphouse, Edinburg Scenic Wetlands, and Santa Ana NWR (which has a cool canopy bridge and observation tower). The highlight was Estero Llano, which has a great viewing area to watch ducks and other waterbirds splash around, and an area where you might see a gator or two (I did!). Refueled with caffeine from Grind Coffee Co, then made the drive to South Padre Island to watch the sunset from the Laguna Madre Nature Trail. Just because (why not), I drove north to the very end of the road to attempt some astrophotography (not super successful) before heading back to Brownsville (much cheaper than SPI), picking up some tacos from Tacqueria El Taco Loco before finding a motel to stay at.

Today's distance: 330

Total distance: 793 (/day)


Day 3: Brownsville, etc

STOPS: Boca Chica Beach, Vera's BBQ, 7th and Park, Resaca de las Palmas SP and WBC, Soverign Coffee, Gladys Porter Zoo, Laguna Atascosa NWR, Ceviche Ceviche, Sea Turtles Inc, SPI WBC, Milos Coffee House, Laguna Madre Nature Trail

Tried to get up early and drive to Boca Chica Beach in time for sunrise, but turns out it's closed for SpaceX "stuff"...darn. Drove back to Brownsville to get some amazing BBQ from Vera's, then got coffee from 7th and Park before checking out Resaca de las Palmas, which had some great trails but the only birds I saw were talkative wild turkeys parading down the trail. Picked up MORE COFFEE from Soverign Coffee before checking out Gladys Porter Zoo, which is 100% worth visiting (so many cool animals!!!) I then took the long way to SPI, heading through Laguna Atascosa to check out a couple of the birding blinds. Picked up some food from Ceviche Ceviche (and my weekend dose of fruits/veggies) before paying a quick trip to Sea Turtles Inc to see their rescued turtle friends. I then spent the next couple hours wandering the boardwalk of the South Padre Island World Birding Center, which had so many birds, swimming mullets, captive gators, and one wild gator. Feeling a little tired, I got more coffee (yessiree) from Milos Coffee House before heading back to my same sunset spot for an even better sunset at the Laguna Madre Nature Trail. Having enough, I headed back to the motel for the night.

Today's distance: 199

Total distance: 992 (/day)


Day 4: Brownsville to Dallas

STOPS: Hugh Ramsey Nature Park, Harlingen Thicket, Bandera Coffee Co, Merit Coffee Co, Bluebonnets

Wasn't going to risk a third crappy sunrise, so I slept in as much as I could. Headed to Harlingen to see Hugh Ramsey Nature Park, where I saw a few birds and some surprise javelinas! Quickly wandered through Harlingen Thicket before getting coffee at Bandera Coffee Co. I drove all the way to San Antonio to get some Merit Coffee direct from its hometown. I then decided to take the back roads (not really back roads if the speed limit is 70mph?) and made numerous stops to see the bluebonnets and go wild with the camera. Finally made it back home around 7pm, phew!

Today's distance: 572

Total distance: 1564 (/day)


Part 2: Texas Toast? Nah, Texas Coast

I've really wanted to go to Corpus Christi since moving to Dallas to see the Texas State Aquarium and Padre Island National Seashore. Well now's my chance!

Day 1: Dallas to Freeport

STOPS: Carport, Brazos Bend State Park, Blood Bros BBQ, Smith Oaks Sanctuary, Galveston Beach, MOD Coffeehouse, Galveston Island State Park, Seahorse Grill

Decided not to leave on a Friday after work, instead getting up extra early on Saturday to head out. Timed the sunrise with driving through Waco, then got off the highway to take the back roads. Drove through College Station which was everything I expected (giant college campus) and picked up coffee at Carport. I then headed way out to Brazos Bend State Park to fulfill my goal of seeing a gator, which took about 30 seconds. I then headed towards Houston to see one of my cousins (yondoo!) where we got some Blood Bros BBQ for lunch. I then drove east past downtown Houston to Smith Oaks Sanctuary to see the nesting roseate spoonbills (l'il spoony bois), so cute yet weird looking. I drove along the coast past all the stilt houses to Galveston, which was nicer than everyone makes it seem despite the rainy weather I encountered. I picked up some backup coffee from MOD Coffeehouse, made a quick stop to Galveston Island State Park to watch a sad sunrise (too cloudy), then got some fish dinner from Seahorse Grill before making my way to a motel all the way in Freeport (everything else was booked and expensive)

Today's distance: 532

Total distance: 532 (532/day)


Day 2: Freeport to Corpus Christi

STOPS: Surfside Beach, LaFitte's Cove, Kelly Hamby Nature Trail, Quintana Neotropical Bird Sanctuary, Fishing Pier Park, Aransas NWR, South Texas Botanical Garden, Oso Bay Wetlands Preserve, Snoopy's Pier

I got up early enough to make it to Surfside Beach for an amazing sunrise, which was to be pretty much the only sun I'd see all day. I backtracked to LaFitte's Cove near Galveston where I watched the birders go birdwatching. Heading south, I made a quick stop along the shore to the Kelly Hamby Nature Trail, then continued on and around Freeport to the Quintana Neotropical Bird Sanctuary, which is the only time I can say I took too many hummingbird photos. From there, I continued onwards, stopping to walk to short boardwalk at Fishing Pier Park before making it to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. I was too late to see sandhill cranes, but I did see some gators and plenty of other birds. I tried to make it to the aquarium but it was too late, so I settled for the South Texas Botanical Garden where I got some awesome pictures of butterflies and roses. I then stopped by the Oso Bay Wetlands Preserve before closing, where I'm pretty sure I saw a caracara along with a painted bunting (whatever that is). I then got some dinner and ice cream at Snoopy's Pier while getting a perfectly purple sunset before bed.

Today's distance: 341

Total distance: 873 (***/day)


Day 3: Corpus Christi to Dallas

STOPS: Hans + Pat Suter Wildlife Refuge, La Palma, Padre Island National Seashore, Mustang Island, Wetland Park, Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center, Joan + Scott Holt Paradise Pond, Texas State Aquarium,

For whatever reason I woke up ridiculously early and went to the Hans and Pat Suter Wildlife Refuge before sunrise where I didn't see any birds but saw an interesting cloudy sunrise over a bridge. I headed onwards to Padre Island National Seashore, first getting some gorditas from La Palma, which I ate at the beach near the visitor center. After enjoying some sand and surf, I headed back north, briefly stopping at Mustang Island before checking out the birds at Wetland Park, Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center, and the Joan and Scott Holt Paradise Pond. I then took the ferry from Port Aransas back to the mainland, heading to the Texas State Aquarium to enjoy my good friends the fishes. Finally, victory! Had enough for one weekend, I made the long trip back home.

Today's distance: 496

Total distance: 1369 (***/day)


Part 3: Back to the Bayou

All I was missing from the gulf coast of texas was a little bit of the north, so I figured out why not check out the bayou while I'm at it? See what the swamp folk are up to.

Day 1: Dallas to New Orleans

STOPS: Lasyone's Meat Pie Restaurant, Tamp + Grind, Grand Cote NWR, Mississippi River Park, City Roots, Mike the Tiger, Bayou Savage NWR, Today's Cajun Seafood, Crescent Park

Woke up and hit the road, made my way to the meat pies at Lasyone's and some coffee at Tamp + Grind in Alexandria. I made a stop at Grand Cote National Wildlife Refuge but the trail I wanted to take was completely flooded, next time! I drove to Baton Rouge and took a walk around the waterfront, checking out Mississippi River Park, Mike the Tiger's enclosure (without Mike visible) at LSU, and more coffee from City Roots. I took the long way around New Orleans to Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge to walk the boardwalks in the sunny weather, then headed into the city to get a po'boy from Today's Cajun Seafood which I ate while walking around Crescent Park in a hot, humid, cloudy sunset evening. I then made my way to my family friends' house, where I stayed the night.

Today's distance: 586

Total distance: 586 (586/day)


Day 2: New Orleans Adventures

STOPS: Armstrong Park, Jackson Park, Ignatius J Reilly Statue, Cafe du Monde, Barataria Preserve, Liuzza's by the Track, City Park, National WWII Museum, Mandina's, Angelo Brocato

Today I got up and checked out Armstrong park and the rest of the downtown sights before getting rained out with a thunderstorm. I was able to see the Ignatius J Reilly statue, which was a little exciting after reading A Confederacy of Dunces last year. I also made a stop at Cafe du Monde for some chicory coffee and beignets. I headed briefly out of the city to Barataria Preserve, where I got up close with the swampy gators and loads of dragonflies. I then went back to Liuzza's by the Track for another po'boy, which I ate in City Park. I checked out the National WWII Museum with its loads of exhibits before meeting back up with my hosts to go to Mandina's for dinner and Angelo Brocato for some gelato.

Today's distance: 66

Total distance: 652 (***/day)


Day 3: New Orleans to New Iberia

STOPS: New Orleans Botanical Gardens, Bean Gallery, Parkway Bakery + Tavern, Grand Isle State Park, Mandalay NWR, Boudreau + Thibodeau's Cajun Cookin'

Today was thunderstorming on and off, so I passed on the zoo, but I was able to make it to the Botanical Gardens which were awesome (including the cute greenhouse with succulents). I stopped by the Bean Gallery for coffee refueling and Parkway Bakery and Tavern for my final po'boy before making the drive down to Grand Isle State Park, which was small but had a super cool drive over the swamp land and through thunderstorms. Backtracking, I stopped by Mandalay National Wildlife Refuge where I ruined my sneakers walking through the swampy trail, but was rewarded with an amazing view of a hidden pond in the sun. I then drove through Houma (home of DC Comics' Swamp Thing) for some Boudreau and Thibodeau's Cajun Cookin', then found a hotel to stay at in New Iberia.

Today's distance: 282

Total distance: 934 (***/day)


Day 4: New Iberia to Dallas

STOPS: Classic Cup, Rockefeller NWR, Cameron NWR, Stellar Beans, Steamboat Bill's, Veterans Memorial Park, Sabine NWR, Peveto Bird and Butterfly Sanctuary, Sea Rim State Park, Texas Ornithological Society Sabine Woods, Texas Point NWR, Beaumont Botanical Gardens, Catwalk Marsh Wetlands, Sweet Basil, Big Thicket National Preserve

Hit the road for some coffee at Classic Cup and a boudin biscuit (interesting), then continued onwards along the backroads for a cool swampy drive. Stopped by Rockefeller National Wildlife Refuge which is more for fishing than birding, but Cameron National Wildlife Refuge was a great stop. Gators sunning themselves everywhere, trying to lure me into the water with promises of waterlily photos, but I was not fooled. I headed north to Lake Charles, where it turns out President Biden was making a stop. Well I couldn't pass the opportunity up, so I waited at Veterans Memorial Park to see the motorcade with coffee from Stellar Beans and gumbo from Steamboat Bill's. Afterwards I headed south to Sabine National Wildlife Refuge for some more gators (and fly bites), then kept onwards to Peveto Bird and Butterfly Sanctuary which had neither birds nor butterflies but swarms (HORDES) of dragonflies. I passed back into Texas and through Port Arthur, making stops at Sea Rim State Park, Texas Ornithological Society Sabine Woods, and Texas Point National Wildlife Refuge, where I saw just a couple birds (but I am very impatient). I went up to Beaumont where I accidentally found the Beaumont Botanical Gardens and the great birding spot Catwalk Marsh Wetlands. I picked up some food from Sweet Basil which I ate and watched the sunset on the road at Big Thicket National Preserve. Having run out of stops and only four hours from home, I figured "screw it," tanked up on caffeine and made the drive back to Dallas, arriving just short of midnight. And thus ends almost 4500 miles of gulf coast adventure!

Today's distance: 597

Total distance: 1531 (***/day)