Lonesome Lone Star Coast
The next time you paddle your kayak through the marshy inlets of the crystal-clear Laguna Madre, or stare down a whooping crane at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, or snag a bivalve on Padre Island, take a moment to gaze into the Texas sunset and thank the folks who made it all possible: The cowboys. The hunters. The, uh, bomber pilots.
Incongruous as it seems, the 233-mile stretch of Texas coast from Matagorda Island to the Mexican border has been protected for decades by federal bombing ranges, giant hunting preserves and even bigger cattle ranches. Not exactly eco-friendly stuff, granted. But these activities have staved off the petrochemical complexes and residential development that have ruined so many other coastlines. Here, immense schools of speckled trout still run in pristine water. Trophy-size tarpon laze in saltwater inlets. White-tailed deer frolic in the dunes, and tidal flats lure more bird species than anywhere in North America.
Today, with most of the hunting preserves and bombing ranges converted into public parks, the area has become something of a haven for adrenaline junkies and nature lovers. Mountain bikers fly along abandoned military roads. Board-sailors turn flips over waves. European birders hire salty fishing guides to ferry them from rookery to rookery, and beachcombers explore long, contemplative stretches of uncrowded shoreline.
Yet despite the change, this stretch of coast remains essentially a Western frontier. Prickly pear cactus still grows to the water's edge, and mountain lions lord over vast ranges of below-sea-level marshland. Expect to see pickup trucks equipped with gun racks and"outfitters" stocked with little more than bait. Mostly, you'll be fending for yourself. Pack your own tents, towels, tools, bikes, water and sunscreen. And if you pass by a pair of cowboy boots in the sand and see a ranch hand wading into the surf to cast a line, make sure you've practiced the only appropriate greeting, delivered with a broad grin and a bit of a drawl: "Howdy!"
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication