Padre Island National Seashore

JT and Katie took a long weekend trip to Padre Island National Seashore, leaving Austin Friday morning at 2:15 am and returning to Austin around 7 pm on Sunday.

Our main reason for traveling to Padre Island National Seashore was to see the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle hatching release scheduled for Friday morning at 6:45 am. Due to the inherently unpredictable nature of the hatchling program, we were uncertain whether there would be any other releases during the weekend. So, we decided to leave Austin in the middle of the night in order to arrive at the national seashore by 6:45am.

Katie did meal planning, meal preparation, and packing on Thursday.  JT went to bed around 10 pm on Thursday night, to prepare for driving from 2 am to 6:30 am on Friday morning.  We stopped at Whataburger (fun fact: this was the third Whataburger ever built) on Padre Island around 6:10 am to get breakfast on the way to the national seashore. While we hoped for this to be a quick stop, it ended up taking over 15 minutes.

Once at the Malaquite Visitors Center, we joined the crowd of people listening to the park ranger’s ~20 minute informational talk.  We then hurried down to the beach in an attempt to get a good spot from which to view the turtles being released.  Hatchlings from two clutches (nests) were being released, a total of about 75 baby turtles.  We watched as the hatchlings crawled across the sand towards the surf, and then battled their way through the wave break and out to the Gulf.  In past years we have focused mainly on the baby turtles crawling across the beach, but this year we found we were fascinated by watching the turtles once they reached the surf.  It was neat to watch their little heads pop up as the slowly make progress fighting against the waves. They are so small that the 1-2 foot waves seemed to overwhelm them. Considering all of the obstacles they face, it’s a wonder any survive.

After the release was over, we walked on the beach for a bit, collecting trash as we went.  Then we decided to go see if any campsites were available at the Malaquite Campground.  As checkout time was 12 noon, we figured that checkin might not be allowed until at least then. We were shocked to see the campground already full early this Friday morning – with people from the release having already taken the empty spots. However, we talked to a guy who was starting to pack up at site 1, and he said he was leaving that day. So, we went ahead and registered for his site starting at noon.

We then went to a “Hidden Treasures” ranger guided tour on the beach.  This tour, focused more towards youth, shows you how to dig up ghost shrimp and look at the variety of fish that come in close to shore.  JT was recruited to drag a 10-foot net through the surf to catch all sorts of creatures.  After the tour, we took the abundance of ghost shrimp that we caught into the visitor center to feed the fish in the aquarium.

Then we went to our campsite at Malaquite Campground and set-up our tent and had lunch.  Lunch was ford wraps (which are large tortilla wraps filled with salmon and creamy swiss cheese) and rolls with creamy swiss cheese.  After lunch, we sunscreened and enjoyed the rest of the day relaxing at our campsite and on the beach.  We both brought lots of reading materials, so we spent our time mainly reading and just enjoying the surroundings.  Plus, JT napped for a few hours to catch up on the sleep lost that morning.  All afternoon a great blue heron sat atop the nearby amphitheater screen, so we enjoyed watching him and named him Edward (due to his royal appearance and demeanor).

For dinner we had black bean tortilla casserole, the last of the rolls with creamy swiss cheese, and a bottle of Moscato wine.  The black bean tortilla casserole contained tortillas, beans, cheese, and salsa.  We cooked it in a frying pan over our camp stove.  After dinner, we showered and went to bed early, since we knew there would be another turtle hatchling release in the morning.

We slept pretty poorly during the night as our air mattress was not holding air properly, as it seems to have a hole.  We got up at 6:15 am on Saturday to walk down the beach to the visitors center to see the turtles be released.  We arrived at the site after much of the crowd had descended from the visitor center, so we opted to stand in the surf and watch the turtles as they fought through the surf.  It was not an ideal position to watch from, but it allowed us to see the turtles more closely as they made their way through the waves and out into the Gulf.

After the release, we walked up to the visitor center and got a Junior Ranger booklet to fill out.  These booklets are made for youth, but some parks allow anyone fill them out to become a “junior ranger”.  At the last two parks we have visited (Guadalupe Peak and Padre Island), the ranger we spoke with was excited about having us do it – and admitted to completing Junior Ranger programs at the other parks they visited. 🙂 We spent some time filling out the booklet, and then walked back to our campsite.  Once at our campsite, we made breakfast which consisted of oatmeal with toppings of walnuts, raisins, and chocolate, along with coffee.  We then sat in the partial shade at our campsite, reading and watching the wildlife.  The bottom of JT’s feet were hurting a good bit, so we decided to have a relaxing day.  Katie made the poor decision of assuming sitting in a mostly shaded area would protect her from the sun.  We sat in the partial shade all morning until lunch, at which time Katie realized she was burning and put on a long sleeve shirt and sunscreen.  All morning, we enjoyed watching a ‘spotted ground squirrel’, whom we named Timothy, explore around our neighbor’s campsite.  He would run around, and then stand on his hind legs to get a better view of his surroundings.  Timothy found one piece of food, which he quickly carted away, but in general he just seemed curious about his current set of human visitors.

For lunch we had peanut butter and banana wraps along with an avocado.  The avocado had sat in the heat of the car for too long though, as it tasted strange and seemed ‘cooked’.  After lunch, we sat in the shade at our campsite for a while before going down to the beach with our chairs and relaxing there.  Katie went for a walk along the beach later in the day (JT’s feet were still irritated), and realized as she was walking that the tops of her feet and ankles were breaking out in a rash.  She assumes the rash was from an allergy to the red ants that had been biting her at the campsite, but she is unsure.  Katie really enjoyed sitting quietly in her chair on the beach and watching the ghost crabs come out of their holes and explore on the beach.

As the sun got lower, we took our chairs back to the campsite and prepared dinner.  Dinner was cashew chicken noodles and another bottle of Moscato wine.  The cashew chicken noodles was mainly prepared at home, by combining two ramen noodle packets, curry, cumin, ground ginger, salt, and pepper in a container.  Then, at the campsite you add packaged chicken and canned mixed veggies to the container along with hot water.  After letting it sit for a while, you mix in cashews and cilantro before serving.

The campground was completely full – including the spots on the beach itself – on Saturday night, and we witnessed a couple from Missouri being kicked out of their beach camping site since they accidentally parked in an already occupied site.  We felt bad and offered to let them park with us in our spot (since each spot can have two cars and two tents), as it seemed like the right, ‘good-karma’ thing to do.  We talked with the camp hosts for a bit about how they came to be camp hosts before showering and going to bed.  We slept poorly once again due to the de-inflating air mattress.  We plan to either fix the holes in the air mattress when we get home, or to buy a new one.

Sunday morning we awoke with the sun already up.  We cooked oatmeal with walnuts and raisins for breakfast, and then carried our chairs down to the beach to sit by the water for a while.  When it was time to pack up, we carried the chairs back to the campsite and packed up the tent before showering and leaving our campsite a little after noon.  We then stopped by the visitors center on the way out to finish our junior ranger program.  The two rangers in the visitors center had a fun time awarding our junior ranger badges, and insisted that they take pictures of us taking our oath and with our certificates (see below).

We then left the national seashore, dropped our postcards in the mailbox at the Padre Island post office, stopped at Walgreens for hydrocortizone cream for Katie’s feet, and then went to Whataburger for lunch (a 32-minute disaster!).  Then JT began to drive back to Austin.

A few notes:
– Every time we went for a walk on the beach, we would take one or two trashbags with us to collect trash.  Although a few items of trash were indeed left by careless visitors, much of the trash washes up on shore other places – due to the nature of the Gulf tides converging on Padre Island.
– We found ourselves focusing much more on the wildlife this trip.  We spent lots of time watching the spotted ground squirrels, ghost crabs, and various birds (especially when fishing or flying in flocks).

National Park rangers and turtle release volunteers deterring sea gulls while the hatchlings make their way to the water.

Just hatched baby turtles making their way across the beach towards the water.

The first hatchlings reach the water.

Our tent set up at site 1 in Malaquite Campground.  Site 1 was a ‘tent only’ site.

A spotted ground squirrel near our campsite.

 Edward, the great blue heron, sitting on the screen at the amphitheater next to our campsite.

 Katie and JT posing in the ranger station with our Junior Ranger certificated and Adopt a Beach patches (given for collecting trash on the beach).

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