The idea for our RV Road Trip around the Gulf states of the USA came from a casual meeting with a stranger. Linda and I met this stranger (Bill) while at an RV Park in Alamo, Texas. Bill was a man who had made the journey twenty-eight years earlier. He told us his story, and it altered our winter plans. This is our story of how in February 2020, we made a 29-day RV Road Trip, from Brownsville, Texas, to Cedar Key, Florida.  

The Plan

We planned a road trip that would introduce us to the agriculture, aquaculture, history, and cuisine of the people who lived and worked in the coastal plains of the Gulf of Mexico. We would visit the Spanish forts, national monuments, and museums. Our route would cross the coastal plains that consist mainly of cattle ranches, farms, forests, cotton plantations, the isolated nodding donkey, oil field pumping stations, rivers, bayous, and the swamps that dissect the land. Our route met the waters of the Gulf and the adventure continued alongside sandy beaches and Barrier Islands.

The Formation of the Gulf of Mexico

When a meteorite struck the earth 66 million years ago, it created the bay off the western edge of the Atlantic Ocean, known as The Gulf of Mexico. The sandy shore of this bay runs from Florida in the USA, to the Yucatan Peninsula, in Mexico. The Tropic of Cancer runs through the center of the Gulf of Mexico. It is this tropical climate that promotes the growth of plant life. The Abundant Supply of Freshwater and the annual spring flooding of nutrients is good for crops and wild vegetation. The food and water supply, in turn, attracts migratory birds in their millions as they make their annual journey between north and south America. Black Skimmers do not migrate; they fish all year. Their unusual fishing technique is to skim the surface with their lower beak submerged. They rest on the mudflats with their head tucked under their wings. We spent many hours watching and photographing numerous birds. Birding in the spring and fall is a popular pastime and has become a significant tourism attraction with several Gulf Shore municipalities. The dunes of the Barrier Islands support shore grasses and mangroves. The mudflats have developed on both sides of the waterway at the mid-tide level. The mudflats and shallow warm water stimulate the growth of seagrass meadows which are flooded twice a day by the water of the gulf, and the draining freshwater from the land. It is this warm mixture of fresh and saltwater’s that form the feeding grounds for young turtles, manatees and the invasive Lionfish.

Lionfish grow up to half a meter long. They are an invasive species with no natural enemy in North American waters. The Lionfish have established themselves along the coastal waters of the Gulf of Mexico.  A few municipalities have placed a bounty on Lionfish, making it attractive to spearfishermen. Lion Fish are tasty to eat. 

We hiked the dunes and drove our truck on the beaches of the Barrier Islands. It was at the educational centers on these trails, here on the edges of the Gulf of Mexico that Linda and I spent time learning about the wildlife, and the habitat that supports them. Many of the towns of the Gulf of Mexico support turtle and alligator rescue stations. It was here we discovered what it takes to sustain these creatures. We stopped at scientific research aquariums. The aquariums have educational displays of local fish and animal life, together with explanations of the necessary balance of sea and shore habitats. Restaurants are plentiful along the Gulf Coast. We had fun selecting the smaller family-run restaurants where the food tended to have a spicy taste which I am not that sure of, but it made for a different experience.

The Gulf of Mexico with birds flying

Cedar Key looking west out over the Barrier Islands and the Gulf of Mexico.

Brownsville Texas

Our RV road trip started in Brownsville, Texas, at the Tropical Trails Spacious RV Park, and the Barrier Island of South Padre, through the historic Killing grounds in Texas. During the Texas fight for independence from Mexico, the massacres took place at Goliad and Alamo in 1836. Pirates and Privateers once patrolled this coast. Stories of Pirate gold persist in most towns. Many beaches ban the use of metal detectors because of these stories. In the city of Port Isobel, we took a Pirate cruise. On the cruise, we fought the evil Pirates with styrofoam swords and watched dolphins play in the water around the ship.

Brownsville Texas: The Battle of Palmito Ranch, the last battle of the American civil war, took place on May 12 and 13, 1865.  A month after the confederate army under General Lee surrendered, April 9, 1865. 

RV Park

Brownsville, Tropical Trails, a new and spacious RV park

Breakfast on the Mudflats

The view of the feeding birds from the boardwalk is spectacular. It was early in the morning as we walked along the elevated path of the nature trail, Linda gave my hand a slight squeeze, and raised her left forefinger to her lips, making the sign for silence. A feeding shorebird, an American Coot, walked the mudflats in search of breakfast just ahead of us. The bird was not alone looking for breakfast. It did not see the action start to unfold, but we did. The dark shape started to move. It was a mature alligator over two-metres-long, and deadly. As we watched, the gator lifted its body very slowly on its front legs. On the boardwalk, we froze. The bird and alligator too intent on breakfast to notice us only five meters away. When it happened, the sequence was too fast to follow. Replaying it in my mind, I see the front half of the alligator in the air, front legs stretched out and spread apart, the jaws wide open, a fear-inducing roar, and the head turned slightly to the right, tracking the bird. The bird’s wings beat the air one last time. The alligator and bird disappeared below the surface. All that remained were the paw prints of the alligator tracks in the mud, now partly obliterated by the final frantic swishing of its tail and the small waves that followed the attack. We still carry a black and white image of the action, indelibly imprinted in our minds, the horror making it impossible to erase.  

 

Alligator in the water

Nature walk, South Padre Island. We watched an alligator kill a duck for breakfast.

Leaving Brownsville

South Padre Island, and the Rio Grande Valley. It had been a week of nature walks, seafood restaurants, shrimp and Pirate boats, dolphin and kite watching, a zoo and a museum for lessons in history. We had also taken a day to fulfill the commitment made before we planned the road trip. We had agreed to act as models in a western wear fashion show back in Alamo. Brownsville is a city of mixed heritage from the early formation of the United States of America. It is an excellent place to start a road trip. From Brownsville, one road crosses into Mexico; all others travel north into the USA. Now we were off to see some Longhorn cattle on our way to the Goliad State Park, RV campground.  

Modeling in a fashion show

Alamo Palms RV Park Rio Grande Valley. Malcolm and Linda model in a western wear fashion show during their RV Road Trip.

Texas Longhorn Cattle – King Ranch

“These days,” Matt, our tour guide, told us, “many cattlemen have moved away from the Longhorn cattle. Selective breeding has produced a shorthorn, faster-growing version of these hardy beef cattle. More beef in a shorter time, and less aggressive cattle to handle.” He added with a big Texas smile, “We keep a few Longhorns for visiting Greenhorns to see.” While being shown a small herd of Longhorns, a young calf started feeding from its mother. I suggest booking ahead to get a tour at the King Ranch.  

Calf and longhorn

Kings Ranch Texas. Texas Longhorn and calf.

Goliad Texas

Goliad RV Park is part of the Goliad State Park. The Goliad State Park includes the grounds that surround the “Mission Espirtu Santo.” The Spanish Franciscan Friars built Mission Espirtu Santo in 1765; their main objective was to convert the Indians to Christianity by working with them and teaching farming skills. Biking and walking trails wind through the forest, meadows, and beside the river. The restored buildings and walls of the old mission are there to explore, and the museums are worth visiting. Robert, a volunteer at Goliad State Park, gave us a personal tour of the Mission Espirtu Santo and added, “The Fannin Memorial Monument, to the American soldiers of the Alamo relief column, captured and massacred on the orders of the Mexican General Santa Anna. There is also the Presidio La Bahia, an old stone Spanish fort. These are just down the road. They are also worth a visit.” So, we went to visit these monuments, and Robert was correct, well worth the time. From Goliad, we set off inland to Braunig Lake RV Campground and our tour of San Antonio and the Alamo Mission.  

Memorial

Goliad, Fannin Monument, a memorial to the American soldiers massacred in Goliad by Mexican General Santa Anna.

San Antonio, Texas

We discussed our plans with Joan at the Braunig Lake RV Campground, San Antonio, Texas. “If you only have two nights,” she said. “I would suggest parking on your concrete site and go to the mission San Jose this afternoon. The mission and museum are open until 5pm. The museum covers all the five San Antonio missions built in the early 18th century.” Joan went on to tell us about San Antonio. “Tomorrow, if you go and see the Alamo, it may be difficult to find a car park for your truck.” Joan continued, “The Riverwalk should be your next destination; it’s only a short walk from the Alamo. You can then stroll along the Riverwalk, beside the San Antonio River. Designers took the waters of the San Antonio River, around the city and built the Riverwalk. The Riverwalk connects tower blocks and restaurants. There are low-level romantic walking bridges and high-level bridges for city roads.”

Museum built in the 18th century

Mission San Jose. Now the museum for all five Spanish missions built in the early 18th century.

San Antonio Riverwalk

People walking along the riverside

The Riverwalk in San Antonio is a man made river route lined with gardens, that winds through the city center.

The Riverwalk is a clean, well-maintained walkway and has gardens that go down from ground level to reach you. There are many access points, but you can miss them. You may have to ask for directions. Below, the city streets are a magical world of relaxation, and pleasure. In this casual and tourist underworld, there is shade from the Texas sun. Here you find boat taxi’s, flower beds, and restaurants; a creative mixture of tourism with banking and commerce. Alternatively, to walking, take a boat taxi ride, with a live commentary providing details of the re-routing of the river and the construction of the Riverwalk. This walk could lead to a romantic dinner at one of the many riverside restaurants. Sam Huston’s war cry in the battle that gave Texas independence from Mexico was “Remember the Alamo,” and we should.  

 

People walking on a bridge over the river

Riverwalk San Antonio. Linda and Malcolm on one of the many Riverwalk foot bridges over the San Antonio River.

Winter Texans Are Always Welcome Home

Before getting ready for the next leg of our road trip, I first wanted to thank Joan in the Braunig Lake RV Campground office for her excellent advice. The local people were very welcoming, referring with affection to us northerners, not as migrant Snowbirds from the north, but as Winter Texans. It was like being a distant cousin who was always welcome back home. Back at our Braunig Lake RV site, we reviewed the past two weeks and made plans for the next. Texas is a fun and exciting place to visit, its colonial history built-in stone goes back a long way, and the Spanish influence gives flavor to what may otherwise have been bland English cooking. You can enjoy Texas; it is worth the drive. Just remember it is a big state. Two days Texarkana to Brownsville. This vast state with many natural and varied wonders, both below and above ground. The stranger who first suggested this RV Road Trip is still coming back after twenty-eight years. These days his sons drive him to Alamo RV Park on the Rio Grande Valley each winter because, as a Winter Texan, Texas is his six-month home. With a smile, Joan replied to me, “You are winter Texans now; we’ll see you again.”

RV Road Trip – Campgrounds

Brownsville, Texas – Tropical Trails RV Resort Brownsville Texas

3605 FM 511 Brownsville, TX 78526 855-684-2887 (TollFree) 956-338-4040 info@tropicaltrailsrvresort.com

Goliad, Texas – Goliad State Park and RV Campground

108 Park Road 6, Goliad, TX 77963 Phone: +1 (361) 645-3405 https://www.campgroundreviews.com/regions/texas/goliad/goliadstatepark

Alamo San Antonio, Texas – Braunig Lake RV Campground

13550 Donop Rd, Elmendof, TX 78112 (210) 633-3170 www.brauniglakervresort.com

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