While planning out our travels, we had originally thought that we would spend a good chunk of our winter on the Gulf Coast of Texas since it seemed like one of the warmer and more affordable snowbird locales. After camper repairs kept us home longer than expected over the holidays and we took the Southeast a little slower than we thought we would, we finally reached the area at the end of February 2017. We spent a few weeks there, but feel that we made the most out of it and got a pretty thorough Texas experience.
Our drive down from beautiful Caddo Lake State Park was our first reminder that we were in the Lone Star State as we passed tons of oil industry from the highway.
We then met John’s cousins for a local barbecue dinner as big as Texas itself.
Planning to head to the coast from here, we came to find that the RV camping choices were not quite as inexpensive without doing a monthly rate (the comparison was something like $50/day versus $400/month). So we researched the website freecampsites.net, found that free camping was allowed on a stretch of beach near Surfside Beach, and marched ourselves right over to get this sweet spot right on the sand.
The beach was a little windy and chilly yet, but being able to sleep to the sound of waves crashing and see the Gulf out of almost every window from the comfort of our camper for free was amazing. Walks up and down the beach to gawk at the beautiful beach houses and our discovery of the grackle bird (which sometimes sounds like it swallowed a staticky FM radio receiver) made it that much better.
We caved after a few days to get some utilities, shower and dump, and headed to Galveston Island State Park when we saw they had a spot open up at their competitive park. Here, we still had a decent view over the dunes and beach access for walks. It amazed us how many of the beaches were accessible to vehicles – a rare occasion for which you need a permit up North – but I suppose when there is this much coast, it’s not as big of a deal. I kept feeling like the amount of traffic could be a little annoying if you were just sitting out there in the summer with your kids, but it’s still pretty cool regardless. We also met up with John’s cousins again to eat and walk around downtown Galveston, where we had just missed their big Mardi Gras celebration. We still got to try on some beads though.
I don’t know if it’s a coincidence that Texas is known for their beef, but I had the best burger I’d ever had here and we also made sure to try the famous Texas Blue Bell ice cream. Oh, and we came across little taste of home – a Rita’s Water Ice! Who says you can’t have dessert twice in one day?!
We then brought our Southeast Texas experience to another level by attending John’s cousins’ crawfish boil. A popular staple of Cajun culture in springtime, we got to experience the camaraderie and deliciousness of this tradition that we now totally understand. I’m pretty much seafood averse and was too scared to eat something nicknamed a “mudbug”, but John surprised me by liking them and I loved the spicy seasoning on all the corn, onions, potatoes and other veggies! (In fact, we were sent on our way with some of the seasoning and I’ve been finding every excuse I can to put it on things!) We topped it off with some Texas-brewed Shiner beer, too.
As we stayed with John’s cousins who were gracious enough to let us park in their driveway, we got to experience some more local food and even a local winery (on top of the delicious home cooking and hospitality we received!).
Our Texas-ness peaked though when we attended the Houston rodeo, one of the world’s biggest livestock and rodeo shows. We spent the day watching baby chicks hatch, checking out the petting zoo, learning about the different livestock and hoping to see a mama pig give birth. We also discovered a favorite new sport – “mutton busting” – in which five and six-year olds see how long they can stay on top of a sheep running across a pen. It was a riot! (And luckily the kids seem to be padded and helmeted enough that it’s safe.) We then had some good rodeo eatin’ – a huge turkey leg and a pulled pork/mashed potato sundae – before attending the big rodeo show at night. We didn’t stay for the musical act but they have a fairly impressive lineup of artists that play every night. We got the cheapest tickets for $18, but you really get your money’s worth no matter what!
Hearty eating, friendly people, lots of fun and balmy weather…I think our Texas experience got off on just the right foot (aside from my bout with the flu that followed all this, but even that wasn’t as bad being near family!). Now if only we had taken our sugary sweet stray kitty cat friend with us, it might have been the best time yet. (Update: Turns out the kitty was prego and had kittens after we left, but maybe I can still convince John to take a detour on the way home… ;)).