Last Friday, we hit the road with a bunch of our SCUBA friends (20 of us in all) down to Padre Island National Seashore (PINS) to do some fishing, four-wheel driving, and let the dogs play on the beach. Last October we unaminously decided that this was the ideal time to visit. The weather has cooled off, the crowds are smaller and the water is still warm.
But, for those of you that don’t know, red tide’s hit the coast. I’m here to say it’s nasty and very sad. It’s a toxic red algae that takes all the oxygen out of the water and kills the fish. Not only that, if it gets close to the shore, its particles get thrown up into the sir by wind and surf.
After being told by the park rangers both on the phone and at the entrance that the red tide was much better after the cold front and rain – well if this is better, I’d hate to see what it was like. I’d like to know what they considered better about it. On all reports it’s gotten worse and pretty much taken over PINS – still heading south. Report after this weekend is that it’s hit mile marker 35. We didn’t make it nearly that far.
First of all, we had a couple of drivers bringing non-4wd vehicles, one of which a Taurus station wagon. Although driving conditions were classified as “good”, that ain’t good enough. Our plan was to camp about mile 25. Upon seeing the Taurus I knew we weren’t getting that far. Someone asked him if he was driving “that?” He’s got a good sense of humor and responded, “As I understand it ‘they’ are just towing me down the beach.” About mile 7 he got stuck for the first time. This is a mile or two past where they recommend only 4wd. But I’ll get back to that.
Immediately upon the end of the pavement, we rolled down the windows – enjoying a brief lapse of rain. And not but a minute later I found myself coughing. Just as had been reported when the red tide is bad, you get coughing and burning eyes. My eyes were fine but others said they burned bad. The smell wasn’t too bad at the beginning. Lisa’s got super smelling power, though. We had to roll up the windows to stop coughing. CB contact with others up the beach about 5-10 miles further said it was worse. As we got a few miles in, the dead fish began. Not scatterings, but hundreds of thousands of dead fish. One or two rows of solid dead fish. Mainly bait fish and eels, but plenty of big redfish too. So the smell gets worse. To avoid driving through piles of dead fish, we keep in the ruts of the “road” As the ruts get deeper, the Taurus had more difficulty. Reports were funny. He kept moving chugging along straight in the ruts, whether his front wheels were pointed straight or not.
So he get’s stuck the first time. They radioed me and I just turned out of the deep rut and turned around. The guy behind me in a pickup, but not 4wd, kept going. Later I found out if he would have turned or stopped, he would have been stuck himself. So we pulled the Taurus out and decide to drive down between the water and the first line of dead fish.
But then a Silverado gets stuck coming out of the deep sand. This is Chuck. Our chatter on the radio between several miles, one unfortunately has a handheld CB and cannot transmit that far. Standing on the highest dune he can find, trying to get a signal, has to only listen to the conversation:
“Oh, now Chuck’s stuck.”
“Yup. Stuck is Chuck.”
“Does Chuck have a truck?”
“Chuck’s stuck in his truck.”
“Well, that’s bad luck.”
We’re all laughing, but Josh is grinning from ear to ear for a different reason. He’s getting to use his tow straps pulling everybody out. I’m playing in the surf driving to keep myself occupied.
When we get out of the vehicals, the red tide causes immediate coughing and it smells nasty. Can’t let the dogs out, ’cause you know what they’re going to do. Can’t stay in this for our sakes, much less Lisa’s pregnant condition. About 15 miles in, the report is it’s even worse. Last weekend it was reported as far as mile 18. But we can’t just tow the Taurus and others that far. Well I guess we could, but we didn’t know when it would end. So we all turn around and decide to camp at Bird Island on the Laguna Madre side. It’s getting dark too.
The Taurus gets stuck good again coming back. We decide on Saturday that we’ll stage the Taurus games, each taking a turn to see who can making down the beach the furthest.
After un-stucking the Taurus and another Jeep drive through the fish section for better traction. Each of them got 3 flat tires, three total had to be replaced.
We camped in the parking lot at Bird Island, looking like a bunch of hurricane rufugees. The posted sign says camping is allowed in any areas but the grass. The parking lot wasn’t grass. Rangers told us in the morning we couldn’t camp there. Lisa and I had already decided we were packing up and cutting our losses. It had rained on and off all though the night. There wasn’t any wind, which meant the hummingbird-sized mosquitoes were mighty annoying.
After breakfast, those that needed tires fixed left shortly after us us. The others all stayed, packed up and moved to Yarborough Pass, also on Laguna Madre, but down the beach a ways. But we found out that evening that after setting up camp again, it poured on them for three hours straight. After three hours, they all said “screw this” and packed up – again. Everybody was home on Saturday night. No fish caught. I didn’t even get my gear wet, other than by raindrops.
It turns out the group left at the right time. Rain and high surf brought the tide all the way up to the dunes and sometime on Sunday, the rangers closed the beach. It would have been very difficult to get off the beach due to the water and many washouts.
The Taurus and Jeep with flats both stink to high-heaven because of a new fish gut undercoating.
It was still fun, but we’re not going when red tide hits again. We didn’t even both taking many photos with Lisa’s new camera.