Port Aransas, Texas has been my home away from home ever since I can remember. My family has been vacationing there every summer since I was about two. It’s is a quaint little fishing town on Padre Island in the Gulf of Mexico. The beaches are lined with families and friends in vacation mode – sunbathing, playing volleyball, building sandcastles, or bodysurfing. And the little town full of souvenir shops and local restaurants stands true to the motto of “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problem”. It’s no Caribbean or Hawaiian beach, but it’s one of my favorite places in the world. The sea is salty, the air is breezy, the sun is warm, and the palm trees sway. That’s all you really need right?
When we first started going there, we would borrow my uncle’s RV and spend about 10 days there. After about a decade, my uncle sold the RV, but we found a little condo we loved and stayed there for a while. Then in 2017 Hurricane Harvey made landfall in the gulf and devastated Port Aransas. With undamaged condos being so hard to come by, we decided to try camping on the beach. Fast forward 3-5 years and my family has all the gear you could ever need for beach camping. So in June of 2020 my sisters and my dad set off for another camping trip to Port Aransas. And that is where our dramatic story begins…
My oldest sister, Wendy, and I hit the road early on Saturday morning. It’s a 7 hour drive so we left around 5am and pulled into Port Aransas just in time for lunch at one of our favorite spots – Virginia’s on the Bay. My middle sister, Mandy, and my dad (who drove separately because they were staying a few days longer) were a few hours behind us on the road. So after lunch Wendy and I drove out to the beach, set up a couple chairs and an umbrella, and enjoyed the afternoon drinking Truly’s, watching the waves, and digging our toes in the sand.
When Mandy and my dad pulled into town that evening, we met them at our campsite at Padre Island National Seashore. After setting up the majority of camp and making pina coladas just in time to watch the sunset, we headed off to dinner at our all-time favorite restaurant – Snoopy’s Pier. But disappointment set in when the service and the food were not quite up to par…. We decided not to let it get us down, however, and went back to the campsite to finish setting up camp. The mosquitos began to swarm because it was so calm out (spoiler alert: it was the calm before the storm). But we managed to enjoy a few late night beers before crawling into our tents so the bugs couldn’t get to us. We sat around talking until about 1:30am before drifting off, looking forward to waking up to a warm cup of coffee and the sun rising over the water….
But apparently a slow peaceful morning was not in the cards for us…. About 2 hours later around 3:30am, we groggily awoke to the sound of cars splashing through water right next to us and the sound of waves lapping up against our tents. As soon as we blinked the sleep out of our eyes we realized the tide was coming up into our campsite. I heard my sister say, “Guys, we’re like in the ocean”. It turned out all the cars were abandoning their campsites because the ocean was closing in fast on the dunes behind us – swallowing the road and our only escape route along with it.
Our first thought was “How bad would this get?” It was 3:30 in the morning, but what time was high tide? Would it go back out and we’d be fine? Or would it completely flood us out? Unfortunately, we had no internet reception to try and find out. So we moved our tents, canopy, and shower tent back towards the dunes where we thought they might be safe. Then the tide kept rising so we moved them back again. And again. And again… Until our entire campsite was perched up on the dunes and there was no beach left.
By 5:00am, it was so bad we decided we needed to get the cars up to the visitor center parking lot for fear they would get stuck. Mandy got in her SUV, but when she tried to drive away the tires dug deep into the wet sand. She was stuck… After a few minutes of digging, two guys (who must have been sent from above) came over to help. After another half an hour of trying everything possible, we eventually dug deep enough and pushed hard enough that her car was freed. She headed straight for the visitor center and didn’t look back.
Since there was no time to pack up the campsite, but we didn’t want to abandon our gear, my dad told Wendy and me to get in my Jeep and follow her. He was going to stay with our stuff so it didn’t get stolen or washed away. After much hesitation, Wendy and I hopped in my car (which wasn’t stuck at all – thank God for Jeeps) and drove through the rising tide until we reached the parking lot, safe from the waves.
We all piled into one car, covered in salt, sweat, sand, and mosquito bites, and we looked up what time high tide was. It wasn’t until 7:30am. Two hours from then… (Apparently there was a tropical storm in the Gulf causing the record high tides). Worried about our dad, we decided to pack a few backpacks full of some essentials (including coffee, breakfast, and the camp kitchen because we figured we might as well enjoy the sunrise while we waited for the tide to retreat). The walk back was long, hot, heavy with bags, and covered with more mosquitos. When we reached the beach entrance, I asked a park ranger to give us a lift down the beach to our dad – thinking it would be an easy decision for a park ranger to help three struggling girls out. But he said the water was too high and he couldn’t risk taking his truck out. So we trudged onward through the waves and eventually reached our dad almost a mile down the beach.
We did our best to enjoy a cup of coffee and breakfast in our little perch on the dunes. But the tide was at its peak and the occasional wave came in and threatened to take all our stuff away. The sun was also getting hot quick, and our shade from the canopy was unusable since it was covered in waves.
Since we had planned on staying another night (Mandy and my dad another week), we needed to come up with a plan because it was obvious we couldn’t stay there. We knew we couldn’t bring the cars back out to load everything up for a few more hours until the tide was low enough. So we formed a game plan… Once we got off the beach, we would drive down to the Port Aransas public beach and see how high the tide had come the night before. This beach is much wider, so we figured there was no way the tide came high enough to swallow that huge stretch of sand. But just in case it did, Plan B was to find a state park with lakeside camping somewhere a couple hours north.
By mid-morning, when the tide had retreated just slightly, we began breaking down the campsite. That’s when things got even worse… We were all running on about 5-6 hours of sleep from the past two nights combined, and the exhaustion was starting to set in. Then while packing up, we got attacked by mosquitos and horseflies… You know, the ones that feel like a bee sting and make you bleed, which just attracts more, kind of like sharks? Yeah those lovely things. Then a wave came crashing in, bringing a sharp bamboo skewer in with it, which lodged itself into Wendy’s foot. At first we couldn’t tell how deep it was, but Mandy (being the doctor of the family) removed it, cleaned it up, and, thankfully, said it would be just fine.
The tide was finally low enough so that we could safely bring the Jeep back out, but not Mandy’s car. So Mandy and I made the long trek back to the visitor center parking lot once again. When we reached the cars, we moved everything that was in the Jeep over to her car so that we could fit the rest of the campsite in my 2-door Jeep (I know, good luck with that, right?). Mandy stayed to organize her car, and I drove the Jeep back out onto the dangerous beach. Once I reached Wendy and my dad, we began loading up the car. But not before a few more things could go wrong…
The canopy had sandbags padlocked to its legs to keep it from blowing around and to prevent anyone from stealing it when we went into town for dinner. Well it turned out, the padlocks had gotten jammed with sand from all the waves, and we had one heck of a time getting them off (one never came loose). Then while trying to pack it away, a wave grabbed the two front legs and the canopy (only a week old) BROKE… And just to throw a little cherry on top, my dad threw his back out somewhere in the midst of all the madness.
At last, we had miraculously fit everything in the Jeep. Well, everything except my dad… So I left him stranded on the beach again, drove through the tide to drop Wendy off at the visitor center, and went back out to pick up my dad. Finally safe and sound in the parking lot – exhausted, starving, thirsty, and sunburned – we breathed a sigh of relief having escaped our nightmare at last. Then like a little blessing from above, a cool rain shower blew through, washing away some of the sweat, salt, and heat.
We then drove down to the Port Aransas public beach, but when we got there our Plan A was immediately shot down… There were huge puddles of standing water all the way down the beach, across the road, and up to the dunes. Meaning the same thing had happened here last night and would most likely happen again that night. It was time for Plan B.
Running on very little food and sleep, we decided to head to our second favorite restaurant in town – Moby Dick’s. There we would take a break from the heat, sit down, refuel with yummy seafood, and make a decision on where we would camp the following night. But we arrived only to find out that it was closed every Sunday. Disappointed, we settled on dinner at Virgina’s on the Bay. While waiting for our table, we found a campsite at Lake Corpus Christi State Park about an hour and a half away, and we made a reservation. With somewhere safe to sleep that night, a place to sit by the harbor with a cool breeze, and a delicious meal in our bellies, we were all finally able to relax and enjoy ourselves.
At about 5:00pm we made the drive to Lake Corpus Christi, and arrived to find a lovely little campsite by the water. We set up camp, showered off the horror of the last 24 hours, grabbed some drinks, and finally sat down in our camping chairs by the lake. It was a relaxing night having good conversation, watching the moonrise, and enjoying some quality family time. We slept as hard as rocks that night (without fear of rising tides) and woke up to a beautiful sunrise over the water, somewhat making up for the previous morning. We sat in the shade and drank our coffee while Mandy and my dad made a delicious breakfast on the camp kitchen. After that, Wendy and I loaded up the Jeep, said our goodbyes (and good lucks since they were camping the rest of the week), and headed back home.
So yes – the trip was a literal disaster. There were times when I actually thought I needed to pinch myself to wake up from the nightmare. But even after all of it, I guess you could say it had a happy ending. And hey, if anything, it’s a fun story to tell right?
Let’s just say I don’t think I’ll be camping on the beach again anytime soon…