|God Bless Texas! Part 4: Corpus Christi to Kingsville||
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Corpus Christi, TX to Kingsville, TX (Map) - 336mi/540km
I woke up & strolled across the motel parking lot to a sandwich shop, which although at the first floor of a skyscraper, was strangely open on a Sunday. This was a good thing though, as I liked the 1/2 of my diet that had been Taco Bell, but the other 1/2 of greasy fast food wasn't optimal. The sandwich was overpriced, small & slowly constructed, but at least I ingested some vegetables and a non-deep fried breakfast meal this morning.
I was really excited for the skatepark in Corpus Christi, but knowing it wasn't the largest place, I made sure to get there early. There were a few kids & a group of older skateboarders already there. I was a bit concerned that the skaters would be pissed off about the bike. I was happily surprised when they didn't care at all, and they actually cheered a bit whenever I'd pull something on that rail.
(...and here I thought that people in Corpus Christi wouldn't even notice me because they'd be used to seeing Aaron Ross tailwhipping everything in this park regularly. (Corpus Christi is Aaron Ross' hometown))
I stopped by the old Nueces County Courthouse after the skatepark.
San Antonio architect Harvey L. Page designed this neoclassical structure in 1914 & it was constructed at a cost of $250,000. Apparently the massive structure wasn't large enough for Nueces County though, as they abandoned this courthouse in 1976, for a newly constructed Embassy Suites-looking high-rise.
In 2003, they spent $2.2 million in grant money to fix some of the problems in this building they abandoned for 25 years. Not surprisingly, that wasn't enough. Of late, the politicians have been trying to justify their jobs by working to get this building demolished - paying contractors for assessments which state that the building is beyond repair & there is no economically feasible way to renovate. The numbers they give to justify this is that only the 1914 section would cost $34.7 million to renovate & the entire structure would cost a whopping $41.1 million. How can you accept figures like that, when they built the astounding 1977 courthouse with twice the square footage at $27.7 million??
The politicians say that this building can't stand & that its presence gives visitors a horrific impression of Corpus Christi as they drive into the city. I'm sure once they manage to tear it down, the visitors will drive right past this grass lot & marvel at the 1977 courthouse; their eyes no longer sore from seeing broken windows and fallen bricks.
You know what is hilarious about the entire thing though? Since Corpus Christi took that grant money so handedly back in 2003 for half-assed, minimal renovations; they now have their hands tied, as grant money spent to restore historic buildings in Texas has a stipulation that you can't tear down the building within the next 25 years! This building has to stand until 2027!
(That was the whole point of the building assessment - so that the mayor could then go to the historic commission and beg them to lift the restrictions in the wake of an astronomical renovation figure. This would allow the City of Corpus Christi to go ahead and spend $3 million to demolish their old courthouse.)
This was enough time & money spent in such a short-sighted city. I hit the interstate, heading inland for a road going south.
Next up on the itinerary was a stop in good ole' Kingsville, Texas. I wasn't stopping here solely because I grew up near a different Kingsville, but because of what someone said to me in Corner Brook in January. It hadn't stopped snowing for days and he said, "well this isn't even close to the worse place on Earth. You know what that is? Kingsville Texas in August."
It wasn't August, but I couldn't understand how there was a place worse than Corner Brook in January. And if there was a worse place, I couldn't imagine how it would be located in Texas.
I didn't find anything wrong with Kingsville & that guy is blatantly full of shit. In fact, I might have really liked Kingsville if it weren't for the fact I already biked this morning, as there is a Texas A&M satellite campus in Kingsville which looked to have nice architecture & maybe some stuff to ride.
The above building isn't the A&M campus but the old HM King High School. It is undergoing a $6 million dollar renovation to be reused as a city hall.
More points for Kingsville.
Leaving Kingsville, it was that time of day where you feel a wave of tiredness and you yearn for excitement. I had a large coffee, but Texas wasn't doing me any favours. The highway down here was straighter than a pool cue, with incredibly flat, arid land that didn't have many trees or communities.
Thankfully there was only 75 minutes of that before I came to Raymondville. I knew nothing of Raymondville prior to this trip besides that it was a county seat, so it was a shock to the system as I pulled off the highway & onto a boulevard lined with rundown buildings.
Apparently this is the 12th poorest county in America.
Once I got over the initial shock of how rundown Raymondville was, I obviously started thinking about these buildings. A couple of them were surrounded by high grasses and instantly I disregarded them ("don't step where you can't see in rattlesnake country"). I was creeping around the perimeter of another building when I pulled through a stop sign and suddenly had 10 eyes on me, as 5 Mexicans were barbecuing inside the abandoned building & drinking cervezas.
As I was driving around every Raymondville resident made sure to stare me down & mean mug me. I had just about enough of Raymondville.
This is Raymondville's Willacy County Courthouse, built in 1922 in a Classical Revival style.
Leaving Raymondville, I needed gas & I have to admit that I wasn't mean-mugged by the other people pumping gas.
A few points back to Raymondville.
Port Isabel shocked the system in a new way, as I finally found people in one of these towns. Especially over the last couple of days, these towns in the south of Texas were quite desolate & empty. I guess everyone was here in touristy Port Isabel.
Port Isabel Lighthouse was constructed over two years from 1851 to 1853, a necessity to mark the shipping channel at Point Isabel through the Brazos Santiago Pass. The lighthouse was already abandoned by 1905, but thankfully it survived until 1950, when it was then donated to the state for reuse as a historic attraction. There aren't that many lighthouses in Texas, and the ones which are in Texas, are either rundown or geographically isolated. This is the only lighthouse in Texas which is open to the public.
The lantern room was inundated with children & therefore I didn't stay up there very long.
I crossed the Queen Isabella Causeway over to South Padre Island. My friend Krista told me that the (North) Padre Island National Seashore was not to be missed, so although it wasn't in the plans to drive that highway south of Corpus Christi, I couldn't help but cross this short causeway to a similar barrier island right next to Port Isabel.
I was a bit sour with the whole experience though, because South Padre Island was the definition of a resort town. 20mph speed limits and people driving even slower so that they can gawk at all of the t-shirt shops and resorts. Then as that was trying my patience, there were countless places restricting access to beaches or charging fees to park.
I eventually found a public street with a narrow path to the ocean. There were signs everywhere saying that parking wasn't allowed, everywhere except this public street.
I'm not much of a beach person, but I suppose it was nice enough. I sat there for 3 minutes, before growing restless & having to keep moving.
I suspect I would have liked Padre Island National Seashore more, as it seems like it's based more on nature than commercialization.
The Sabal Palm Audubon Sanctuary was the next Brownsville area stop. This is a 527-acre nature reserve consisting of palmetto trees growing upon an old cotton plantation. I wanted to stop here because of how far south I was in Texas, as I had hopes of seeing some of the very unique birds which only go as far north as Texas.
The sanctuary was a nice surprise in that it was allowing me to explore Texas lands by path and trail. Up to this point I had been mostly stopping at courthouses & skateparks, so it was pleasing to fit in a little bit of hiking.
It also helped that the guy at the welcome center was so helpful. He comforted me in saying that there wouldn't be too many snakes or spiders out on the path on this day in February. I would have been a lot less relaxed upon a random trail, but with those words of prediction, I was able to relax & enjoy my surroundings.
(He also gave me bug spray, tips on where to see birds and pointers on what trails I might like to do - he was incredibly helpful.)
As for what birds I saw, the forest was incredibly empty and quiet. I envisioned a place with flocks of colourful birds creating a bird song symphony. In reality, the only birds I saw were American Coots - which I saw in the swamps of Louisiana 2 days earlier - and apparently a Common Gallinule! (The bird with the red facial shield is the Common Gallinule). Common Gallinules travel as far north as Montreal, so it's not that specific to this area, but it is something I haven't seen before. It was something.
I took the above picture from a blind - a wooden building with slots so you can view birds with your eyes/binoculars/cameras without them noticing you. As you can see by how bad this picture is, I couldn't even get very close to the few birds I managed to observe.
The Sanctuary also intrigued me in that it is the southernmost point of Texas. There's a short trail that ends at a gazebo where you can peer out across the Rio Grande at Mexico. For how much is made about this political border, it was interesting to stand there alone in the gazebo and know that this small creek is all that separates you from such a different world.
If you're wondering where the border fence is, they built it atop the levee about 300 feet from the gazebo. This actually closed the bird sanctuary for a while, as they fenced off the entire sanctuary on the outside of the American fence. Thankfully they came to their senses & built an opening in the fence, allowing access for citizens & researchers who enjoy this place. I didn't know all of this at the time, so I was a bit confused as I drove past the giant fence under the watchful eye of a border guard in a patrol truck.
I spent the remaining afternoon hour exploring Brownsville, getting a feeling for Texas' 16th-largest city. It wasn't rundown like Raymondville and it was actually quite a sizable community. It had that border feeling with plenty of Spanish stores & everything tightly packed.
The rain really started to fall as I was downtown, pushing people off the streets & into buildings.
After Taco Bell in nearby Harlingen, I drove the same highway north, returning to Kingsville for the night. Prior to this trip I had looked up motels in Kingsville so I could sleep in the worse place on Earth, so it seemed as good as any place to spend the night.
The Motel 6 room was forgettable, but the Victoria beers I purchased were really tasty. I drank 2 or 3 and packed one away to bring back to my friend in Newfoundland.
Onto Part 5...
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1 - Nueces County Courthouse Historical Marker
2 - Old Nueces County Courthouse structurally unsafe, report says - Caller.com
3 - Port Isabel Lighthouse - History