We started talking about where we wanted to go for our next Campsgiving as we traveled home from Campsgiving 2018 in Louisiana with Jeff’s family. Three years in a row of camping for Thanksgiving had fully convinced us that, as long as we lived in the south, camping was the only way to properly do Thanksgiving, and we knew that we had to book early if we want to get our ideal location.
We tossed around options, looked at past camping trips around Texas, and six months out finally decided to give the Corpus Christi region another shot. At the time, Mustang Island State Park was still closed for repairs from Hurricane Harvey (the Corpus region suffered a direct hit from the hurricane), so I looked a little further north to Lake Corpus Christi State Park. It would be less than an hour of driving to get us into the city for whatever sightseeing we wanted to do and we could get full hook-up, which is helpful when we are planning a full feast and a stay of longer than two nights.
We left two days before Thanksgiving, making the last minute decision to let go of our last reserved night and return on Friday instead of Saturday, giving me enough time to get some school work done before the end-of-semester push. We appeared to leave Houston without any issues, but ten miles down the road Jeff realized that he had forgotten his wallet. We were close enough that we didn’t have a choice; we needed to go back to get it. With some careful maneuvering that demonstrated just how skilled Jeff has gotten towing the camper, we got turned back around through a crowded parking lot and returned home for a quick stop to get his wallet.
The drive down the coast was far from smooth. The wind cut across farmland, bending trees and straightening flags all while wearing down Jeff’s nerves. Once again, I was both thankful for my husband’s willingness to drive our family to fulfill my whims and scared about the prospects of ever being the one behind the wheel. Even with a lunch stop at Buc-ee’s and a Waze directed detour around traffic, we arrived at Lake Corpus Christi before dark.
It looked like getting set up was going to be a breeze, until we pulled into our parking spot. We’ve had the mix of easy and difficult parking spots over the years, but we’ve only rarely had to deal with barriers that complicate what should be an easy parking job. Last summer at Monahans Sandhills we had to deal with a metal pole that prevented us from putting out the main slide out, leading to multiple tries at parking. This time we were dealing with a wooden pole in the same unfortunate spot.
With walkie talkies in hand, we tried to engineer the best possible parking situation. Finally, I got my aerobic workout for the night as I kept moving blocks so that we could eventually park far enough away from the pole so that we could put out our slideout. We would spend three nights parked with one side of the camper on the concrete slab and the other half on top of yellow one-inch blocks.
With the light quickly disappearing, we hopped into the truck for a short sightseeing trip to discover what we would be able to do the following evening and then returned to the camper for dinner and a low-key night as a family. Despite the parking difficulties and the ridiculous fight between the kids over Beyblades rules (and my regret for allowing our son to bring them in the first place), it felt so good to be away from the stress that we had left at home. Jeff was exhausted after a long day of fighting against wind so we settled in for an early night so we could get up for a day of exploring near Corpus Christi.
I eagerly woke up to make a traditional camping breakfast. After setting the food and dishes on the picnic table I looked into the grove of trees behind our campsite and told Jeff to look into the clearing. He looked at me and said, “You know, that would be a perfect place for a tent.” He helped the kids find our small two-person tent that he had bought on super clearance on a business trip and the kids begged us to let them sleep in it that night. While Jeff and I finished breakfast dishes, they spent the pre-exploring time carrying their things from the camper to the tent so that they could prepare for a “sleepover with nature,” our son’s own words.
About a week before we were set to leave, I quickly searched for places to visit near Corpus Christi. On our previous trip through we had visited the USS Lexington, so I didn’t want to do that again, and I knew that we were going to go to Padre Island National Seashore, but I wanted to find something else that was both affordable and good for our whole family.
I discovered the Texas Sealife Center.
Our daughter has been in love with animals since she was born and like many little girls, that love has grown into a desire to be a veterinarian. But the more she learns about animals and the environment, the more she wants to work in a zoo and with animal rescue. So when I asked her if she wanted to go to a sea life animal rescue, she was convinced that mean she was going to personally go out into the gulf and rescue animals.
In the end, she decided that what she saw at the sealife center was good enough, for now.
We saw rescued reptiles that are either illegal in Corpus or too domesticated to live on their own, birds injured to the point of being unable to take flight, and even an angry looking opossum.
But the highlight was the sea turtles that were being treated for fibropapillomatosis so they can eventually be released back into the wild. Well, most of them can be released. One of the turtles had been a victim to both a shark attack and then a run-in with a boat, so it is a permanent resident, but it was exciting to see the sea turtles up-close, knowing that eventually they would be back in their home in the Gulf of Mexico. It was a great learning experience for all, made our dreaming daughter happy, and well worth the $20 donation that we had to make as a family to get the tour.
Then it was time to head another fifteen minutes on the island to Padre Island National Seashore. We had gone to the national seashore three years before when we made our first trip to Corpus, but we got there right before close with just enough time to get our stamps at the visitor center and then walk along the beach. That afternoon it had been balmy, gentle waves kissing our ankles as we explored the shoreline. This time the cold wind whipped up both sand and surf. The kids did as much of their Junior Ranger books as they possibly could inside, and then we took their trash bags out so that they could collect trash for their final Junior Ranger task. They were semi-successful but we gave up long before they got close to filling their bags. I couldn’t keep sand or my hair out of my eyes and we were done. It wasn’t quite the relaxing afternoon that we were hoping for, but with missions accomplished, the kids got sworn in and we bought souvenirs, since I lose all self control once I walk into an NPS gift shop.
Despite the forecasted coastal flooding and rising tide, Jeff decided we should drive at least part of the way on the coastal trail that allowed for off-roading right on the beach. After a couple miles of driving, our daughter yelled for us to stop the truck immediately. After a day of learning more about ocean pollution and the damage to sea animals, she somehow noticed a clump of fishing line buried in the sand, ran back to the spot where she had noticed the fishing line, and brought the salty trash back to the truck. As much as I wanted to help her find more trash and save more animals, we didn’t have a way to collect all of the coastal junk, so she could at least feel that she had protected at least one animal from digesting a deadly clump of sea trash. On our way back towards Corpus we made a drive through stop at Mustang Island to investigate for a potential future camping trip, something we decided we could consider in the future if we wanted to be close to the beach, but after checking out the small park, it isn’t a priority.
When we finally made it back to the campground, we had just enough time for the kids and Jeff to go fishing while I made dinner. I got the potatoes started on the grill and then joined my family for a couple minutes of togetherness before I headed back to the campsite to finish dinner. I hate fishing, but the light on the dock allowed me to get some pleasure reading done while everyone enjoyed putting bait on hooks and casting lines into the water.
Immediately following dinner the kids headed straight out to the tent, where they were determined to spend the entire night. While our daughter had been tent camping when she was a baby and toddler, this would be our son’s first experience sleeping in a tent overnight. We hoped they would make it all night, but we weren’t sure how it would go.
Much to our delight, they made it until morning.
Thanksgiving started with breakfast, a run, and then getting started on a Thanksgiving feast cooked completely outside. The kids played in their tent and got ready for a Thanksgiving surprise that they had planned, Jeff pulled up the Michigan basketball game on his phone so that we could watch/listen to the game, and we threw around the football that we had bought at Buc-ee’s on our way to the state park. By the time dinner was ready we were ready for a feast.
Our post-Thanksgiving meal activities included a drive up to the old CCC picnic pavilion and exploring the past, just more proof of the lasting power of the CCC.
We spent the night getting in one last shot at fishing which our daughter to catch the only fish, I finished a whole book, and the kids decided to spend their last night in the camper because the rough ground had lost its novelty, a revelation that entertained us.
I woke up on the morning of our departure to mist and a wet ground. While we knew that we had to head home that day, we were not eager to pack up a bunch of wet equipment. The kids learned what happens when you don’t close your tent (they didn’t close the zipper after their last trip from the tent and water got inside and got some of their stuff wet) and we gently rolled off of the blocks that were keeping us level. It was another windy drive back to Houston, but we made it home safely.
It was another successful Campsgiving. We spent quality time together, we got out into nature, and we avoided the Black Friday madness. I can’t imagine doing it any other way.
Sarah is a high school English teacher, yearbook adviser, wife to an amazingly supportive husband, and mom to two quickly growing kiddos. When she’s not working to balance life as a working mom, she uses this space to write about the wonderful complexities of life as a wife, mother, and teacher, as well as her family’s camping adventures whenever they can get out of town.
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