Discovering the Explorers of Texas

Today is the day. Today we start our Homeschool Vacation, a day we've been
looking forward to for months. We decided to try tent camping. Actually, it's a
financially based decisions -- it's the cheapest way to go. We've never been
down the coast of Texas, or to South Texas, so that's our direction. We'll study
history, geography and natural science along the way.

We've chosen a theme, "Explorers of Texas", to loosely focus our activities
around. After all, we are homeschoolers. As good explorers should, we will be
making several stops along our way, with the first stop at Goose Island State
Park.  This is just north of Rockport-Fulton, Texas on Copano Bay. Great
camping sites are right on the bay, with several piers for saltwater fishing.
Birding is very popular in this area of Texas, so bring binoculars and a field
guide.  The endangered whooping crane can be seen wintering in this area, and
there are guided tours to get you even closer.  A must-see attraction is the “Big
Tree,”a huge coastal live oak estimated to be over 1000 years old.  In town are
the windswept oaks, naturally sculpted by the strong Gulf winds.

In Rockport is the Maritime Museum (361/729-1271).   It is a small museum with
an excellent exhibit focusing on Robert LaSalle, the French explorer who
missed the Mississippi River and ended up on the Texas coast in 1685; and the
Spanish shipwrecks off the coast of Texas in 1556.  For a short geography
lesson, there is an exhibit on the Intracoastal Waterway.  The Rockport Center
for the Arts (361/729-5519) is nearby and the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.  
One last stop is the Fulton Mansion, a stately Victorian mansion, restored to its
1870’s appearance.

We’ve enjoyed our camping, fishing and exploring; now we’re off to continue
our journey.  Our children chant, “When’s Mexico?  When’s Mexico?”  But there
is so much to see, so we drive towards Corpus Christi.   It's only about 45
minutes away, but we choose to take a more scenic route, sticking as close to
the coast as possible, and exploring the coastal barrier islands of the Gulf.

We head to Aransas Pass to ride the ferry to Mustang Island and Port Aransas.  
Port Aransas has that vacation-town feel to it.  It’s a popular spot for the winter
Texans with their big RVs and there are several nice shops and restaurants.  
From there we continue south on the island. Mustang Island is along the way
and has primitive camping.

As with all explorers, as inclement weather approaches, unforeseen obstacles
occur.  We reach Corpus Christi with much excitement and come across a
visitor’s center.  Always stop and check it out - great information and coupons.
We are looking for good places to camp.  Hence our first obstacle; RV parks are
for RVs (who’d a thought) and aren’t really open to tents.  Finally we find an RV
park that will accept our tent, I think mostly out of charity.  We are now set to
enjoy Corpus Christi - swimming in the heated pool and nice views of Corpus
Christi Bay.  We’ve conquered our first obstacle, though short-lived. The next
day the inclement weather hits, high winds (bad for tents) and rain; so be
flexible when exploring ... off to a hotel we go.  

Corpus has so much to see and do that it's hard to narrow it down. We try to let
each child choose something that fits their particular interest.  My husband is a
war buff, so we head to the U.S.S. Lexington, a WWII wonder.  This is good for
an entire afternoon.  It is a floating museum with an IMAX theater on board.  
There’s also the Texas State Aquarium, another half-day attraction.  Besides all
the different aquariums, there’s Dolphin Bay, with a fantastic dolphin show.
Check the times, and don’t miss the otter show. This can be very educational ,
or just an enjoyable time to view these marvelous creatures.

The Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History is just across the bridge
from the U.S.S. Lexington and the Texas State Aquarium. Treasures from the
1554 Spanish shipwrecks are on display. There's an exhibit on LaSalle and
replicas of 2 of the 3 Spanish ships Columbus sailed across the Atlantic.  The
Nina is moored at the Corpus Christi marina and not open to the public, but can
be viewed from the dock.  This is a great place to enjoy if you’re studying
different explorers that have come to America.

While in Corpus, be sure and drive down Ocean drive.  This is a beautiful,
scenic drive with several “T” heads and piers to explore.  There are restaurants,
activities and relaxing places to sit and look out over the bay.  We found a huge
park and let the children just run and play.

Padre Island is just a short drive from Corpus, with Padre Island National
Seashore in the middle of the island.  Primitive camping in one of the last
natural seashores is available, with nature trails and of course, swimming.   
Both ends of the island are developed and have so much to do that it's a
separate article in itself.

It’s now our fifth full day of “Homeschool Vacation”;   time for some R&R.  We
head south and decide to stop over in Kingsville, home to the King Ranch,
considered to be the birthplace of the American ranch.  There is a wonderful RV
park 20 minutes south on Baffin Bay. This park, Kaufer-Hubert Memorial Park
and Seawind RV resort, are friendly to tents with a tent area right on the bay.
The kids enjoy the games - shuffleboard, ping pong and billiards. The facilities
are clean and neat and the people are friendly.  In Kingsville, visit the King
Ranch Museum and The King Ranch Saddle Shop.  King Ranch, a National
Historic Landmark, has tours throughout the year.

Now we head to the Rio Grand Valley.  South Padre and historic Port Isabel are
close; Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, Brownsville and McAllen are
just a few places to check out.  Find the information center in Harlingen and do
a little research to find out what’s important to your family.  It’s easy to do a
study on explorers in Texas with La Salle and his ill-fated voyage, and then
there are the 3 Spanish shipwrecks which are highlighted at the Treasures of
the Gulf Museum in Port Isabel.  

Padre Island is a great focus on the cannibalistic Karankawa Indians. Then
there’s the Laguna Madre, the mother of lagoons, the bay that stretches
between Padre and the shore.  This bay is famous for its saltwater fishing; I just
think the name is pretty. And if there’s a budding orthinoligist in the family, the
Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail spans the entire coast.

Our family chose to focus on family history, as the Rio Grand is where my  
father grew up.  I reccomend taking the time to study your own family’s history.
A sense of connection to the past makes history a little more personal and real.
We aren’t just studying other’s history, we have a history, too. It was exciting  
for our children to hear stories of their grandfathers, while seeing the places it
actually happened.

All in all, the “Homeschool Vacation” was a success.   We all got to do
something we wanted.  We explored places we’d never been before, and
enriched our minds while learning about famous explorers.  Best of all, we
made memories that will last a lifetime.

Susan Richie
Homeschool Travel Resource