After all that beach camping in Florida (which you can read about here and here), I was pretty excited at the opportunity to do it in Texas, and for free. I’ve mentioned FreeCampsites.net before, and they haven’t generally steered us wrong.
Here’s the link so you can read the descriptions for yourself, if you like, but here’s the gist of it:
“Free beach camping on the edge of defunct Texas Highway 87 on the Bolivar Peninsula near High Island, TX Where the road ends. Free, beach camping. From here to Sea Rim State Park, storm surge from Hurricane Jerry destroyed Texas Highway 87 in 1990. It wasn’t the first time, but it was the last time. There are still no plans to rebuild it, ever. The first few miles are driveable in any rig.”
Most people describe this site pretty kick-ass. And when we arrived (on a Friday night), the place was pretty full at the start, but people thinned out fairly quickly. Apparently High Island Beach is also a nudist beach. All the naked people smiled and waved as we passed by.
We did pick a spot eventually, although I was worried about high tide. Like idiots we didn’t consult a tide chart before starting out and I was not convinced that we were parked above the high tide line. Cell service was spotty but eventually I was able to see that we’d arrived at low tide – and the next high tide wasn’t until about 3pm the next afternoon, by which time we planned to be gone.
So we set up as the sun set. The wind off the ocean was really strong and after a while all our stuff was coated in a salt spray. It sure looked cool, though.
The craziness started right after sunset. We were fine on the ocean side of the rig, because that’s where the wind was blowing. The leeward side was a whole ‘nuther story: it was covered in mosquitoes. A swarm. A black, moving wall of skeeters. They swarmed inside the cab. They swarmed inside the topper.
I’ve seen less skeeters in a swamp.
We tried to wait it out. Mosquitoes are most active right at dusk, so most of the swarm should have moved off after full dark.
No such luck. At 8:45 – full dark – the swarm was still active and not looking like they were going anywhere anytime soon. We loaded everything we’d need for the night through the tent window on the driver’s side. Then Michael went at the entrance with bug spray, shaking the sides of the tent too, to get the swarm to move on. When the coast was pretty clear I went for it. Michael then repeated the process when loading up the dogs in the back, and one more time for himself.
The miraculous thing: there wasn’t a single skeeter in the tent. And by morning, there were only 4 or 5. Unfortunately, there is no way to keep any bugs out of the topper, so all I could do was feel bad for the dogs.
I slept pretty well and stayed in the tent until well past sunrise. See, that wonderful wind had died off over night, and now there were mosquitoes all over our tent. Amazingly, the dogs seemed no worse for wear, sleeping in a topper full of skeeters.
No breakfast, no coffee. Michael and I doused ourselves in bug spray and then packed up the tent. We drove 10 miles to Winnie, Texas, where we found a car wash to clean that salt water off Taco Negro. Luckily (?) there was a Waffle House right next to the Interstate.
And that was our experience with free beach camping in Texas.
As we headed west on I-10, I talked about letting the visit to Big Bend National Park go. It sounds stupid, but I think I just forgot how HUGE Texas is. Everything is so much further apart than I planned for. Now, the whole reason I wanted to go to Big Bend is because it’s so remote, and it has some of the darkest skies in North America.
But there was no free camping along the way. And driving so much (even with gas around $2/gallon) is destroying the budget. So we were going to go waaay out of our way, to pay to camp, and then drive all the way back to New Mexico.
By the time we reached the outskirts of San Antonio the decision was made: no Big Bend. Maybe next time. We camped that night at a rest stop outside of Kerrville, and it was actually quite nice. On the top of a little hill, we had a pretty view of the sunset. And no mosquitoes.
Apparently it’s a thing to do now, “camp” at rest stops. When I was a kid this was a definite no-no, but if you recall, the 1980’s was the era of the serial killer. Apparently serial killers trolled highway rest stops? My memory’s a little fuzzy on that part. But when I traveled solo back in the mid-90’s, I never once slept at a highway rest stop. My dad would have read me the riot act for even trying.
Now, most of the highway rest stops boast nighttime security. The site outside Kerrville was full by 10pm. RVs, passenger cars, big rigs. We were the only roof-top tent, though, and we did get a lot of stares.
In the morning we had a new goal: getting the hell out of Texas.