Hurricane Harvey unleashed an unimaginable path of destruction through Texas, with the disaster still ongoing. Before inflicting historic floods on the Houston area, it came ashore not far from Port Aransas. “Port A”, as the locals call it, lies about 25 miles northeast of Corpus Christi. Port A literally faced the full wrath of the storm. The northwestern eye wall lashed the town with wind gusts to 115 miles per hour. I’ve only seen damage photos in the news, but let’s just say, it looks really bad. “Sustained and catastrophic damage”, as described by the mayor. That got me thinking about our spring 2016 trip to the coast, and imagining Port A before the hurricane.
Not Just Your Typical Spring Break Beach Town
We visited Port Aransas at the tail end of spring break season in late March. What struck me, though, was how un-Spring Break like this beach town is. For starters, it’s not exactly easy to get to Port A. The main route in involves a ferry from Aransas Pass. And that’s after a nearly 400 mile drive from Dallas, or 200 from Houston. Nothing like a leisurely ferry to get you into full vacation mode.
The ferry provides a picturesque view of Port A’s beach houses on approach. I shudder to think what these houses look like today.
Once off the ferry, Mustang Island greets you with an almost Florida Keys feel. Only about 4,000 permanent residents call Port Aransas home, providing a unique small town feel. Colorful houses line the small streets, shaded by palm trees.
Meanwhile, eclectic murals dot the town, especially near popular eateries like EATS Port A. And yes, golf carts are a common form of transportation. Key West meets Austin, you might say.
Said eateries mix your typical Gulf Coast seafood…
…with more typical Texas fare like biscuits and gravy…
The main challenge facing homes and businesses hoping to rebuild? A state law that declares all beaches public property. Because Mustang Island is a barrier island, major hurricanes substantially affect the shoreline. The beach can push out in some areas, but erode in others. As a landowner, you might find a beach where your living room once sat. And if so, that means trouble, because your property now belongs to the public. Undoubtedly, some residents and businesses can’t return for this very reason, reshaping the town for years to come.
A Quiet and Peaceful Vibe
You won’t find any chain hotels in Port A. In fact, the town’s largest hotel stands just two stories tall – the historic Tarpon Inn. The hotel prides itself on its isolation, proudly advertising the lack of TVs and phones in the rooms. The Tarpon dates to 1886, its current structure built after a hurricane destroyed the original in 1919. Supposedly, the 1919 rebuild made the hotel hurricane proof. It survived even stronger Hurricane Carla in 1961. Here’s hoping it also survived Harvey. Because I’d love to sit in those rocking chairs again some day.
Perhaps because of the lack of big hotels, Port A’s tourist crowd rates as pretty subdued. The beaches all along Mustang Island are also considerably less crowded than Corpus Christi or Galveston.
It’s the type of beach where dogs and birds make for welcome companions.
Of course, beaches transcend hurricanes. It’ll still be there. But it won’t be the same. This stretch of sand might be unreachable due to new inlets carved into the sand by the Gulf. Or the beach might have eroded to the dunes, leaving the stretch impassable.
Meanwhile, the sunset over the Port Aransas Nature Preserve promises to be as beautiful as ever. But it’ll be interesting to see how the storm surge changed the character of the marsh.
An Unlikely Symbol of Resilience
Though technically not in Port Aransas, one of the area’s star attractions is the “Big Tree” at Goose Island State Park near Rockport.
The Big Tree, a nearly 2,000 year old Virginia live oak, has seen a lot over the years. A plaque out front tells of it living through more than 50 major hurricanes. Goose Island bore the brunt of Harvey, falling within the most dangerous northeastern eyewall. Wind gusts in excess of 125 miles per hour blasted the area at landfall, causing much damage to both trees and structures. Yet somehow, news reports indicate the Big Tree survived, largely unscathed. It may prove one of the few things remaining largely unchanged after the hurricane. Texas is no stranger to natural disasters, hit by hurricanes, floods, hailstorms, and tornadoes frequently. Perhaps the Big Tree represents the ultimate symbol of the state’s resilience, and ability to bounce back from adversity.
Knowing people from the area, something tells me Port A will bounce back better than ever.
Photo of pink house – “Pink is for buoys” by Terry Porter, via Flickr Creative Commons, license Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Photo of house under palm trees – “Rockport & Port Aransas, Texas” by Gloria Bell, via Flickr Creative Commons, license Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)