Padre Island: Drive it Like You Stole it

A marine shipping container; double-click to enlarge.

A marine shipping container; double-click to enlarge.

Padre is an island off the southern tip of Texas.  I set up camp a half mile down the beach and went into town for dinner.  Returning in the dark, I opened my tent to find the interior covered in sand thanks to a strong wind from the Gulf.  This became a hallmark of Padre camping:  nothing could stop the sand.

Early the next morning, I met an older man who had visited Padre several decades prior.  He said that the island and the resort town 15 miles inland were far nicer now than they were back then.  The ranger told me that since I drove in after hours, I could pay on my way out – whenever that happened to be.  Our conversation convinced me to drive the entire length of the beach, 60 miles – few people go that far, etc.

Sunrise on Padre Island. Double-click to enlarge.

Sunrise on Padre Island. Double-click to enlarge.

Padre’s beach resembled a garbage dump.  All manner of junk washes in from far-away parts of the world.   Lumber (with nails, of course), decomposed animals, medical waste, giant shipping containers, crates, buckets, furniture, plastic bottles, balloons, tropical fruits, and dead trees were strewn across the entire 60 miles of shoreline.  The key in camping was to find a clean patch of sand surrounded by only harmless trash, not the disgusting stuff.

A sign warned that four-wheel drive was henceforth mandatory, and that many hazards were present.  A rising tide and prevailing trash deposits led me to set a course close to the dunes in soft sand.  The tires cut a 3-inch deep track as I slalomed through at 15-20 mph, the engine growling in a pleasingly deep pitch.  This was great fun, and as advertised I saw very few people.

Sunset near mile post 54. Double-click to enlarge.

Sunset near mile post 54. Double-click to enlarge.

Upon reaching the southern tip of the island, I met a man and his son who were camping there while Mom and daughters had a “girls’ night out.”  In an extremely rare event, I turned down their fajitas in the interest of setting up my own camp before dark.

The return drive the next morning was cake.  With a fallen tide, I cruised the shoreline a few feet from the waves at 30 mph with pelicans and shore birds out in force.  As I left, the friendly woman staffing the ranger station turned down my attempt to pay.  “That’s a nice gesture,” she said, but it’s not necessary.”

Additional photos below.

Double-click to enlarge.

Double-click to enlarge.

A lost buoy. The circular top is about 7 feet in diameter. Double click to enlarge.

A lost buoy. The circular top is about 7 feet in diameter. Double click to enlarge.

The "backcountry" campsite near mile post 54. Double click to enlarge.

The “backcountry” campsite near mile post 54. Double click to enlarge.

Area 51/Nellis Bombing and Gunnery Range, Nevada

Area 51 is fabled to be where the U.S. Government houses aliens.  It is a development and test area for the most advanced military aircraft.  The base is secretive and unwelcoming to outsiders, and it has made itself into a tourist attraction based largely on these very traits.  There is also a cult following of web sites that track and speculate on happenings at the base.

Rachel, NV

Rachel, NV

I drive south on Nevada 375, officially named the Extraterrestrial Highway.  Tiny Rachel is the nearest town, and milks the alien cache for all it’s worth (see photos).  The bar tender, a young woman, cheerfully hands me a map showing the way to the Area 51 access road.  One cannot actually enter the base, but it is possible to drive to up to the entrance and see the security police and surveillance cameras.

It is the smoothest dirt road I have ever driven on, and I quickly cover the 13 miles to the boundary line.  There is a commuter bus that transports workers to and from the base each morning and afternoon.  The bus does not stop for anything drives at very high speeds.  My visit is timed to avoid the bus.

Security police watch me from a white Silverado pickup truck perched

Rachel, NV

Rachel, NV

20 feet above me on a hill inside the base boundary.  Brightly colored signs advise against entry and warn of the possible use of deadly force.  Another sign states that “Photography of this area is prohibited.”  Violators are typically held face down at rifle point until the local sheriff arrives to arrest them.  Then it’s a $650 fine for a first offense.  Having no desire for trouble, I walk within a few feet of the boundary, smile and wave to the cameras and the security police, and leave.  None of the base personnel ever make contact with me in any fashion.

Rachel, NV

Rachel, NV

Death Valley Photos: Owlshead Mountains

Owlshead Mountains, Death Valley: Double-click on image to enlarge.

Owlshead Mountains, Death Valley: Double-click on image to enlarge.

Owlshead Mountains, Death Valley: Double-click on image to enlarge.

Owlshead Mountains, Death Valley: Double-click on image to enlarge.

Death Valley Photos: Chloride City and Monarch Canyon

Chloride City, Death Valley: Double-click image to enlarge.

Chloride City, Death Valley: Double-click image to enlarge.

Desert Bighorn Sheep, Chloride Cliff, Death Valley: Double-click image to enlarge.

Desert Bighorn Sheep, Chloride Cliff, Death Valley: Double-click image to enlarge.

Death Valley Photos: Titus Canyon

Titus Canyon, Death Valley: Double-click image to enlarge.

Titus Canyon, Death Valley: Double-click image to enlarge.

Titus Canyon, Death Valley: Double-click image to enlarge.

Titus Canyon, Death Valley: Double-click image to enlarge.

Titus Canyon, Death Valley: Double-click image to enlarge.

Titus Canyon, Death Valley: Double-click image to enlarge.

Titus Canyon, Death Valley: Double-click image to enlarge.

Titus Canyon, Death Valley: Double-click image to enlarge.

Titus Canyon, Death Valley: Double-click image to enlarge.

Titus Canyon, Death Valley: Double-click image to enlarge.

Death Valley Photos: Coyote, Hole in The Wall

The blog has been dormant the last 2 weeks during my exploration of the Deep South, including Cajun Country.  I’ll wrap up the remaining Death Valley and Texas stories this week and then detail my newest adventures.

This coyote was standing in the middle of Badwater Road, a two-lane, 55 mph highway.  I called him over to the shoulder and he came immediately.  He minded better than my dog at home.   See canyon photos below.

Coyote on Badwater Road, Death Valley: Double-click image to enlarge.

Coyote on Badwater Road, Death Valley: Double-click image to enlarge.

Coyote on Badwater Road, Death Valley: Double-click image to enlarge.

Coyote on Badwater Road, Death Valley: Double-click image to enlarge.

Hole in the Wall, Death Valley: Double-click on image to enlarge.

Hole in the Wall, Death Valley: Double-click on image to enlarge.

Hole in the Wall, Death Valley: Double-click on image to enlarge.

Hole in the Wall, Death Valley: Double-click on image to enlarge.

Hole in the Wall, Death Valley: Double-click on image to enlarge.

Hole in the Wall, Death Valley: Double-click on image to enlarge.

Campsite,  Hole in the Wall Canyon, Death Valley: Double-click on image to enlarge.

Campsite, Hole in the Wall Canyon, Death Valley: Double-click on image to enlarge.

Death Valley Photos: Echo and Mosaic Canyons, Artists Drive, Ubehebe Crater

Eye of the Needle, Echo Canyon, Death Valley: Double-click on image to enlarge.

Eye of the Needle, Echo Canyon, Death Valley: Double-click on image to enlarge.

Eye of the Needle, Echo Canyon, Death Valley: Double-click on image to enlarge.

Eye of the Needle, Echo Canyon, Death Valley: Double-click on image to enlarge.

Inyo Mine, Echo Canyon, Death Valley: Double-click on image to enlarge.

Inyo Mine, Echo Canyon, Death Valley: Double-click on image to enlarge.

Artists Drive, Death Valley: Double-click image to enlarge.

Artists Drive, Death Valley: Double-click image to enlarge.

Mosaic Canyon, with new friends.

Mosaic Canyon, with new friends.

Ubehebe Crater, Death Valley: Double-click on image to enlarge.

Ubehebe Crater, Death Valley: Double-click on image to enlarge.