Galveston Island – Ike the forgotten hurricane

Posted by | Filed under Texas | Jul 15, 2010 | Comments Off on Galveston Island – Ike the forgotten hurricane

We have to do a little time travel and go back a few weeks to June 17th.  You might remember I started to write about my drive from Austin to Galveston Island when I was interrupted by a “flood” in my camper.  Then some other things came up and I never got around to even start writing about my time in Galveston.  OK, here we go.
Let’s pick-up the story in Richmond.  As you probably remember temperatures had been pretty high.  I don’t have air-conditioning in the camper and I drive with the windows down.  Camper temperatures usually run in the high 90s F (36C) and at night in the 80s F (30C).  The truck driving temps run at around 100 F+ (40C), with the wind blowing it really doesn’t feel that bad.  You know something is not quite right when you get into your car and deem it comfortably cool, then look at the thermometer just to see that it is 100 F.

The drive to the coast was uneventful.  My right foot finally got a break thanks to long flat stretches of road flanked by corn fields.  My destination for the day was Oyster Creek near Freeport.  The only place where I could find a campground that was not right next to a highway.  Once I reached the Freeport area the scenery changed; fields were replaced by petrochemical plants.  A lovely site.

Petrochemical plant

It was still very early in the day and very hot.  What to do when you are near a beach and it is hot and humid?  Well, you go to the beach for a swim.  This was my first Texas beach experience; boy was I in for a surprise.  Did you know that Texans ruin a nice beach by parking their cars right by the water?  Why on earth would anyone do this? 

Beach parking - Surfside Beach


At least the water was refreshing and it was a ton of fun diving into the waves.  The waves were not very high, but they were very strong, had to watch not to get my back knocked out of whack.  There were no showers of any kind at this beach and I to live with the sticky salt water until I got back to the campground.

I had gotten in touch with John, a filmmaker/photographer who had invited me to stay in his driveway.  He is an early bird, up by 5:30 AM.  He suggested I’ll come early to take some photos in the nice early sunlight.  Well, I couldn’t get up that early, but I left the campground by 8 AM, which is early for me.  The sunlight was beautiful and I took pictures at the beach town of Surfside Beach.  The colorful stilt beach houses looked great in the light.  I should try to get up earlier from time to time.  Then again, sunset light is beautiful as well.

Stilt houses - Surfside Beach

By the time I met up with John the temperatures and humidity were at uncomfortable levels.  Despite all that John was generous enough to drive and walk me all over the Galveston area.

My first impression of the place – wasteland.  The petrochemical plants and the lack of trees just made me think of that.  I had been completely oblivious / ignorant to the fact that Galveston had been hit by hurricane Ike just two years ago and the place had been under six feet plus of water.  All the salt water had killed most of the Live Oak trees that once graced the streets and provided the needed shade.  All in all the city lost some 40,000 trees!!!  We still hear about hurricane Katrina, but when was the last time you heard about Ike?  John and Susan’s house was six feet under water.  You can’t quite comprehend what that means until you see the water level marks and talk with people who had lost everything.

Hurricane Ike damaged Flagship Hotel

When I was in Alabama, 90 miles from the Gulf I had seen what damage Ike had done to the forests in the area.  I had no idea that a hurricane travels that far inland.

Dead tree sculpture

In one small part of Galveston a handful of dead trees were turned into sculptures, very neat, but it came with a steep price tag.

Being a photographer himself, John appreciates nice light and he likes the early morning light.  So the next morning we were off at 6 AM! To catch the sunrise and see some birds that one otherwise won’t see.  Unfortunately, the birds did not cooperate. 

Tanker at sunRise

We did however see a lot of people who had been fishing over night.  After some more touring of the area we were back at the house by 9 AM and it was already unbearably hot and humid.  Best thing to do was stay put in air conditioning.

Later in the afternoon we headed out again to photograph a Juneteenth parade.  That the celebration of the end of slavery.  Somehow the news reached Texas later than the other southern states.  Being from New York I figured I’d see a couple of hundred people marching, OK at least 50 people.  Well, this was more of a gathering of about a dozen people who walked two blocks to a church; accompanied by one drum and one other bell like instrument.  At least I learned something new.

Before I headed out the next day John and Susan gave me some pointers about places to see and places to avoid on my way to Marfa.

One of those places was Blessing; in particular the Blessing Hotel Coffee Shop.  I did stop by and had lunch with Vicky, her husband Mickey and a friend Chris.  This place serves a buffet style lunch in a communal setting and it wasn’t bad at all.  Don’t know if I would drive 40 miles one way to make it a special occasion, but if you are in the area, stop by.  Vicky, Mickey and Chris had indeed driven 40 miles (64 km) just for lunch.  Here in Texas distance is measured differently.  30 miles (48 km) is considered just around the corner.

When I left Austin, my friends had mentioned their parents’ lake house just west of San Antonio.  That’s where I was headed.  I’d be there just in time to meet up with them again.  As you know I spent some time at the lake. 

Now you know what I did in Galveston.  FYI, I am now in Socorro, New Mexico.  As I am writing this at 9:30 PM I am watching this beautiful sliver of a moon just outside my window. There are hardly any light around here which makes for great star gazing. Life is good.
Keep your fingers crossed that I’ll make it to Gilroy by July 24 for the Garlic Festival.  Just a few mountains between here and the coast.

More to come about south Texas.

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