I knew my home state was great and had a lot to offer, but I am one of the native Texans that thought I have to go out of state to be adventurous and enjoy my vacation. So when I was offered the chance to go on a group trip to in Texas, I was happy not to have to travel a long way and eager to compare my experiences to other destination I have visited in the past. Our vacation destination was Matagorda County located on the coast of Texas 85 miles south of Houston and 165 east of Austin. My enthusiasm and pride for my home state, Texas, grew with every new activity and meal. Matagorda County consists of a string of small towns, Bay City, Matagorda, Palacious, Sargent, and Blessing. I realized I had found a hidden haven that offered various activities, great food, and rich scenery.
Upon our arrival to Matagorda County we deposited people from our group by twos and threes in different towns and places. The last town we entered was Palacious, and as soon as we drove into the city limits I knew I wanted it to be the place I would make my home for the next few days, and it was. The Bay greeted me to my left and it’s view accompanied us until we rounded a sharp right turn onto the main stretch of down town to arrive at our bed and breakfast destination, Le Jardin de la Mar, or in English, the Garden by the Sea. A canopy of wisteria growing down the walkway adjacent to our front door served as the first sign to me that I was going to be comfortable here.
The first thing I did was follow the sidewalk for a short two- block walk to the Bay. I found myself surrounded by well- groomed vegetation, and the entrance of a lighted walking path and park ran parallel to the Bay for two miles. Some of the things available along the path were a park for children to play, a fishing jetty, a long wooden boardwalk, and an outdoor pavilion. It was obvious to me this could be the perfect location for any occasion. In my peripheral view, I noticed masts that from the local dock, Serendipity, which houses both boats for pleasure and shrimp boats.
For dinner that evening we ate at one of the two main restaurants in town, Outriggers which is owned by Cheryl Dodd and is a small hometown restaurant with a coastal feel. The outside of Outrigger’s made me excited to enter: it was decorated with lights and murals that were a precursor to the fun environment and great food inside. The back porch made me feel as if Jimmy Buffet would walk in at any moment for his one-man show.
Our taste buds were delighted with sweet potato fries, meaty ribs, and coconut-fried shrimp. In the distance we watched the changing colors of the sunset, which provided a back drop for near-by boat masts located in the harbor.
The next morning the fun began! I am adventurous by nature and was truly looking forward to our kayaking escapade. We were greeted by a husband and wife team the morning of the kayak adventure and given the choice between an encapsulated kayak, or a sit-on-the top kayak. I chose the one that was less likely to roll over because they had mentioned it was alligator mating season, and the last thing I wanted to do was raise my chances of putting myself on the menu for an alligator. Yup, that’s right! Alligator mating season! They probably wouldn’t be too interested in a fair-skinned blonde, but, in any case, I wasn’t going to risk it!
I should mention that I didn’t even find out that there were alligators in the river until we had made it to our designated turn around point. This was a good and bad thing! Not knowing about the alligators in the river when I started was a good thing because I was able to leisurely enjoy my trip. I saw various species of birds, small jumping fish, and lush vegetation on embankments that came up out of the water five or six feet above the Colorado River.
I noticed that the wildlife weren’t the only predators on the river. We passed small docks coming off the sides of the land into the river, with lights that stood tall and steps that led up the embankment to small, quaint fishing bungalows.
Yes, Yes, I know, “What about the alligators?” you say! Well, after a good while of seriously enjoying my kayaking, we came to the point where we were to turn around, and, low and behold, there it was: the head of an alligator! A small head none the less, but a head, accompanied by a body. This is when I began to understand the anatomy of my body more. I became very aware where my upper trapezoids and rhomboids were located in my upper back. The kayak adventure had now become a serious workout. I was headed home, I tell you! And I was going to get there without encountering any more alligators, I hoped….
After a good 30 minutes of non-stop, steady paddling I had managed to get way ahead of the group. My adrenal system was pumping nicely, although I was getting more weary with each passing stroke. About that time I noticed a object that resembled a large piece of drift wood in the water. I looked a bit closer and noticed that it wasn’t a body of an alligator, but one of two heads. Heads of two very large “Erwin the Crocodile Hunter” sized alligators. An abrupt splash confirmed my suspicions that these were two very large alligators. I hadn’t thought it possible to get my rowing any faster, but it immediately became possible. By the time I made it to the dock I had nice-sized blisters on my thumbs.
OK, I am being a tad dramatic. The kayak trip was fantastic! The group as a whole had a wonderful time, and I can honestly say, even though I had to confront my phobia of alligators, I arrived on shore invigorated, jumping up and down, exclaiming how much fun I had. I highly suggest this activity for anyone who enjoys a personal experience with nature and adventure. The trip can be as challenging or as leisurely as one would choose to make it.
For more information on kayaking visit http://www. Matagorda-bay.com/freebird.html.
We only had a short car ride into Bay City. We arrived at our lunch spot, A&A barbeque, owned by Allen and Arlene Koreneck. Our food selection consisted of traditional and non-traditional meats (the area specialty, shrimp). The choices of sides were extensive, fresh, and full of flavor. Some of the sides I enjoyed were the cole slaw, which was made with a vinegar base, and the black eyed pea salad garnished with green and red peppers. The traditional sides of baked potatoes, green beans and potatoes salad were available, as well. We were informed A & A Barbeque actually smoke their meats with pecan wood. This gave the meat a subtle, yet unique flavor.
After we ate lunch I went on a guided historical tour of Matagorda County. We made our way through several small towns, hitting various historic spots and learning about the history from our delightful guide. Matagorda County was first explored by French explorer Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salla in 1685. Later, Stephen F. Austin used the ports to help build his new colony. At that time the Kerancaus Indians inhabited the area but were soon pushed out by more incoming settlers brought over from Europe with Stephen F. Austin.
I had the opportunity to walk through the oldest established cemetery in Texas and see tomb stones dated back to the 1800’s. I couldn’t help but think about how drastically different our world is today compared to when the settlers buried below me walked on top of the soil. I am sure they would wake with survival on their minds and gathering food, versus our thoughts to check our email ,or get a massage.
Next we visited the first Episcopal Church founded in the United States. At that time members would pay to sit in the pews. Church is still held there today and some of the original family descendents occupy their family’s original paid-for pews.
We then made our way to the channel that separates the main land from Matagorda Peninsula. We crossed over the channel by one of the only two swinging bridges in America. The channel continued to run parallel to our left for several miles of Channel side condos and marsh land until it fed into the ocean. The first thing I saw, once we made it to the ocean, were great waves and a long boardwalk that led out over the water to a jetty. I took a walk on the beach and found numerous sea shells. I can truly say I was pleasantly pleased with Matagorda’s beach. The birds were abundant and the beach was clean. The channel feeding into the beach made the shore line that much more interesting to explore because on one side was the traditional beach and the other provided a marsh with wildlife and calm water. This area is in a transition period and will soon be even more accessible to the locals and vacationers alike because new RV’s sites and picnic table construction is underway, promising for future travelers.
After the historic tour we returned to Bay City and walked the square downtown. I was pleasantly pleased with the selection and the quality of the stores, which included a specialty ice cream shop, coffee shops, a large fitness center, clothing boutiques for all ages, and an extensive pet shop.
I awoke our last day there to my tall ceilings and dawn sliding in between the slats of the wooden shades. I felt very comfortable and safe at the Garden by the Sea. So safe, I took early morning jogs and walks on the board walk and through our neighborhood before the sun had broken the seal of the horizon. During my stay I was told by one of the locals, “Once you start to enjoy Palacious it will be hard to leave,” and I agree.
After my walk I had a small breakfast in our common room/kitchen and then joined the group for a chilly day at the area nature center. Pulling up to the front of the nature center I didn’t have a clue what hidden treasures it had to offer. I was pleasantly surprised from the moment we met our guide.
The nature center spread out over 34 acres and ran flush with the Colorado River. The grounds were a balance of small nature ponds, open field parks, flower gardens, butterflies, birds, and a rumor of a small alligator. We walked the three-mile parameter of the nature center and visited each garden. One of my favorite parts was a mock swamp that had a blind for bird watching. The park would be a great place for the family or a place for a personal reprieve from the city, offering well-stocked catfish ponds and plenty of benches.
From there we made our way to the small neighboring town of Blessing to have lunch. It had to be my favorite lunch of the trip. We ate at the Historic Hotel of Blessing, built in 1906 by Jonathan E. Pierce. Home-cooking personified! We served ourselves from a buffet of traditional southern style meats (chicken fried steak, liver, and fried chicken), vegetables and desserts. Absolutely some of the best food I have ever had! Right across the street from the Blessing Hotel was the area’s fabric and bead studio. We were told that people from all over the state come here to shop for their quilting supplies and lessons. The store was a kaleidoscope of colors, so much so that I felt myself either wanting to start quilting, or to buy more than my pocketbook could handle and give it to those that I knew already had the talent. The two women who owned the store have truly found their calling and talent in life. They ran the small town store with more professionalism and character than any specialty shop I have ever visited in a big city. I cannot stress enough how different and interesting this visit to Blessing was for me.
I spent the afternoon at the beach and watched the waves come crashing in to shore. The beach was clean and I collected the most sea shells here of any beach I had visited previously. Standing on the board walk that hovered over the waves themselves I envisioned my next trip to Matagorda County in warmer weather, kayaking in the marshes and surfing in the Ocean.
The family-owned Victoria’s Mexican restaurant, owned by Peter Henderson, was the spot for our farewell gathering. My meal here was one of my favorites on the entire trip. The quality, taste, and presentation of my dish was the perfect way to finish the trip. I enjoyed grilled shrimp shish kabobs on a bed of Mexican rice with garbanzo beans and a small salad. The restaurant itself was large, yet had a cozy feel. The group had a fun time enjoying each other, for this was our last dinner together as a whole.
I had a wonderful weekend in Matagorda County and would suggest this area as a destination spot for motorcyclists, motor home travelers, and families alike. Reasons to come to Matagorda County include bird watching, fishing, hunting, and, of course, the beaches. The southern hospitality and the individual personality of each small town and the clean and unspoiled nature make the county a must-visit destination.