It's the town Glenn Campbell sang about in his subtle yet haunting song about a soldier pining for his girl back home in Texas..
"Galveston, oh Galveston,
I still hear your sea waves crashing
..While I watch the cannons flashing
..I clean my gun and dream of Galveston"
And, I have to say, we loved it here and it made a lasting impression on us as well.
WHAT'S NOT TO LOVE?
FIRST, our campground was about three minutes from the beach!
And the section of beach closest to us allowed motorized vehicles, so almost every evening we would hop in our truck and in minutes have our toes in the sand.
The setting sun never disappointed.
And since we were here from mid-November through December, we had the beach to ourselves. We took many long walks along the serene shoreline unencumbered by the usual throngs of sun-worshiping tourists that flock here every summer.
SECONDLY, our campground, Stella Mare RV Resort, was wonderful!
It was clean, had a beautiful pool and hot tub, and offered Sunday morning coffee and donuts. They also had many organized activities for adults and children (Lorraine won the "Chili Cookoff" with her turkey chili!). There are cheaper RV parks in this area, but if your budget allows, we HIGHLY recommend this park.
We camped here for a month in December of 2018. The monthly rate was $649 (about $22/day). After checking their website, it looks like rates are currently about double that amount.
LASTLY, Galveston is a city with a small-town feel.
It's historic district is quaint, nicely restored and hearkens back the days of horse-drawn wagons and steam ships.
CHRISTMAS IN GALVESTON:
We usually don't stay in one area for over a month, but since Christmas was fast approaching, we decided to keep our RV at Stella Mare and fly home to celebrate the holidays with our daughter and son-in-law. This way we can stay plugged into electric power (and not have to empty our refrigerator) and have security keep a watchful eye on things.
Our Christmas celebrations have changed considerably since hitting the road. Gone are the days of a freshly cut pine tree, where lengths of garland coiled around our staircase and string lights illuminated the outside of our house. They have been replaced with one lone three foot Christmas tree bought at a local hobby shop. While not nearly as elaborate, our "Charlie Brown Christmas" has taken on a special quality of its own. Someday in the (hopefully distant) future, when we decide to pull off the road and settle down, I know I will miss the beauty and simplicity of a lone three-foot tree.
Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home at Christmas time.. even if the home has wheels, expandable sides, and is parked in a new location each week.
GALVESTON, PLAYGROUND OF THE SOUTH:
We had to the opportunity to learn of Galveston's rich history while here. Footprints of Spanish settlers, Karankawa Indians, French fur traders, and pirates have left their impressions on these sandy shores. In fact, the infamous pirate Jean Laffite, along with about 1,000 followers, made the place his headquarters from 1817 to 1821.
But yet this little acorn of a settlement grew to become one the largest ports in the US. It was second only to Ellis Island as an immigration port. It had Texas’ first bank and first post office. By 1885, it was the largest and richest city in Texas. It could boast the most millionaires, the swankiest mansions, the first telephones and electric lights, and the most exotic bordellos! It was called The Grandest City in Texas.
..But the good times came to a violent and tragic end on a blustery Saturday evening. On September 8, 1900, a category 4 hurricane blew in from the Caribbean and decimated the city.
She would never regain her former glory.
The hurricane killed over 8,000 citizens. One survivor said the storm sounded like "a thousand little devils shrieking and whistling." It is still considered the deadliest natural disaster in US history. There's a statue at the end of the boardwalk to commemorate those who lost their lives that day.
It was a slow rebuild. The city raised most of the island 17 feet to create Seawall Boulevard. It took around eight years to complete the raising of 500 city blocks— and it was all done with hand tools and perspiration!
Since that time, Galveston has been battered by its fair share of hurricanes. Hurricane Ike (2008) flooded most of the island, and was followed by the less destructive Hurricane Harvey (2017). But each time Galveston has picked itself up, dug itself out, and gotten back to business. Below is the high water mark for Ike.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE TO DO?
If you're thinking about visiting around Christmas time, make sure its the first week in December.
Dickens On The Strand:
We were pleasantly surprised to learn that our stay coincided with the city's Dickens On The Strand Christmas festival.
The weekend features food, parades, games, strolling carolers, roving musicians, bagpipers, jugglers, and a host of other entertainment. The first weekend in December sees the city transported back to the 1840's. This celebration dates back to 1974. Against the backdrop of Galveston’s Victorian-era architecture, we strolled the downtown streets mixing with men in bowlers and women in hoop-skirts. Vendors and push-carts lined the avenues selling everything from Steam-punk paraphernalia to gyros and caramel popcorn. I don't know what Charles Dickens' view on beer was, but if what we saw here was any indication, he was a man that enjoyed a pint or two (or three). From the people we spoke with, this event has become a family tradition with grandparents handing down their (handmade) costumes to their children and children's children.
We spent an enjoyable evening being carried to a bygone era. It was a unique (and different) experience and we appreciated the participants who took so much time to create such authentic and beautiful outfits.
Although I feel the need to point out the irony of a town in Texas hosting the only "Dickens" celebration in the country, given that during Charles Dickens sole visit to America in 1842, he never stepped foot in the state!
BLACK GOLD, TEXAS TEA MUSEUM!
The Ocean Star is a retired off-shore drilling rig turned museum. If you ever wondered what life was like on oil platform, this is the museum for you.
The Ocean Star was built in 1969 and worked in the Gulf of Mexico along the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast and drilled approximately 200 wells during her active life. Here are a few pictures from inside the museum:
The museum is staffed by former "Roughnecks" (although given the high degree of technological knowledge that goes into running one of these derricks, that term seems a misnomer) who provided a fascinating backstory to the challenging life aboard this platform. I had an interesting discussion with our guide about fracking. I asked his thoughts on the relationship between fracking and earthquakes and he said he thought they were unrelated. Apparently, fracking wells aren't very deep while the earthquakes are occurring a mile or two below the earth's surface. I don't know if his opinions stem from scientific knowledge or industry influence, but it was a thought provoking discussion nonetheless.
The museum was well worth the $10 admission and we left with a new appreciation (and amazement) of the technology that goes into finding, drilling and transporting oil with the least environmental impact. But sadly, history has shown us that no technology is flawless.
DRIVE ALONG BOLIVAR PENINSULA:
If you drive to the northern tip of Galveston Island, you can catch the Galveston-Bolivar ferry for a pleasant three mile ride to the Bolivar Peninsula. The 20 minutes voyage is absolutely free.
I went onto Google Maps to get an overhead picture of the ferry route and was surprised to see the actual ferry in operation when I zoomed in on the picture (red circle):
Once you depart the ferry, you can drive along Bolivar Flats which is a 27 mile long stretch of compacted beach. Since the speed limit of 15 mph is a strictly enforced, it would take a tedious four hours to make the round trip.
There are a many points along the stretch where you can depart the sandy trail and head inland on paved road. If you want to camp on the beach you'll need an $10 annual beach parking pass just make sure you are aware of the high-tide line before setting up your site.
While I always find it enjoyable to be able to drive my vehicle on the beach, the tedium of driving at 15 mph became too much. The restriction was onerous given the beaches were mostly vacant at the time of our visit. One thing that surprised us was how desolate the area is once you drive a few blocks inland. The area was void of the typical boardwalks, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and/or stores that you see in most typical beach communities. Other than the occasional cluster of beach houses, there really nothing out this way. Be prepared to bring your own fun!
STROLL THE PORT OF GALVESTON:
If you travel down Harborside Drive you are bound to see a cruise liner or two tied to the pier. It's fun to stroll this area and see the ships up close. On a whim, we visited the booking office of one of the cruise lines hoping to find cheap fare for a weekend cruise. Even though the cruise wasn't booked, the prices weren't any cheaper than what we found online. Sadly, we shelved the idea of spending a few days in the warmth of a Caribbean sun.
GALVESTON ISLAND BREWERY:
If craft beers are your thing, make sure you stop by the Galveston Island Brewery.
While they have a wide array of beers to please most any palette, my favorite was the Tiki Wheat. Not to sound like a beer commercial, but the beer was crisp, light and flavorful. It was one of the best craft wheat beers I've had since starting our journey.
I don't think you'll be disappointed.
A QUICK VISIT TO HOUSTON:
About an hour north of Galveston is the city of Houston.
Although not part of our original itinerary, my wife needed some CEU's to meet her annual licensure requirements before year's end. Fortunately, we found one in Houston that fit into our schedule.
It was a bit intimidating to drive through the city. It's very, very crowded, lots of road work, and motorists who drive as if we were still living in the wild west. After dropping Lorraine at her building, I decided to visit the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum.
I think we are all familiar with the Bob Marley tribute to the Buffalo Soldier (.."Fighting on arrival, fighting for survival") well this museum puts meat on the bones of the Buffalo Soldier story. It is dedicated to exploring the valuable, but unsung, contribution African- Americans have made to the fabric of this country. African-Americans have served proudly in every great American conflict. I was surprised to learn the overwhelming number of African-Americans who wore the Army blue during the Civil War: 180,000. Another 30,000 served in the Navy, and 200,000 served as laborers on other military support projects. Historical records show that more than 33,000 of these gallant soldiers gave their lives for an unappreciative country.
In 1866, Congress created six all African-American Army units. These fighting men represented the first Black professional soldiers in a peacetime army.
The term "Buffalo Soldier" is credited to the Apaches who likened the hair texture of African-Americans soldiers to that of the hair of the buffalo.
AN UGLY PAGE FROM OUR NATION'S PAST..
I have mentioned many times, this journey has expanded, shaped and changed our view of this country's history. As a history lover, I was surprised how much I didn't know (good and bad). And as much as we love this country and the individual freedoms our unique Constitution allows (even the right to criticize our country and its leaders absent of the fear of retribution), I shudder at the horrific treatment Native and African Americans received at the hands of our government.
It was here in Galveston where I first learned of Juneteenth. It marks the day when federal troops arrived in Galveston to take control of the state and ensure that all enslaved people were freed. Many slave holders of the deep-south refused to release their slaves even after the war had officially ended in April, 1865. Union troops arrived about a month later and on June 19, 1865, Major-General Granger published General Order #3 which states:
"The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, "all slaves are free." This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor."
The order, published on June 19, 1865, officially ended slavery in America. Juneteenth is considered the longest-running African American holiday.
HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS:
Although life on the road has been an amazing experience, I still feel the need from time to time to be around family. It helps restore my inner-balance. So in the wee-hours on December 15th, we drove to Houston and caught a flight to Charlotte to spend the holiday with our daughter and son-in-law in Shelby, NC.
It was a lot of fun to spend time with our favorite daughter!
Those are actually handmade pillow cases and not hats. They looked so happy I didn't have the heart to tell them!
Upon our return we plan to head to Big Bend National Park, the country's largest but least visited national park (so we were told). See you on down the road!