Explore Mustang Island, Texas
Wild Horses Couldn't Drag Me Away
Most Texas gulf coast visitors are familiar with the name Padre Island after all it has a vast reputation especially among spring breakers and vacationers. But few people who travel down to the warm waters of Texas’ Gulf of Mexico realize that some of the sandy beaches they are relaxing and playing on are part an 18-mile long island called Mustang Island.
It’s easy to be disoriented along this thin stretch of island chain if you don’t pay attention to signs and maps since these two coastal barrier islands, Padre Island to the south and Mustang Island to the north, are separated by only a thin waterway. In fact, when I moved to a small port town called Port Aransas in the early 1990s, I didn’t know that I was actually moving to Mustang Island. Once I researched and explored the location of my new home, I quickly learned that Mustang Island has a unique history of its own.
Alonso Alvarez de Pineda was the first to record the island while charting the Gulf coast in 1519 but the Karankawa Indians are the island’s earliest known occupants. Although it is said that they were cannibals, the Karankawas relied on shellfish and mussels and were mostly hunter-gatherer people. They thrived on the island up to the 1800's as new inhabitants landed on the island’s shores.
When Spanish explorers reached the island in the 1700's, they brought wild horses or "Mestenos" with them which would eventually give the island the name "Wild Horse Island" later to be changed to "Mustang Island."
During the U.S. Mexican War of 1846 to 1848, a fort was erected on the island to protect the passage in to Aransas Bay. Later, the area was barricaded by the Union Navy during the Civil War. However, no significant battles erupted. But military strongholds were not the only activities to take place on the island in the early years.
In the 1850s, Robert A. Mercer, an Englishman, and H.L. Kinney each brought cattle to the island for ranching and later in the 1880's a meat-packing plant was constructed. Ranching seemed to be a more than suitable use for this rich grassy land.
The island’s location at the mouth of what is now known as Corpus Christi Bay made it’s northern tip a prime destination for a maritime port. A steamship service between Mustang Island and New Orleans was established and the first "deep draught shop" sailed through Aransas Pass in 1859. First known as Mercer’s Dock, the port town was destroyed in 1875 by a hurricane only to be reestablished as Mustang Island then Ropesville then Tarpon before eventually being settled as Port Aransas sometime around 1910. Now, the small town of Port Aransas thrives as a vacation destination for beach-goers and fishermen boasting numerous restaurants and condominiums.
There is a Texas State Park on the island south of Port Aransas named Mustang Island State Park that consists of 3954 acres and 5 miles of beach. It was obtained from land owners in 1972 and later opened as a state park in 1979.
While the wild horses no longer inhabit the island, the wildlife more than makes up for it. Bird watching is a favorable activity on the island as hundreds of bird species such as great blue herons, egrets, and roseate spoonbills inhabit the wetlands, dunes, and beaches. Likewise, beachcombers from all around enjoy collecting on the beaches where driftwood, sea glass, barnacles, sand-dollars, shark’s teeth, and many seashells litter the sand. And for those who seek the creatures of the sea, dolphins are often seen cruising the shorelines or escorting ships through the Port Aransas jetty in to Corpus Christi bay.
I thoroughly enjoyed the time I lived on Mustang Island and have cherished each return visit after that. I have spent countless hours bodyboarding among the gentle waves of the Gulf and strolling along its sandy beaches. There is so much to do on the island that anyone who can appreciate this natural landscape and all it has to offer will create special memories for a lifetime.
See my other Hubpage article titled "Egrets, Herons, Alligators, Oh My!" for more information.
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HOW TO GET THERE:
Option 1: Travel southeast from Corpus Christi on State Highway 358 to Padre Island; cross the JFK Causeway; continue one mile to the traffic light; turn left on to State Highway 361 which runs the length of the island ending at Port Aransas.
Option 2: Take Interstate Highway 37 to Corpus Christi; go over the Harbor Bridge to US Highway 181 thru Portland; travel State Highway 361 to the free ferry ride over to Port Aransas.