Monday, February 11, 2008

Texas State Aquarium

The weather was crummy yesterday, and so we visited the Texas State Aquarium. That's one attraction you can cross off your list of things to do if you ever visit Corpus Christi. It was very expensive ($33 for the two of us) and definitely not worth the price. When we arrived, the dolphin show was about to begin. We always enjoy seeing the dolphins, but they did not have a large enough tank to show their stuff. There wasn't enough depth or length for them to really get up a head of steam. If you've ever seen dolphins, then you know that they are very fast swimmers. They seemed content with their living space just the same though, and we saw them playing with different toys they had (balls, rings) after the show was over. One of the dolphins liked to give the trainer high fives after each of his tricks. Pretty cute. However, the show was nothing special.

After that, we had a heck of a time finding the exhibits. They had two gift shops that were easily accessible. We had to work much harder to find the aquarium exhibits. The river otter exhibit (our favorite) was shut down completely. They had an alligator (singular) and some pretty spectacular birds of prey. We also enjoyed the bird show they put on where they showed a barn owl (so pretty) and a white-tailed hawk (also incredibly beautiful). They showed a couple of mammals, one a cousin of the raccoon with a prehensile tail, and another was a cousin of the anteater with a 16-inch tongue for getting ants out of tight places. Ewwwww! It looked like a big worm coming out of his pointy little mouth. We did like that show, though and so donated an additional $5 into the basket for their rescue program.

Aside from that, their best features were their "iron garden" exhibit which was designed to look like the reef habitats that form on the oil platforms offshore and also their Amazon exhibit, which included poison dart frogs--very colorful. As I'm writing this, I realize that we did enjoy what we saw--we just thought the price of admission was too high, in addition to paying for parking.

But I want to tell you a little about Corpus Christi, which was a beautiful city right on the bay. There are at least two big bridges, something like our Fremont Bridge, that are tall enough for ships to pass under without the necessity of a draw bridge (meaning VERY tall). And there are a lot of ships since the area between the barrier islands and the city is a shipping lane. The port was not as large as Portland, but the ships were equally big. We also got a glimpse of the USS Lexington Museum, right next to the aquarium. We could have visited it too since we had plenty of time after the aquarium, but we decided to save it for another day.

Corpus Christi was first explored by Europeans in 1519, but it was a landlocked bay for another 300 years. There was a trading post established in the area, and the town became a trade center for the nearby cattle ranches and the Mexican border towns. It was transformed into an international port when the Army Corps of Engineers dug a new ship channel in the mid-1920's. After that, it was the deepest port on the Texas coast and attracted many of the businesses that form its industrial base.

The city's importance was further enhanced when it attracted a Naval Air Station and its advanced flight-training school. The NAS is one of its major employers and also includes the Army Depot, which is the primary repair facility for Army helicopters. Indeed, there is an awful lot of helicopter noise where we are and we have seen a lot of military helicopters flying in and out.

Despite its big city stature, it has retained its earlier small-town flavor, much like Portland. Also like Portland, it has a 2.5-mile-long seawall in the heart of the business district. Our seawall protects us from the river, theirs protects them from the Gulf of Mexico. There are also more than 100 miles of beaches on the barrier islands (Mustang Island, where we are, and Padre Island where there is a national seashore).

I didn't take my camera into Corpus Christi yesterday because aquariums make notoriously poor subjects for photography. I was sorry I wasn't able to take pictures of the bridge and the USS Lexington, but we will be returning to see some other attractions, and I will definitely have pictures for you then.

I do have some more pictures of birds, plants, and seashells for you. Here is the link. I hope you enjoy them. I am having fun taking them.

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