Corpus Christi is a city that has reinvented itself in this decade adding tourism as a fourth pillar to a traditional economic base that included oil and gas production, farming and ranching and a strong military presence.
Thanks to the initiative and spirit of local community groups a brand new tourist industry was put in place in this decade with the addition of attractions like the USS Lexington, the famed aircraft carrier of World War ll that participated in almost every engagement in the Pacific War, and now has found its final berth in Corpus Christi Bay.
And when the Spanish Government built and set sail the recreated fleet of Christopher Columbus in 1992 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the historic voyage that changed the world forever, it was agreed that Corpus Christi would be the final destination of the Santa Maria, Pinta and Nina.
Attractions like these plus the Padre Island National Recreation area with miles and miles of beaches stretching along the west coast of the Gulf of Mexico are powerful incentives to make the area a popular family vacation and recreation destination.
The list of things to do goes on and on. This south Texas area is cow country and the largest ranch in the world, the King Ranch with over 825,000 acres and 60,000 head of cattle, is an exciting destination for adults and children alike.
Just 35 minutes from Corpus Christi at Kingsville, the King Ranch has a Museum and then a few miles from town the Ranch itself with a Visitor Center and guided tours that operate 365 days a year.
Here one gets to see breeds of cattle and horses that were developed at the Ranch over several generations of family ownership including the Santa Gertrudis and King Ranch Santa Cruz breeds of cattle as well as the now famous American Quarter Horse. Also there is a small herd of the legendary Texas Longhorns that are so much a part of the State's history.
The Ranch tours also feature the natural flora and fauna of the region which was once known as the Wild Horse Desert and some of the many mammals and birds that call it home. The Spanish view of the region as a desert explains how Richard King in 1853 was able to purchase land there for two cents an acres.
In Corpus Christi one can enjoy the cultural pursuits of the Museum of Science & History and spend an evening with the Corpus Christi Symphony Orchestra like we did.
You need plenty of time to tour the USS Lexington and when you have completed five separate tours remind yourself that the newest carrier currently under construction, the Harry S Truman, is twice as big with twice the tonnage. Last year over 250,000 people toured the ship.
And then stand on the deck of the Santa Maria and think about the 39 brave men who sailed with Christopher Columbus into the unknown. If you are impressed with how big the Lexington is you will be equally impressed on how small the ships of the Columbus fleet really were and what conditions must have been like for the crew.
Museum guides will join you on the deck of the Santa Maria to describe what conditions were, the lack of any kind of cleanliness or sanitation and why the crew preferred the open deck to any other place on the ships.
All of south Texas is cow country and museums both in Corpus Christi and the King Ranch Museum in Kingsville will give you a sampling of what life was really like for the vaquero and the cowboy.
The Museum in Corpus Christi also has a film which depicts an early Spanish shipwreck on that part of the Gulf coast and the hardships suffered by the survivors. The film with real actors and in color is well worth watching and plays continuously in a small showing area with the decor of an old sailing ship.
It was our good fortune to be in Kingsville for the 6th annual South Texas Ranching Heritage Festival which included a working cowboy rodeo with events like team penning and a Chuckwagon Camp cookoff.
Both adults and children are in for a special treat at the Texas State Aquarium which attracts a half million visitors a year including its children and outreach programs. The Aquarium has a unique format in that it interprets the plants and sea life of the Gulf of Mexico beginning at the shore and succeeding exhibits take the viewer deeper into the waters and what marine life inhabits each level.
The Aquarium is next to the USS Lexington and viewing the two, having lunch and watching the ship traffic of the harbor makes for a very interesting and well spent day. Both the Lexington and the Aquarium have food and beverage for sale. We should add that the Lexington has been averaging 300,000 visitors a year.
As usual our time in Corpus Christi was far too short. We would have loved to spend a day wandering the beaches of Padre Island and watching for its wealth of bird life. Or a day on one of the nature tours that are available at the King Ranch. And what a delightful evening is in store for those that will be in the Selena Auditorium at the Bayfront Plaza Convention Center for the Corpus Christi Symphony Orchestra performance of Sergei Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky.
In the next issue of Vittles we will explore the cuisines available in Corpus Christi and surrounding environs and review some of the outstanding dining experiences we enjoyed there.
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