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2011 - Volume 2 Issue 2
Vida Buena
Article: Joe Burgess
Photos: Joe Burgess
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Established in 1835, Beaumont's claim to fame erupted in 1901 when an oil well gusher kick-started Texas (and American) production of black gold. Today, the area history is captured in several museums, such as the Spindletop/Gladys City Boom-town Museum with its collection of period buildings used for reenactments, and an oil derrick that gushes a powerful stream of water high into the air.

    As desert dwellers, we love to visit coastal regions – to feel the beach sand squeeze between our toes, hear the rhythmic sound of waves, marvel at natural "greenness" and experience a lifestyle totally different from that of our Rio Grande corridor. Choosing to explore a stretch of gulf coast from Galveston, Texas to Lake Charles, Louisiana, I set out on a getaway that yielded a treasure trove of diverse opportunities to my long-term quest of discovering the jewels of neighboring regions. I based my stay in Beaumont, Texas.
Photo Captions:
1.   A roseate spoonbill inspects the Rookery at High Island.
2.   The Colonel paddlewheel boat returns to Moody Gardens in Galveston, home to a rain forest, aquarium, theaters, golf, water park and hotel. (photo courtesy of Moody Gardens)
3.   A fisherman takes advantage of calm waters on a Neches River bayou in Big Thicket National Preserve at Beaumont.
4.   A replica of the original oil gusher spews water at Spindletop/Gladys City Boom-town Museum at Beaumont.

The L'auberge-du lac Casino Resort in Lake Charles, Louisiana includes a thousand room hotel, gaming, restaurants, golf and entertainment. (photo courtesy of L'auberge-du lac)
5.   Ryan Hamacher moves the rudder of the 19th century tallship Elissa at the Texas Seaport Museum in Galveston.

"Lion in the Sand" won 3rd place at the Colby Design in the 2011 AIA SandCastle competition on Galveston Island.
6.   Shangri La Botanical Gardens & Nature Center is a 252-acre collection of nature's best in Orange, Texas.
7.   A replica of Janis Joplin's Porsche is housed in the Museum of the Gulf Coast in Port Arthur.
8.   Justin Thomas and Joey Steadman dig into platters of crawfish at the Crawfish Boil in Palestine, Texas.
9.   You can actually hold a baby gator, but Gator Country Wildlife Adventure Park is also the home of Big Al, the largest alligator in Texas captivity. (photo courtesy of Gator Country Wildlife)

Beaumont, TX

Galveston, TX

Lake Charles, LA
The Gator Country Wildlife Adventure Park just west of Beaumont is home to Big Al, the largest alligator in Texas captivity. You can feed the alligators, take pictures with wildlife, and even hold baby gators. For the bayou experience, take a pontoon boat ride on the ecologically diverse Neches River, part of the Big Thicket National Preserve.

For those of us who survived the 60s, the Museum of the Gulf Coast just south of Beaumont in Port Arthur features a Music Hall of Fame showcasing 60 musicians from the region, including a replica of Janis Joplin's Porsche and memorabilia from the likes of Tex Ritter, Percy Sledge, B. J. Thomas and ZZ Top. The Sports Legends Gallery at the museum recognizes accomplished gulf coast athletes from numerous sports including Jimmy Johnson, Bum Phillips and Charles A. "Bubba" Smith.

Fishing excursions on Sabine Lake include both salt water and fresh water species, such as speckled trout, mullet and redfish.

For seafood in Beaumont, I polled some of the locals and then tested their unanimous conclusion at Floyds Cajun Seafood and Texas Steakhouse. Behind the bar, Willie showed me how to shuck oysters, and the lady next to me explained how to shell crawfish. So I ordered the seafood platter, which thankfully had no crawfish… Crawfish (mudbugs) are a huge favorite in this region, but I'll have to keep working on it. My favorite dish was the crab cake, which, at Willie's suggestion, I smothered with their crab étouffée, transforming a good dish into a fabulous one. Afterwards, drinks and dancing on Crockett Street downtown finished off a great day.

The MCM Eleganté in Beaumont offers excellent accommodations and lunch at Hemingway's Café with a tropical setting and huge skylight is a real treat. The "N'awlins" BBQ shrimp was a scrumptious surprise, and there are Cajun Quesadillas that will be a unique experience for you border folks.

Birding is exceptional in this region. Southwest of Beaumont is a dot on the map called High Island, a unique and important coastal habitat for migrating birds. Many stay to build nests and raise their chicks during spring and summer months in a small protected area called the Rookery, and you'll find exotic birds roosting there throughout the year.

East of Beaumont in Orange, Texas is the 252-acre Shangri La Botanical Gardens & Nature Center. The formal gardens, bird viewing platform and boating excursions are awesome.

I added Lake Charles, Louisiana to my agenda because of L'auberge-du lac Casino Resort, a thousand-room hotel, a great collection of dining options and 30,000 square feet of gaming. I stopped just long enough for a gin and tonic and sandwich at Jack Daniel's Bar and Grill, coffee and ice cream at Desserts and, yes, I fed my dollar to a penny slot machine.

Wildlife, marshland, gulf beaches, hunting, fishing and Cajun culture can be accessed along the 180-mile Creole Nature Trail All-American Road between Lake Charles and the coast. Inland or offshore fishing excursions can be arranged April through December.

Back to the other end of my treasure chest, Galveston can be a destination in itself or, in my case, the conclusion of a getaway. It can be reached directly from Houston on Interstate 45, or from Beaumont by taking a coastal drive that includes State Highway 124 from Winnie to High Island, mentioned above, and State Highway 87 to Port Bolivar. A free 24-hour ferry crosses from Port Bolivar to Galveston.

Galveston has two great areas for visitors. On the ocean side, Seawall Boulevard is lined with restaurants, shops, piers and miles of beaches. On the bay side where cruise ships dock, the "Strand" historic district offers intriguing shops, restaurants, galleries and museums. The Texas Seaport Museum includes the tall ship Elissa and the Ocean Star Offshore Energy Center and Museum consists of an actual offshore oil rig.

A popular Galveston attraction is Moody Gardens. The just-renovated 10-story Rainforest Pyramid® houses over 1,000 species of exotic plants and animals. The Aquarium Pyramid® allows you to navigate through a tunnel completely surrounded by ocean life. There are 3D, 4D and Ridefilm theaters, a paddlewheel boat ride and a great water park.

Galveston's most popular event is its 101st annual version of Mardi Gras, attended by some 250,000 people, February 10-21, 2012. Other events include the 36th annual Dickens on the Strand, Dec. 4 & 5, 2011, a Victorian-themed holiday festival, and the 26th annual AIA Sandcastle Competition the first weekend of June. If you are a motorcycle enthusiast, the largest motorcycle event in Texas (second largest in the country) takes place the first weekend in November.

There are both deep-sea gulf and inshore bay-fishing charters available in Galveston, two of which are and

Seafood restaurants are plentiful, but I tried Fisherman's Warf on Pier 22 in the Strand historic district. My gulf red snapper, a Galveston delicacy, was lightly seasoned and broiled – it was perfect. The shrimp scampi, fresh gulf shrimp sautéed in olive oil and white wine with shallots, garlic and fresh herbs, was served on top of angel hair and a garlic butter sauce that was out of this world. The Captain's Coffee made with Bartley's Irish Cream, Grand Marnier, Frangelico and whipped cream capped the meal.

The elegant Hotel Galvez & Spa, a Wyndham Grand Hotel, was known as the "Queen of the Gulf" when it opened in 1911 on Seawall Drive. It features a new $6 million spa and fitness center and swim-up bar. If you choose to stay elsewhere, at least check it out. ///
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