PORT ARANSAS — It is said that life moves at a slower pace on “island time.”
One heck of a place to test that theory is an 18-mile stretch of Texas Gulf Coast shoreline and wide, sandy beaches known as Port Aransas, located about 180 miles southeast of San Antonio and a four-and-a-half hour drive from Killeen-Fort Hood.
Affectionately known as Port A, this beach town was home and hunting grounds for the Karankawa Indians in the 1500s, and provided refuge and a place to hide buried treasure four centuries later for Capt. Jean Lafitte and his merry band of pirates.
Along with relaxing and digging your toes in the soft sand, catching some rays, and splashing in the warm surf, Port Aransas offers a plethora of attractions and activities, including such things as offshore fishing charters, pier and jetty fishing, water sports, live entertainment, dolphin-watching expeditions, kayaking, skydiving, surfboard rental, sailing cruises, massage and spa treatments, bars and fresh seafood restaurants.
Depending on where you are coming from, there are two ways to reach Port Aransas. One way is from the south side of the island via State Highway 361. Coming from the north, drive your vehicle onto a ferry boat on the Aransas Pass side and take a 10-minute ride to Mustang Island. Stay in your car or get out and walk around during the trip to watch dolphins swimming alongside the ferry and large ships traveling through the nearby channel.
Driving is allowed on the beach in designated areas. Speed limit is 15 mph. Pets are required to be on a leash at all times. Small fires no larger than 3-feet deep, 3-feet wide and 3-feet high are allowed on the beach. Fires must be completely extinguished prior to departure. Glass bottles and/or containers are not allowed on the beach. Driving in the dunes is strictly prohibited. All trash should be disposed of in designated waste containers.
One of many fun things to do during a day at the beach is building a sandcastle and Port Aransas – home of the annual Texas SandFest – is a great place to show off your skills.
Sandcastle building lessons are available, or just grab a bucket, small shovel and plastic knife, fork and spoon – and dig in. Here are some tips from a professional sandcastle builder:
Set up close to the waterline. Dig a hole down to where the sand is saturated with water and stack the sand from the hole in a large pile on the dune side of the hole.
Stir the sand and water down in the hole until you can scoop large “patties” of wet sand with your hands. This process can also be accomplished in a bucket.
Make a tall stack of sand pancakes. When the stack is as tall as you care to make it, break out your plastic carving tools. Use a knife, fork, or spoon to gently carve out a roof, bricks, windows, stairs, doors, and other features.
You are now an official sand carver.
And don’t forget the Texas SandFest, coming up Oct. 15-17. See incredible sand sculptures at what began in 1997 as a small local competition that has grown to become an internationally recognized three-day family event that attracts tens of thousands of visitors from around the world to Port A.
For more information on everything Port Aransas, go to /www.portaransas.org.
Back home in Killeen, summer fun continues as Long Branch Pool is open for beat-the-heat swimming action. Located on the west side of Long Branch Park, 1101 Branch Drive, hours of operation are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Admission is free for children 3 and under; $2 for children; $3 for adults.
The Family Aquatics Center at Lions Club Park is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays, 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Saturdays, and 1 to 6:30 p.m. Sundays. Admission is free for 3 and under; $6 for ages 4 to 16; $7 for ages 17 to 54; and $5 for seniors (55 and older).
For more information on all city aquatics programs and facilities, call 254-501-6390 or go to KilleenTexas.gov/Swim.
On Fort Hood, BLORA (Belton Lake Outdoor and Recreation Area), at the intersection of North Nolan Road and Cottage Road, offers a number of family activities available, including such things as camping sites, picnic pavilions, hiking, sightseeing, bird watching, hunting, fishing, mountain biking, paintball, a 53-foot outdoor climbing wall and an archery range. Admission for military patrons is $3 per car; all others are $10 per vehicle.
Fort Hood’s Apache Arts and Crafts Center is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday for those interested in do-it-yourself projects, including picture frames, ceramics and ceramics birthday parties for kids. Also offered at the center, 761st Tank Battalion and 62nd Street, Building 2337, is screen-printing, embroidery and a wood shop.
The center has a Resiliency through Art program that offers a quiet area with art materials for soldiers to create “whatever comes to mind.” It is available free of charge to all active-duty soldiers during the week until 5 p.m. Soldiers may take their work with them or leave it at the center to be displayed for others to see. For more information, contact MWR.