So you got your beer, your bikini, and your smokin' hot bod, all ready for spring break, right? Okay, maybe it's apple juice, a muu-muu, and some mom jeans. Either way, South Padre Island will be teeming with wild life -- make that wildlife -- in the coming weeks. Take a break from the party hearty to appreciate the natural beauty of the world's longest barrier island at the southernmost tip of Texas.
Below are three must-see South Padre stops, set between the Gulf of Mexico and the serene Laguna Madre. Everybody from toddlers to teens to seniors will find something to enjoy among the natural wonders of the Lone Star state's island paradise.
- More than 90,000 acres of mixed desert, coastal, and tropical habitats at the Laguna Atascosa Wildlife Refuge are home to an abundance of wildlife: javelina, bobcats, deer, coyotes, alligators, even the endangered and elusive ocelot (rarely seen, although 30 live on the refuge). And that's just on the ground. Look up, and you might spot some of the 415 species of migratory, winter, and resident birds -- more than any other national wildlife refuge. Be sure to drive the 14-mile loop or take one of the refuge's guided tours.
- Remember the Turtle Lady? The late Ila Loetscher's spirit lives on in the amazing work of her creation -- Sea Turtle Inc, where more than 90 percent of the injured or sick turtles who end up here are rehabbed and released. Stop and say hi to the famous Allison the Atlantic green, who gets around with the help of a prosthetic device that makes up for the loss of three of her four flippers. The highlight of the year, however, is the annual Kemp ridley hatchling release run by Sea Turtle Inc.'s staff and volunteers on South Padre Island and Boca Chica beaches, part of the only nesting places in the world for the endangered Kemp's ridley. Their efforts have helped to bring them back from the brink of extinction.
- The Dolphin Research and Sea Life Nature Center was founded by Captain Scarlet Colley -- known to the locals as "the dolphin whisperer" -- as part of her lifelong mission to educate visitors and residents about "these amazing creatures." The center has touch tanks, exhibits, and photographs and videos by Colley, an accomplished photographer, to help make tourists more "eco-friendly." Colley's dolphin-watch tours are limited to six passengers, and there is no feeding, touching, or swimming with any of the Laguna Madre tribe of about 150 bottle nose dolphins that she is determined to protect. "When you go to see the dolphin," says Colley, "it's about them. It's not about us."
For more information, sopadre.com