PORT ARANSAS–This is not Hilton Head or Palm Beach, with white tennis shorts and BMWs at the CVS. It’s quintessentially Texas, a beach where F-350s line up at the town’s three stop lights, and kids from Amarillo stare slack-jawed at “the ocean” for the first time.
Now Father’s Day and the 4th of July approach, and a string of 100-degree days lurk ahead in Austin. Here’s our survival guide to Port A.
The average July high in Austin is 95 and in Port Aransas 90.3.
Cars lined up on the beach during Memorial Day weekend. (Rich Oppel)
Driving from Austin, the trip is 200 miles or more. That can take four to five and a half hours, depending on time of day and route. Three strategies:
- Our favorite: Take toll road SH 130 south to Lockhart and take U.S. 183 to Refugio, left on Texas 774 and follow your navigation to Aransas Pass, then left on Texas 361 to the ferry to Port A. Tips: Leave early. Avoid late Thursday or Fridays. Check the Texas DOT website for ferry wait times, which vary from 15 minutes to an hour.
- Second strategy: If the ferry line is long, detour from Bayside south of Refugio to Corpus Christi and come up Mustang Island on highway 361. This adds about 30 miles.
- A no-toll route: Southwest on I-35 to San Antonio, then south-southeast on I-37 into Corpus, north on 361. I-35 can be nerve-racking getting out of Austin and going through San Antonio. I-37 is blissfully boring. About 250 miles.
On the way in, refill your tank at the H-E-B in Aransas Pass, cheaper by a quarter a gallon than any fuel you’ll find on Mustang Island.
Sights and sounds
As you drive through South Texas you will see fields of pump jacks and wind turbines as well as fields of corn and soybean and red brangus ranches. Near the Port A ferry, huge turbine blades made in Europe are stacked high. This is a working port, but it is fast-changing.
- Check VRBO for a condo. The big condos lining the beach (Aransas Princess, The Dunes, Sandpiper, Sea Gull, Mayan Princess and more) have a few pricey rentals left, with a 2-bedroom typically going for $250 to $700 a night.
- Camp on the beach. Buy a $12 annual permit at the IGA or any convenience store, and park between markers 0 and 62. Bring a sturdy tent; it can be windy. A trailer or RV are even better.
- Rent a cottage off the beach. Scores of new stilt houses and multi-family dwellings were built after Hurricane Harvey laid waste to Port A in 2017. Factoid: The average elevation of Port A is 7 feet. Even cheaper than a Port A back-island rental: Find a place off-island in Rockport or Corpus Christi.
Our favorites are the Venetian Hot Plate, Roosevelt’s, Tortuga and Fins. For a cheeseburger, fries and a beer with a Gulf view, the Beach Lodge. There are 60 restaurants on Mustang Island, and the lines are long in the summer. Get there early or late, or order takeout–which is available at many places. Make reservations at the high-end places. Dress is casual. Anyone with shoelaces is way overdressed.
Fun things to do
- Rent a beach cart. They’ll run you up to $150 a day. Port A is one of the few places in Texas where they can be operated by unlicensed drivers 16 and older. Cart rental places outnumber seagulls.
- Cast a fishing line off the South Jetty, and then watch petroleum tankers and cargo ships glide through Aransas Pass, coming from or going to Corpus Christi docks.
- See hundreds of species of birds at the Turnbull Birding Center.
- Eat seafood at Snoopy’s Pier, overlooking Laguna Madre, on South Padre Island Drive 20 miles south of Port A. Afterward, take the kids to Scoopy’s next door for ice cream.
- Ride slowly along the beach and people-watch, or park and stroll or run along the wide strand. Watch the sunrise at Horace Caldwell Pier.
- It’s red snapper season. Take a head boat out of Deep Sea Headquarters for a $125, eight-hour trip 20 to 30 miles out. Limit out with two 16-inch or larger snapper. Great eating.
Port A has gotten expensive since huricane Harvey. Labor costs are skyrocketing because waiters, cleaning people and store attendants can’t find affordable housing on the island. If you haven’t been there in a few years, expect sticker shock.
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Genetic engineering company Colossal Biosciences announced it has started de-extinction of the thylacine, also known as the Tasmanian tiger.
Partnering with the University of Melbourne and its Thylacine Integrated Genetic Restoration Research Lab on these efforts, Colossal says bringing the tiger back could “re-balance the Tasmanian and broader Australian ecosystems.”
“With our planet’s biodiversity at risk, we will continue to contribute scientific resources to preserving the species and ecosystems necessary to sustain life,” CEO Ben Lamm said.
Founded last year, Colossal aims to further develop technologies for marsupial conservation efforts and say they are the first to apply CRISPR technology for the purpose of species de-extinction.
The company has its headquarters in Dallas with Austin ties through its software and hardware team. Also with Lamm, who is former CEO of Austin AI company Hypergiant.
Ben Lamm and co-founder George Church
The Tasmanian tiger marks Colossal’s second de-extinction project. Before its work on the Australian marsupial that was eradicated nearly a century ago, Colossal announced its plans to resurrect the woolly mammoth.
Now, Lamm said they are thrilled about teaming up with the Melbourne lab, which is headed by Andrew Pask, a marsupial evolutionary biologist and Tasmanian tiger expert.
Pask said this is a “landmark moment” for marsupial research and that the technology from the project will influence the next generation of conservation efforts.
“Additionally, rewilding the thylacine to the Tasmanian landscape can significantly curb the destruction of this natural habitat due to invasive species,” Pask said. “The Tasmanian tiger is iconic in Australian culture. We’re excited to be part of this team in bringing back this unique, cornerstone species that mankind previously eradicated from the planet.”
\u201cIntroducing Texas #pumas reinvigorated the Florida panther population.\u201d— Colossal Biosciences (@Colossal Biosciences) 1655137149
Colossal points to the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone and the Tasmanian Devil to Australia as examples of the importance of rewilding species to their original habitats. Through that, Colossal says, damaged ecosystems can be restored and revitalized.
To achieve the successful birth of the Tasmanian tiger, Colossal says advancement of current marsupial assisted reproductive technology is required. The work goes beyond the Tasmanian tiger though and Colossal says this technology will be instrumental in the preservation of marsupials at large. The company notes this is especially important in Australia, which faces a fast rate of biodiversity loss and where marsupials are highly concentrated.
Colossal boasts investors like nature gaming group Untamed Planet and local Australian non-profit WildArk, as well as actors the Hemsworth brothers.
“Our family remains dedicated to supporting conservationist efforts around the world and protecting Australia's biodiversity is a high priority,” Chris Hemsworth said. “The Tassie Tiger’s extinction had a devastating effect on our ecosystem and we are thrilled to support the revolutionary conservation efforts that are being made by Dr. Pask and the entire Colossal team.”
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Construction on additional structures for Apple’s Northwest Austin campus could start in February.
The August filings with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation are the latest glimpse at the campus that was announced in December 2018. The campus is expected to be 3 million square feet with 12 office and amenity buildings, parking garages and other facilities once it’s finished.
Plans on the three structures in the filings are estimated to total $279 million and are expected to reach completion by February 2025.
One of the planned structures is a $100 million five-level building. International firm HKS Architects, which opened an office in Austin earlier this year, is listed as the designer.
Another multi-story building also designed by HKS is expected to be 298,977 square feet and cost $118 million.
The last structure in the filing is a $61 million parking garage with nine levels and 3,500 spots for cars.
The initial phase of the tech giant’s campus could welcome 5,000 employees and maybe even reach 15,000 upon completion, Apple has said.
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