Our Treasure Hunting section
The following article comes from our good friends at
a Texas beach getaway for the weekend has long been a Texas tradition
regardless what part of the state you call home. Literally thousands of Texans
flock to the white sandy beaches of Padre Island every year - sometimes
multiple times per year - to pitch their tents, set up their RVs or to simply
sleep on the beach in order to get their periodic fix of sun, surf and sand.
But have you
ever wondered while you're laying on your beach recliner soaking up those
golden coastal rays and enjoying the warm Gulf breezes, just how many bare
feet have imprinted the same sands back through the years. And not just
contemporary times either, but times long past.
possible, given the Texas coasts' rich history, that you're standing in the
footsteps of some former impressive visitors and natives. On these sun-soaked
sands have stood fierce Karanakawa Indians, accused of being the only
cannibalistic tribe in North America. Conquistadors wandered down these
beaches too, as did French, English and Portuguese explorers.
regardless whether or not historical figures of the past stood upon the same
ground where you grilled your beach burgers last night or not, there is still
evidence lying across the beach that hints of different cultures and distant
lands. These treasures wash up on the beach and can include everything from
sandollars, coconuts and sea beans to manmade artifacts like old coins,
pieces of rope and clothing - just about everything imaginable.
one in Texas knows this better than
Steve Hathcock and Kay Lay,
South Padre Island's colorful beachcombing champions. Authors of books,
articles and papers on the subject, the two proudly display much of their
finest collection of things they have found on the beach down through the
years at their unique and enterprising shop,
Island Traders and Beachcombers Museum, located centrally in
South Padre Island. From ornate driftwood to Spanish Gold to Civil War relics
to shells and other natural items from the sea, the shop and museum are
packed full of enough interesting items to keep you busy browsing through the
displays and shelfs inside the store for hours.
Steve is an
avid historian, treasure hunter and storyteller and has authored the book
"Behind the Third Dune," a look at some of his adventures (and misadventures)
along the lower Texas coast. Kay is author of "Don't Pass The Beans," a book
about the coveted sea beans and other natural artifacts that wash up on the
shores of South Texas regularly. If you want to know about beachcombing,
treasure hunting and the local history of Padre Island, you'd be hard pressed
to find better resource guides to talk to before you make your trip.
And a visit
to the Beachcombers Museum will leave you with a fresh idea of what to be on
the look out for as you stroll down the deserted sands of Padre. A small area
in the museum is dedicated to old books, ice cream and other refreshments and
there are a couple of tables where you can enjoy a cup of imported coffee,
glance through the book collection, or swap stories with the proprietors and
other guests of the museum.
In fact, the
island friendliness of the shop is one of the main reasons for its popularity.
It's one of the best places where visitors and locals can mingle and interact
and share stories and experiences.
For your next
beach getaway, consider South Padre Island on the very southern Tip of Texas.
It might be a little further away from home than you like, but the blue
waters, white sands and Beachcomber's Museum will make the extra miles well
worth your while.
Dreams of Treasure Island
Long intrigued by stories of lost treasure, we read an article about one of
South Padre's most infamous hunters and decided to meet the legendary Steve
Hathcock for ourselves.
After crossing the Queen Isabella Causeway, the only road onto the island, we
made Steve's bookstore our first stop. A rickety two-story establishment, Padre
Island Trading Company boasts used books, secondhand clothes, historical
artifacts, and gourmet coffee. But not that day. Beneath a "Closed" sign on the
glass door, a handwritten note announced the proprietors would be gone until
Saturday, still a week away.
On Sunday, we noticed that "Saturday" had been replaced with "Monday", but
Monday soon came and went. A lanky young man on the porch told us that Steve and
his partner Kay Lay, both longtime residents of the island, had already returned
and were probably unwinding in their apartment above the shop.
By Wednesday, the store was open again. After much yarn-swapping, Steve -- who
is also a local historian, locksmith, and masseur --agreed to lead us on a
treasure-hunting adventure in the sand dunes north of town. Exactly when was
Over the next several weeks, we fell into the rhythms of the island, basking in
the warm Gulf breezes and incredible sunsets over the bay. We spent many
evenings with our newfound friends, sipping coffee on the back patio, making
stir-fry dinners in their upstairs kitchen, playing with their three golden
retrievers, and meeting locals like Steve Farrell, a wiry guitarist from New
York, or Guatemalan Bob, a blue-eyed vendor of Latin American coffees. Then,
after sharing countless tales of the island's history, Steve finally made good
on his promise.
The Great Treasure Hunt
Just this afternoon, Steve and Mike, a treasure-hunter from Colorado, boarded
Bob's SUV laden with metal detectors, headphones, binoculars, and scoops -- the
necessary tools of the trade. Now, an hour later, Dan and I are following them
in our own truck, toting a few essentials as well -- namely, the boards, bucket,
and shovel that might help free us if we get stuck in the sand.
Numerous treasures are supposedly buried on the island, including jewels from
lost Spanish ships and $60,000 abandoned by John Singer, the sewing machine
inventor, before the Civil War.
But we aren't in search of such finds today; we're looking for bits and pieces
of the island's history. Steve is planning to lead us to a newly discovered
spot, a mudflat beyond the dunes, where a fellow treasure-hunter has recently
stumbled upon a huge clay pot and a rusted chain in the sand. Today, Steve's
relying on his memory to locate any markers along the route. Near the final
marker, we park the trucks beside endless rows of multi-hued seashells, unload
the gear, and head into the sun-bleached dunes.
We walk in single file, past snake holes in the grass and broken bottles in the
sand. Deep into the wilderness, past sawgrass-covered mounds and thorny tangles
of twigs and vines, we finally come to the site, where the greenish-gray lip of
a large round clay pot peeks above the surface. On this history-rich island,
it's thrilling to consider how long it's lain buried or what purpose it once
Perhaps it belonged to the Karankawa Indians, who fought against the Comanches
in the vicinity. John Singer might have used it to hide away his fortune, prior
to the storm that washed away all his markers. French merchants might have
filled it with wine bottles, lost when a hurricane tossed their vessel ashore.
It's been here so long that the clay has turned too soft to unearth without
destroying it. So, the original purpose will perhaps remain a mystery.
It's a mystery, too, what else may lie hidden in the flats. So, the five of us
split up, off to seek our own treasure. Bob treks away in search of old colored
glass bottles. Steve and Mike linger around the pot, searching the area with
their metal detectors. Dan wanders off in the opposite direction, scanning the
ground for telltale bumps, while I hike several yards across a barren field of
sand, aiming for a faraway band of glistening water. As I near the shimmering,
tree-lined stream, I notice small deer tracks crisscrossing the earth around me,
but no sign of human travelers.
After several minutes under the hot sun, I realize I've fallen for an old desert
trick, having misjudged the distance to the oasis. Though tantalizing, this
Mansfield Ship Channel, the manmade cut dividing South Padre Island from Padre
Island National Seashore, still lies three miles ahead -- a distance I haven't
time to hike. Besides, the sunlight is waning, and I'm curious about the
treasure hunt behind me.
As I trek back across the sand, I spy Dan standing above a hole, beckoning me to
join him before the others, still ensconced in the dunes, have gotten wind of
his find. By the time I reach him, I notice an odd little smile on his face, a
mixture of pride and puzzlement. He tells me he simply spotted a small lump in
an open expanse of sand and began digging on his knees, soon discovering a long
wooden beam and a rusted metallic fixture.
Steve and Mike appear in the clearing. Intrigued by the piles of sand at our
feet, they wander over to Dan's hole, amazed that a man without the proper gear
has made the most significant find. Soon, all five of us, including Bob, who's
now returned with a few intact, grime-encrusted, century-old bottles, meet to
uncover and examine the mysterious pieces that Dan has found.
Steve surmises that Dan's find represents the remains of a ship's mast that,
with the clay pot and rusted chain, may comprise a whole ship's worth of
wreckage lying beneath us. The sun's beginning to go down, however, signaling
the hunt's end, so we gather as many artifacts as we can, leaving the pot and
other concealed treasures for another time, and begin the long trek back towards
End of a Glorious Day
As we load up the trunks and shake the sand from our shoes, the sun slips slowly
behind the dunes. It's time to head home, and, despite Steve's promises, the
ride back is even worse. Still, despite the high tide, risky sand traps, and
busted detectors, it thrills us to have searched through the almost deserted
mudflats for a hint of South Padre's history, and the priceless treasures buried
beneath these very sands -- treasures that could fund their finders for life.
Recalling one of Steve's confessions, that "it's impossible for a good treasure
hunter to resist embellishing a yarn," I find there's no need to embellish. We
haven't found any Spanish bullion or the Singer family fortune, and we aren't
planning to spend the rest of our days searching for them, but, for one blessed
afternoon, we've begun to understand the thrill of those that do.
Laura Raitman, an eco-travel columnist, fiction writer, and photographer,
contributes various travel articles to numerous national publications. She has
been living on the road with her filmmaking husband and adaptable cat for well
over a year. Along the way, she's discovered an assortment of hidden American
delights, from wacky Texas treasure hunters and massive Kentucky caves to some
of the finest truck stops around. Contact Laura at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos by Laura Raitman
If You Want to Do More than Treasure-Hunt
Treasure-hunting isn't all that South Padre has to offer.
Sportsmen can rent jet skis and paddleboats, try windsurfing in the bay, or
parasail over the island.
Shoppers can browse through used bookstores, gift shops, and clothing boutiques
along Padre Boulevard.
Wildlife enthusiasts can watch for dolphins, whales, and migrating birds aboard
the Colley's Fins to Feathers pontoon.
Beach lovers can comb for shells and driftwood, drive dune buggies along the
shore, take sandcastle lessons, or go horseback riding.
Anglers can fish along the beach, from the Sea Ranch Pier, or aboard a private
fishing charter. A few restaurants even offer to custom-prepare your catch.